Zurich Insurance turns to augmented reality to train 10,000 managers

The £74bn turnover company aims to harness the capabilities of augmented reality to train 10,000 employees in 170 countries

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Zurich Insurance, the $74bn general insurance company, is turning to augmented reality smartphone apps to help its managers improve their coaching, project management and people management skills.

The company aims to harness the capabilities of augmented reality to train 10,000 employees in 170 countries in the key skills needed by the next generation of managers in 2016.

“The project will enable Zurich to identify managers who are keen to advance their careers, and direct them to the training they need,” said Daniel Neubauer, group head of learning innovation at Zurich.

“I would expect to see an immediate return on investment,” he said. “It is going to help identify the managers who want to develop further and those who don’t want to lead any more.”

Zurich, which is making a multi-million investment in learning technology, is developing mobile phone apps that will track a manager’s training and direct them to materials tailored to their style of learning.

The technology is expected to come into its own during classroom-based training sessions, when managers will be able to point their phones at a poster or a “learning card” that could take them to a video, an online training course, or a book that could offer more in-depth information.

“The challenge with training 50 people is how you direct them. Augmented reality allows people to self-direct. They can point a phone at a poster and get more information on coaching, for example,” said Neubauer.

Insurance app spin-offs

The challenge with training 50 people is how you direct them. Augmented reality allows people to self-direct

Daniel Neubauer, Zurich Insurance

The technology is generating spin-offs in other parts of Zurich Insurance.

In one prototype application, drivers can point their phones at an SOS Card on their dashboard to receive immediate help if they are involved in an accident.

The app will be able to assist them in finding a garage and a lawyer, and record details of the other party.

“If you take the SOS Card, there will be a return on investment by getting claims into our systems more quickly. You can program an app to take a picture of the car accident, and immediately start the claims process. We will be much more client focused,” Neubauer said.

Developing a business case for augmented reality

The learning project was partially inspired by Google, which used data analytics to answer the question on what makes a good manager and came up with a list of key skills.

Zurich Insurance then went through its own exercise to identify what eight attributes define a great manager.

Neubauer secured an initial investment of 80,000 Swiss francs (about £55,000) a year from Zurich's group communication and marketing department to kick-start the work.

But he realised he needed a wider business case if he was to persuade the company to invest seriously in augmented reality.

Neubauer set up a demonstration booth at the company’s 2015 leadership conference in Rome, attended by 500 senior leaders.

The exhibit showed demonstrations of how augmented reality could be used, not just in training, but in marketing, and to help car insurance policy holders who may have been involved in an accident.

The four learning styles

  • Visual
  • Aural
  • Read/ write
  • Kinesthetic

One of the demonstrations, for example, showed how consumers could point a phone at a Zurich Insurance poster, and automatically be presented with a video offering more information.

The idea also attracted the attention of Zurich Insurance’s IT department as a potential way of reducing calls to the IT help desk.

“The IT guys came to me and said 'when there is an error message on a computer screen, why don't we just scan it,” said Neubauer.

The proposal would mean employees could use augmented reality technology to receive support from their mobile phones, rather than having to call the help desk. 

“Now we need to figure out a strategy on how to use it,” he added. 

Deploying augmented reality company-wide

Zurich carried out a small-scale trial with 80 licences from Aurasma, a company which develops augmented reality applications for mobile phones.

The insurer plans to roll the technology out company-wide over the summer, starting with internal applications before moving on to develop augmented reality applications for consumers.

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It is evaluating five potential suppliers for a learning management system that will link to Zurich’s SalesForce platform, to provide learning resources across the company.

The system will offer a combination of traditional learning through books, videos and classrooms, as well as digital learning through social media platforms such as Yammer, said Neubauer.

Deploying augmented reality technology across Zurich, which has operations in 170 countries and has to meet a wide range of financial compliance regulations, was not straightforward, Neubauer revealed.

“You have all the IT regulations, and the cloud approvals. I needed 22 people just for compliance, plus the digital app guys and the tech guys,” he said.

Employee and business benefits

The system, which is due to go live in October 2015, will provide a rapid payback said Neubauer.
Internal feedback shows that between 30% and 40% of managers do not believe they have received the right training for their role.

“I expect all 10,000 managers will find the immediate training they need, and next year we will see if all managers will reach the standard we are expecting. We hope to see employee engagement go up,” he said.

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