A man is smiling into the camera at Liberty IT in Belfast.
Tony Marron. Image: Liberty IT

Why companies should get their ‘hands dirty’ in 2020

9 Dec 2019

As senior director for applied innovation at Liberty IT, Tony Marron has a front row seat to the trends and technologies 2020 could bring.

Entering into a new decade is an exciting but daunting prospect, driving many businesses to turn their attention to the emerging trends as we move closer to 2020. But, according to Tony Marron, senior director for applied innovation at Liberty IT, it’s “no longer enough” for companies to “stay abreast of technology changes”.

Speaking to Siliconrepublic.com, he shared his thoughts on why it’s vital that professionals stay up to date on technologies of the future, and told us what exactly he’s excited about for the coming year.

‘Build up your network of people you trust and listen to their opinions. That will save you a lot of time’

What does your position in Liberty IT involve?

As senior director for applied innovation, I am responsible for ensuring Liberty IT is positioned for maximum impact within the overall Liberty Mutual group.

Liberty Mutual is a Fortune 100 global company, and that means it has many challenges and opportunities. My job is to ensure we are working in the most transformative areas of Liberty Mutual’s business and applying the most up-to-date technology and capabilities.

It’s a super job which allows me to work closely with our business partners right across the full expanse of Liberty Mutual. I also get to work closely with Liberty’s technical leaders to ensure we are leading the way in exploring and incubating the latest and most impactful technical capabilities.

How do you keep yourself updated on emerging technologies?

For me personally, I always start with the trends in the business that are emerging across Liberty Mutual, the insurance industry and beyond to other industries. Once you understand the emerging business problems or opportunities, you can start to focus on what technology is best placed to solve the issue.

I have worked in the emerging technology and innovation space for six years and I learned very quickly that unless you understand what problem you are trying to solve, you can waste a lot of time and energy. I read a lot books and blogs, I listen to Audible, I follow industry leaders, I attend insurance, innovation and technology conferences and, most importantly, I leverage the network we have at Liberty IT and Liberty Mutual.

We are incredibly lucky to have some amazing thought leaders in Liberty and I speak with them regularly on how applicable technologies are for the problems we are facing, given our context. The problem today is spotting the right signals amongst the enormous amount of information we have at hand.

For me, personally, the best way of doing that is to build up your network of people you trust and listen to their opinions. That will save you a lot of time.

Why, do you think, is it important that companies keep abreast of technology trends and plan for the future?

It is critical. It is no longer enough for companies to stay abreast of technology changes. Companies need to be experimenting with these technologies and gaining an understanding of how these technologies can be applied to their enterprise.

Identifying a technological area of interest is the easy bit. Building up your knowledge of that capability can be challenging, but the really hard part is applying these technology capabilities to your enterprise.

Starting small, discovering the value the emerging technology can bring and then amplifying that within your environment is extremely challenging. To do this requires a set of new skills and a new way of working for your company. This goes beyond technology and impacts the business operation.

Customers also have new needs and demands and higher expectations of the services companies provide – so it’s vital to keep up before they consider taking their business elsewhere. If you’re in a company that doesn’t have that knowledge, then reach out to someone who can help you plan for a more digital future.

What are the top tech trends you’re excited about for 2020?

I am particularly interested in the advancement of computer vision capabilities. We have been tracking this for some time and experimenting, and I think we are getting very close to the point where we can leverage this technology to make a significant impact on our business.

We have also been heavily invested in natural language processing (NLP) over the past few years and, again, the capability is getting increasingly better. But I believe we are approaching a tipping point with NLP where we should be able to make significant improvements to our operations.

We have done some experimentation with augmented reality this year and found that the technology is not quite ready for our context. However, again, it’s one we will need to stay very close to.

Do you foresee any challenges over the coming year that leaders need to make themselves aware of?

I think the greatest challenge for large companies is their ability to react, plan and learn really quickly, and then realise the value of those learnings. Companies need to build a fast lane that has the ability to integrate with the enterprise. To do this requires fundamental rethinking of the system you employ within your company.

Do you have any words of advice for companies as we move into the next decade, and the next wave of technology?

If I had to choose one piece of advice, it is stop overthinking and get your hands dirty, quickly.

Companies need to take some risks and embrace experimentation. It’s the only way you will learn quickly what will really advance your business.

Can you let us know of any resources that you find particularly helpful in keeping informed on emerging trends?  

I had the pleasure of listening to Lex Fridman recently and he blew me away – I have been listening to his podcasts a lot. I am making my way through Prediction Machines by Ajay Agrawal which I have to say is first class – a really interesting way of thinking about AI.

I sign up to many distribution lists and some of the most valuable I have found are CB Insights, Insurance Thought Leadership and CMSWire.

The easiest way for me to stay informed is to follow the opinions of people I work with and trust. We have some incredibly talented people at Liberty IT so look out for anything by David Anderson, Mark McCann, Gillian McCann, Gillian Armstrong, Stuart Greenlees or Michael O’Reilly.

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