Design from the inside out
Updated: Nov 1
From exposing in-house products to building tailor-made services.
In our previous article, we spoke to Claire Du Mesnilot, head of the Insurance-as-a-Service (IaaS) team at MAIF. She explained to us that MAIF, a "human, supportive and responsible" insurance company, wanted to seize the opportunity provided by APIs to bring their services closer to consumers, as this is where the need lies.
Quoting, making policy comparisons and subscribing are all actions that can be taken as close as possible to the customer. Examples include when renting property online, or looking for a new car.
Claire needed a product owner for this project and therefore called on Celencia, a consulting agency specialising in digital transformation. Laurent Fiolet came on board in a dual role as Product Owner and agile transformation catalyst—hand in hand with the agile coach. Laurent also had strong prior knowledge of APIs, having worked with APIs “since before the creation of the internet!”.
The IaaS squad took some months to get set up and establish a rhythm and identity.
While Claire explained to us how the collaboration with APIsFirst had allowed them to better understand the market's expectations and to acquire new methods and tools to meet them, Laurent shared with us the profound transformation that had taken place in his mind and within the teams.
Making products available: the inside-out method
"APIs were not foreign to MAIF" explains Laurent, "but it was the vision of the API as a full-fledged digital product where understanding and maturity still had to be acquired. A product open and oriented towards the external market with very different objectives from internal use."
This was a common issue that the IaaS Squad faced in the early days of the project. Because of their technical background, APIs are often seen as a means of accessing a piece of data, a service, or a simple technical element. The initial strategy is therefore often to open a door to existing products, exposing them as they are, and through APIs created for internal use. Unfortunately this approach quickly showed its limits. Laurent explains:
"However much we documented, the responses from the internal APIs—what APIs return when you query them—weren’t understandable to the uninitiated. Our role is to translate our business; to make it digestible for our partners who aren’t insurance professionals."
The user flow for consuming the API, and the end users pathways that worked internally, had not been adapted. The user experience needed attuning, whether that be for partners — developers, product managers or business developers — or for end users.
Laurent and Claire quickly came to the conclusion that they needed to develop user experience-oriented APIs, front-end APIs that would solve these problems for partners by becoming a filter and a translator between the internal MAIF language and the public exposure.
"At this stage, and with MAIF’s support, we felt with Claire that it was appropriate to seek an outside perspective, best practices, a vision and a methodology adapted to what APIs are today and to their market," explains Laurent, "and I won't teach you anything by saying that it is sometimes necessary to have an external actor with a neutral voice to educate and convince, and thus facilitate the transition and bring about a change in culture. The choice for APIsFirst was strongly influenced by the international dimension, promising an approach, an experience and an extended vision, beyond the simple French market," recalls Laurent.
An outside view for a profound transformation
The product owner describes their experience of collaborating with APIsFirst: The experience was very positive. A professional, attentive and patient multicultural team, was capable of adapting to our corporate cultural constraints, and understanding how things operate for a company with our history and heritage and born outside the digital era."
They continue to describe the benchmark of different digital insurances carried out by APIsFirst as a real revelation: "I was of course aware that APIs were coming back to the market, but I was not aware of the extent of this growth boom and of the potential for conquering new markets with new digital products. I learned that the precursor players in this field are already very advanced.The competition is already proposing serious and well-developed offers. It's a whole culture and business model that is being put in place and imposed around these small IT bricks, which APIsFirst helped us to manage."
The MAIF squad also appreciated the fact that the collaboration went beyond technical and operational support, with good practices and a good methodology for the design and construction of APIs offer: "We were pleasantly surprised by the very advanced and complete dimension around the vision and understanding of the current API market. A much more marketing oriented dimension allowed us to rethink and recalibrate our approach, our discourse and our promotional and distribution tools both in terms of functionality and quality. APIsFirst invited and helped us to look further outside our box.”
“Similarly, through effective coaching based on a wealth of experience we felt, the APIsFirst team helped us enormously to be more incisive and efficient within MAIF. We now have the feeling to have a role as a driving force and catalyst for the acculturation of the API world as an outwards-oriented digital product.”
Laurent concludes by saying that, “The IaaS team has gained a better understanding of the world of today's APIs and the market that supports them, a more precise methodology for their design and implementation, with good practices and good reflexes."
Tailor-made services: the outside-in design
The first change that Laurent mentions is the one that occurred in their way of designing APIs. Moving away from the idea of replicating internal processes one by one has been liberating: "What has become more systematic is the way of designing the offers and the associated technological products. We now think about our APIs as digital products in their own right, intended for an increasingly competitive external market.”
“We have acquired the reflex to be more customer-centric and to think of our products with the objective of distribution to partner systems, non-insurance professionals, with their own brand image and a clientele that is perhaps different from the one MAIF is used to.
“We have evolved from the “inside-out” model—one product, one journey, one API—to rethinking about the experience from its purpose: a partner experience, for their end-users. Partners are no longer forced to have the same journey as we do internally: the way the APIs are built allows flexibility for those who use them. We had very positive feedback from a partner for a mobile application. They completely turned the journey around, changed the phrasing of the questions and answers. They took ownership of the product and were able to innovate the insurance experience to adapt it to their users’ community. A real victory for us. Our product is more flexible, and also more resilient to internal changes and external customisation that partners might apply.
“We have continued the process of implementing improvements and optimising with existing products, which we started when we worked with APIsFirst. We also focused on digitising new insurance paths and building new API offers in a first version, but following the new methodology acquired and directly integrating best practices this time."
Laurent then discusses the marketing dimension of the APIs, "We are now integrating the marketing and competition dimension more quickly, right from the start of the reflections.”
“We have also worked enormously on our marketing and promotional tools and on the quality of our documentation, in particular our API portal, which is the showcase for our service offerings with APIs. With always in the corner of our mind the messages and advice gathered throughout our collaboration with the APIsFirst team."
Last but not least, it was the collaboration between the teams that evolved: "Thanks to this repositioning of the mindset on the digital product that is the API, the team is also much more efficient in its exchanges and debates with the teams and squads that gravitate around it. It is comforted to go in the right direction with greater confidence and assurance.”
“We were then able to get our needs, constraints and messages across more effectively, which resulted in being on board and consulted much further upstream by other teams when designing their internal products that could impact our work."
The Celencia Product Owner gives a very positive assessment of this experience, both for the company and for himself, "Overall, MAIF has gained a much better vision of the specificity of APIs "as a product", as well as an increased awareness of their potential in tomorrow's insurance world and its economic expansion. And on a personal level, I have had a refresher on APIs, whose purpose and prospects have changed significantly since the last time I had to use them. I now have additional expertise, knowledge and practical application of methodologies such as Design Thinking. I am won over by the transversality of the APIs, which allow me to work on many different subjects.”
The edge effect
Another effect of this change that Laurent and Claire are pleased about is that it has created a team that is now more inspiring, gradually spreading a positive sphere of influence within the company.
"The new synergy and the innovation dynamic have helped retain squad members. In these hyper-competitive times, that's a big plus.”
“Also, during our collaboration with APIsFirst, we made sure to bring on board the squads and teams that gravitate around us and have an impact or a link with our objectives.”
“APIsFirst has helped us a lot in this process of "positive influence" on the vision of the API "as a product", and more globally of digital products, oriented towards an external market of partnerships.”
“From time to time, members of other teams come to see what our team does, to be inspired from this acquired experience that we always love sharing.”
“We have gained better visibility and a reinforced credibility within MAIF, as well as an image as a team expert in API partnerships. We have gained increased confidence from MAIF in our innovation initiatives. The whole company has gained relevance and credibility in this growing market of "API as a Product" in the insurance world. ”
Written by Audrey Kolski (APIsFirst) and Laurent Fiolet (Celencia), with the support of Claire Barrett (APIsFirst) Photograph from unsplash.com