One of my favorite song lyrics (and good luck figuring out who actually said it first) goes, “Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.” The more I read and discuss data and analytics with insurers and analysts the more I am reminded of this lyric.

There can’t be an insurer alive who doesn’t want—or need—some type of analytics solution, whether it is for underwriting, claims or even billing. But it takes a fearless insurer—one not afraid to tackle the near impossible (or at least the very difficult)—to begin the necessary work on their data to enable the analytics tools.

I recently asked some smart people what insurers need to do to improve data quality so they could gain some benefits from the analytics and business intelligence tools available to them. We’ll publish several opinions on this topic later this week, but I wanted to share one of them with you.

Bill Jenkins, a long-time CIO with Penn National and now a managing partner with Agile Insurance Analytics, wrote:

“Insurers have spent millions of dollars on data integration, data mastery, and data warehousing initiatives only to be disappointed in the results returned from these investments. A main cause of the disappointment has been the inability of the organization to properly manage the underlying data to be used in these solutions in order to achieve results that are credible, reliable, and timely. In effect, the lack of high quality data has been the leading culprit for these unfulfilled expectations.”

The key words in his response might just be “spent millions of dollars.” When most companies spend millions of dollars on a project they expect it to perform right out of the box. Unfortunately, there is no out-of-the-box solution to data integrity; these projects involve an internal struggle to manage the data in place and spin it into golden yarn that offers great value to insurance companies.

There is a reason we use the term “data mining.” Just as prospectors searched for valuable commodities under the earth, data is often buried within an insurance carrier and needs to be prospected. Carriers don’t use a pickaxe—or dynamite for that matter—to find the valuable veins inside the data, but the search requires the same amount of patience that comes before any great discovery.

Companies need strategy for virtually everything they do, but certainly a data strategy has to be tops among the strategists if carriers want to achieve greatness as a company. Greatness usually doesn’t happen by accident—and almost never in the insurance industry. In the future it will come when carriers master their data and begin to receive the desired results that unlock the mystery within their own data.