Tune into a Friday Night Baseball broadcast on Apple TV+, and you’ll see the power of big data in the bottom right corner of the screen, Lorenzo Ball says. Viewers can see live, probability-based forecasts about the hitter’s chance of reaching base or producing a run. The numbers fluctuate with every pitch. In the dugout, managers use a quantitative analysis methodology called Sabermetrics to compare player performance and guide in-game strategy.
The data revolution is here and is transforming every industry. Sports, banking, insurance, healthcare. At the end of the day, more and more organizations recognize not just the value but the need of such informed insight.
Ball has twenty-five years of experience in technology management and analytics across a few different verticals, and over the past four years he has used his expertise to find new applications for data and analytics in the insurance and healthcare space. Currently, he serves as vice president of data strategy and analytics at Ameritas, a leading insurance, financial services, and employee benefits company.
Five Nebraska businessmen started the Old Line Bankers Life Insurance Company of Nebraska (which later became Ameritas) in 1887. The business still makes its home in Lincoln, and today serves more than 5.3 million customers nationwide. Ameritas may be most well known for its products in life insurance and annuities, but the company has offered dental insurance since 1959.
Ball’s team of eighty people and six direct reports focus on increasing customer satisfaction, growing premiums, reducing financial risk, and driving outcomes. In his four-and-half years with the organization, the VP has introduced a number of enabling services like a modern data environment to allow faster use of information, the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and computer vision to optimize dental claims, and the use of predictive modeling to improve treasury cash flow.
These accomplishments, together with other projects and initiatives, illustrate the importance of using emerging technology in every industry. “No company today can overlook artificial intelligence and an overall data and analytics strategy,” Ball says. “A new way of thinking is critical to driving business outcomes and decisions at every level.”
Ball studied at Morehouse College and the Wharton School before starting his career at aerospace and defense company Raytheon. In that era, he supported advanced simulations for the Global Patriot missile defense system and data and log management for Raytheon’s automatic analysis and assessment for advanced war game scenarios.
With the dotcom boom in full swing, Ball left Raytheon for a position with a consultant firm that had Bank of America as a client, where he built a wealth management app. The project sparked a passion in him.
“When I started to use data to understand outcomes, I was hooked,” he says. “What you can do with data to assist people in life decisions was fascinating. A combination of historical information and advanced analysis has the power to change businesses and transform lives.”
From there, Lorenzo Ball continued in consulting, where he guided senior leaders at IBM and elsewhere through their analytics and data journey on critical projects. He helped Tiffany & Company remake their supply chain to reduce shipping costs, secured millions in new revenue for other clients, and showed HBO how to use data to understand viewer habits and preferences.
“We are extremely proud of our work with Lorenzo and the Ameritas team,” notes David Honour, risk modeling services partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. “Together, our partnership has enabled us to collaborate and support Ameritas in leveraging data and in providing enhanced business insights to its users.”
Now at Ameritas, Ball leverages data and analytics to create new products, inform business strategy, and build a better user experience. “Life and health insurance services are a laggard in technology, but Ameritas is looking to introduce new tools to reach our full potential,” he says, adding that there is a lot his field can do to help Ameritas members, agents, and providers make data-driven healthcare decisions.
Expert and veteran leader Lorenzo Ball sat down with American Healthcare Leader to expound on the future of data and analytics in healthcare.
What are some emerging uses of data and technology you’re most excited about?
We’re starting to see more AI capabilities across the industry. The usage of smart devices is allowing unique ways to provide life and health services to individuals. These devices range all the way from smart watches to toothbrushes. In insurance, this new type of device—Internet of Things (IOT) devices—will give carriers the ability to offer preventative care opportunities for our participants. We want to be able to understand certain behavioral patterns to ultimately be a more efficient business and, as a result, lower the cost for health services.
Where can this go in the future? What are some possible applications?
Well, in dental, for example, I think of an app connected to your electronic toothbrush that can show brushing patterns and let the user know what spots they’ve missed. Carriers and health providers can offer preventative maintenance programs, which ultimately help avoid costly procedures. The ability to predict services will allow for improved cost for plans to an employer, and fewer claims and better out-of-pocket expenses to the plan participants.
What else is possible on the insurance side?
We can help speed up claims activities. Cost of services has always been a black box for healthcare. We want to use AI and data to better serve the customer and provide more clarity about costs, service coverage, payments options, and other factors.
This is a complicated space. What challenges are out there?
We’re always thinking about privacy and governance. We have to make sure we are collecting and using data in the right way—in other words, a way that is safely covered under all of HIPAA, FINRA, and other privacy regulations.
What’s possible five to ten years from now?
We’ll begin shift to a different data ownership model, allowing customers to manage their personal data and monitor everything in real time. This model will give customers the ability to see financial health and costs in a unified way, instead of the current fragmented experience. Consumers will better understand their networks and how doctors, dentists, and other providers really can work together to share data in a total and comprehensive way, for overall well-being.
Lastly, what will it take to get there?
Ameritas is going through the biggest tech transformation in the history of the organization, and data and analytics is a huge part of this. It will allow us to compete for the next ten to twenty years and beyond. But we can’t do it unless we continue to innovate and push to improve customer experiences. The use of data and analytics is not a tech activity; it’s a cultural activity. The entire organization must have a new mindset. It takes a new way of thinking to lead us into the future.