Humana Sees Big Benefits in Analytics

When it comes to business analytics, some companies get it -- and long have. Health insurer Humana is one of them; one of its goals, in fact, "is to be the best analytically driven company that we can be."

Much of the responsibility for making that happen falls on the shoulders of Elizabeth Barth-Thacker, technology manager with the company's Business Intelligence & Informatics Competency Center (BIICC). I recently sat down with Barth-Thacker to discuss analytics at Humana in general and, in particular, her role at the BIICC -- an organization she laughingly calls "the Switzerland for analytics."

In elaborating on what analytics means to Humana, she explained: "The goal isn't just about being a great insurance company when it comes to analytics but about being a great company in general, making sure we're making great fact-based decisions consistently."

Toward that end, Barth-Thacker leads a unit within the BIICC called Business Informatics Guidance. It has three primary areas of focus, she said.

Analytic asset management
The first is analytic asset management, with the BIICC bringing together all the different pieces of and people responsible for analytics at Humana under a subcommittee that Barth-Thacker facilitates. "We treat analytics as a strategic asset but give everyone a voice and a vote in how we develop those assets, how we invest in them, and how we escalate issues," she said.

As an example, she pointed to Humana's recent investment in and deployment of SAS Grid Computing, a centrally managed computing environment for workload balancing, high availability, and fast processing.

    This wasn't just one person, or IT, deciding we needed it. It was all different core stewards, people from individual areas saying, 'Here's our problem and here's how we like to solve the problem,' along with IT. So it became a dialog with all the business units, IT, and ourselves about how to put this solution in place.

As a result, she added, the core stewards orchestrated the grid queuing and prioritization (with some advice from SAS, this site's sponsor).

    They decided what queues we'd have, and then business rules for how things got deployed... So they own it. It's not us telling someone, 'this is the right thing to do' or 'this is what you're going to do.' It's a collaboration, and that's what we're trying to do: Drive collaboration and accountability.
Just-in-time guidance
The second focus area is providing what the BIICC calls "just-in-time guidance," essentially operating as a helpdesk for analytics. Toward this end, Barth-Thacker's team comprises technical experts, who know SAS coding best-practices and can provide mentoring on "everything from helping your job run faster to figuring out what you've done wrong and to helping you get started," and people who understand Humana's data.

"Everyone has their areas of expertise but they all have foundational knowledge too and can handle cross-functional problems," she said.

Analytics learning
The last focus area for Barth-Thacker's BIICC team is analytics learning. The BIICC hosts different events, like monthly SAS cafes, has a SAS user group of about 600, and offers about 60 classes aimed at teaching users about analytic tools, their capabilities, and how to use Humana's data along with them, she said. Last year, the analytics learning touched more than 2,700 Humana employees, with classes like Introduction to SAS Enterprise Guide and Custom SAS 1,2,3 Coding, she added.

All of this is possible because "we have amazing support at Humana," said Barth-Thacker, who explains more in this video:

Do you think your company goes far enough to ensure its employees understand the importance of analytics and how to get value from its data? Share below.

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Beth Schultz has more than two decades of experience as an IT writer and editor.  Most recently, she brought her expertise to bear writing thought-provoking editorial and marketing materials on a variety of technology topics for leading IT publications and industry players.  Previously, she oversaw multimedia content development, writing and editing for special feature packages at Network World. In particular, she focused on advanced IT technology and its impact on business users and in so doing became a thought leader on the revolutionary changes remaking the corporate datacenter and enterprise IT architecture. Beth has a keen ability to identify business and technology trends, developing expertise through in-depth analysis and early adopter case studies. Over the years, she has earned more than a dozen national and regional editorial excellence awards for special issues from American Business Media, American Society of Business Press Editors,, and others.

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Re: Kudos
  • 5/15/2013 9:39:05 AM

Yep! Another great example is UPS, which we've explored in depth in our latest Dashboard feature: Inside Analytics: UPS Delivers the Goods

Re: Kudos
  • 5/15/2013 9:30:03 AM

It should only help to improve healthcare, and I hope it helps to brings down costs as well. I wonder if there's some bigger incentives at work, via government grants or allowable expenses to charge some agency to recover the costs of improving analytics at hospitals. In that case, we should see a lot of healthcare companies actively moving forward.

Re: Kudos
  • 5/15/2013 8:38:06 AM

@SethBreedlove -- agreed. Humana definitely goes above and beyond with its BI Competency Center. Barth-Thacker says that's indicative of the company culture overall, with Humana rated as a company that has one of the most engaged workforces. "There's a lot of love for the company and what we do, and that comes through in how we do our work," she told me. "It really shows how far beyond what you think the box looks like that we like to go. We saw a need that was this big. Then we we saw more needs, and said, 'How can we add to this repertoire in a way that's really going to help the company move forward with analytics." And, enter Humanalytics, the Sharepoint portal she talks about in her video.


Re: Kudos
  • 5/14/2013 8:33:11 PM

I like the way this promotes team work and data sharing. The information one person has now gets shared with all the other relavent people through the program. The biggest problem companies have is a lack of data sharing and communication. This offers the necessary means and the platform to share data from all over the company. And it also gets processed to make sense of it. They also focus on building awareness through training.

Re: Kudos
  • 5/14/2013 8:01:02 PM

It sounds like Humana may be a blueprint for other companies to follow. It is so important to have everyone on board with analytics and for people to realize how they contribute to it.  Even the best employees can be crippled analytically with out the sharing and support of the whole company. 

  • 5/14/2013 5:56:14 PM

to Humana for understanding that progress is the way to success!

Re: Interesting use of Analytics.
  • 5/14/2013 4:23:27 PM

@tomsg, Barth-Thacker said she's been with Humana for almost a decade, in various roles. Here's what she said about the company's history with analytics: "I've always seen an aspiration to have the data and a want to use the data right. The difference is now we're understanding it's a business imperative. Where it had been a really nice to have now it's a have to have in order to make it work."


Interesting use of Analytics.
  • 5/14/2013 1:03:03 PM

I had no idea that Humana was this far along in using analytics to improve its business. I don't know of anyone else with such a comprehensive policy or implementation. This is an example for others to follow.