Zurich Case Study Switzerland

Autistische Talente mit auticon entdecken


KundeZurich Insurance Group
LeistungenData Analysis, AI

How to climb a data mountain

Ralf Buechsenschuss is Zurich Insurance Group’s (Zurich), Group Head of Organizational Design,
People Analytics & Digitalization, and he’s running a big project with a huge impact for Zurich’s
“Our people complete lots of surveys,” explains Ralf, who joined Zurich in 2019. “Each has many
responses, consisting of several sentences, and coming in different languages. With about 56,000
employees, we’re talking millions of datapoints. It’s important information about what employees
think and feel, so it’s vital we capture it and pull intelligent insights from it.”
To do this, Ralf’s team is working with Felix from auticon, an IT and data consultancy employing
autistic consultants with strengths and skills such as high concentration levels, close attention to
detail and enhanced pattern recognition, which make them well suited to digitalization projects.
“Our project involves Natural Language Processing (NLP),” shares Ralf. “It’s an artificial intelligence
enabling computers to understand text like human brains – except it can process massive volumes of
data incredibly quickly. Used the right way, NLP instantly captures data from thousands of people, in
any language, clusters the feedback and draws intelligent insights from it.”
Sounds too good to be true, right? Well, it’s real, it’s in the final testing stages and it’s due to be
rolled-out across Zurich in early 2023.

The link between brain scans and surveys

“Computers are great at processing numbers, but terrible at understanding language,” shares Felix
who joined auticon in 2021. “NLP can change that. It can teach them to recognize the nuances of
human communication. It’s a very exciting and challenging field and I’m learning a lot!”
Felix is from Schaffhausen, on the Swiss-German border. “I found out I was autistic just a few years
ago,” he says. “It was a relief as it explained some of the difficulties I had in certain social situations.
But it was also a bit scary. I came to realize that while there are some things in life you can’t change,
there are things you can control, like your surroundings. That’s where auticon has been a huge
Felix has a PHD in functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI) – the measurement of brain
activity through changes in blood flow. But auticon saw an opportunity to change fields. “FMRI turns
messy raw data images into meaningful information. NLP clusters unstructured data and draws
valuable insights from it. In the end, data is data, and once it’s cleaned and formatted, it doesn’t
matter if it’s brain images or language: machine learning algorithms take out the info they need,”
explains Felix.
The shift has been a good one for Felix. “I’m very grateful to auticon. I’m not a programmer, but
auticon could see I have data analysis skills and knew how to put them to use elsewhere. They
provide a personal job-coach who I meet with regularly to talk about jobs that suit my profile, or
how to improve working conditions – anything I need really. It helps me focus on what I enjoy most.”
Felix likes Zurich’s NLP project. “I’m learning a lot on the job. I get to try out new things. Learn from
mistakes. Discover successes. It’s a lot like in science! Zurich is well-organized and full of very
approachable and knowledgeable people. I couldn’t be happier.”
One such person is Felix’s main contact, Salome Egli, who joined Ralf’s team in 2021. “It’s very
interesting working with Felix and learning about NLP,” says Salome. “His organized approach has
helped us develop the algorithm and we’re currently testing and tweaking it. A model can train a
computer to do certain things based on specific vocabulary, but it might not work well with different
words or contexts. We’re adjusting our models and developing new ones accordingly.”
A lot of effort goes into predictive modelling. “Data-trends can predict events before they happen,
allowing people to spot problems and take corrective actions before the occur. Right now, we’re
applying Zurich survey data back to 2015 to our models to see what trends can be identified and
how this can inform new models”

Pushing the boundaries, producing results

“Working with Felix has been eye-opening,” shares Ralf. “He’s the type of person who likes to
conduct in-depth research and solve problems with the best solution rather than the easiest one –
to offer alternative views that bring us to better conclusions. It’s very inspiring.”
For a team development perspective, Ralf finds working with Felix enriching. “It’s changed our
perception of autism,” says Ralf. “We gained an understanding of how it isn’t just one thing, but a
spectrum that’s different for everyone. For example, Felix likes to work from home and in the office,
but when he’s in the office he’d rather be in a meeting room than a noisy open space.”
“The whole experience has been immeasurably valuable,” says Ralf. “It’s allowed us to appreciate a
different way of thinking about and approaching problems and shown that when you can make
‘inclusion’ work, you can close critical skill gaps.”
With the project nearing completion, Ralf is looking forward to its benefits. “It’s going to significantly
enhance our employee-listening abilities,” smiles Ralf. “We’ll be able to instantly discover what all
survey respondents – or any subset within it – are thinking and feeling, giving us more time to spend
on analyzing outcomes, determining actions and improving our employees’ Zurich experience.”

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