Humana Makes the Consumer Connection

Mobile apps are vital to helping customers stay healthy.

Humana, one of the country’s leading health and well-being companies, headquartered in Louisville, KY, wants to build relationships with its customers. To do that, the company has gotten serious about developing mobile apps, even setting up a new Digital Experience Center—known as the DEC—to create apps and move them quickly to market. The goal, says Ajoy Kodali, Humana’s enterprise vice president for information technology, is achieving “moments of influence,” in which the company gets members motivated to take action to improve their health.

“We as a company are investing heavily into mobile because we think it is a great way to engage the consumer,” Mr. Kodali says. “We can meet the consumer where they want us to meet them. From an activity, health, and wellness perspective, mobile is a game changer.”

From an activity, health, and wellness perspective, mobile is a game changer.

— Ajoy Kodali, enterprise vice president for information technology, Humana

Like other health and well-being companies, Humana has a physician-finder app. But its next-level program is aimed at really connecting with customers. The campaign began as Humana tried to figure out how to make it easier for members to fill out a document called a “Health Risk Assessment,” or HRA. The company wanted to avoid the pervasive and annoying “20-minute questionnaire you have to fill out on the web,” Mr. Kodali says.

So it came up with a mobile app that took a very short time to complete, and rewarded participants when they did. The system is instantly gratifying. Collect enough points and you receive coupons for healthy food at a local Wal-Mart store or an Amazon gift card. This task/reward sequence turns out to be something of a magic formula for creating those elusive moments of influence.

Humana made the HRA part of a suite of applications it calls the Humana Vitality Program, which allows members to assess how old they seem to be, based on how healthy their lifestyle is. “The idea,” says Mr. Kodali, “is to make it a fun exercise and fun to exercise.” The app currently connects to fitness devices that nudge them to take more walks by rewarding them with points for steps. The devices tell Humana members things like: “Hey, you’re 1,000 steps short of getting 10 more points. How about you go get an extra walk in right now?” One planned add-on to the program is a feature that uses geo-location to guide users to a nearby gym.

One of the features Mr. Kodali is particularly proud of allows groups to use the app together to have, say, a 100-day challenge to see who accumulates the most steps in a given time period. “We have used that inside the company with our own employees very successfully,” he says.

Part of Humana’s development process is to pilot apps before launch with actual consumers, in order to get a sense of the apps’ likely popularity. When testers are not happy with the features, Humana may go in a completely new direction. “If an app turns out to be something a consumer is not willing to use, we will tear it out because we don’t want to spend time on anything that has no traction,” he says. “We are not building stuff that is going to waste.”

Because the DEC provides both speed and flexibility to the development process, Humana has a good shot at beating the competition to market—as it did when it created its Health and Wellness app for the Apple watch. The app appeared so quickly that it became a featured product—and popular download—at the Apple App Store.

The vision for the future is to combine the data Humana is collecting through the Vitality Program with clinical analytics. Used together, this information should help the health and well-being company reach its goal of making and keeping members more active. And that comes back to the all-important moment of influence. “If you have a day where you are tired and feel like you are not able to exercise, we give you the extra motivation to get it done,” Mr. Kodali says. “It’s all about meeting the consumer at the right place at the right time.”

About the Research

This case study is based on a 2015 interview with Ajoy Kodali, vice president for information technology at Humana. For more information about this research, read the full report, "The Battle for Competitive Advantage in the App Economy".

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