With more than 20 years of IT experience in the insurance industry, June Drewry has a vast knowledge of technology. Nevertheless, she insists she is not a high-tech wizard.In fact, when she talks about her responsibilities as executive vice president and CIO for Chicago-based Aon Corp., she peppers her conversation more with relaxed chuckles than with dry techno-speak.
"If being a successful CIO required me to be the top technology guru, then I would not be in this job-that's just not me," Drewry says with a wry laugh.
"But that's not what the job takes," she says. "One of the most important skills any CIO needs today is relationship management. You must be able to build relationships with other business leaders and work with them to create cost-effective information technology that supports their strategies and objectives."
Aon is a large holding company comprising a group of insurance brokerage, consulting and underwriting companies that serve clients and policyholders primarily through global distribution networks owned by Aon subsidiary companies. In 2000, the company reported $7.4 billion in total revenues. Aon CEO Patrick Ryan says he hired Drewry for her precise mix of technological knowledge, team-building capabilities and strong leadership skills.
"Aon has grown into a complex global business in a short time due to acquisitions," Ryan says. "June not only has the technical skills required, but has the temperament and capabilities to manage business relationships and lead a qualified IT team on a worldwide scale."
Paul Douglas, CIO for Chicago-based Aon Service Corp., says Drewry possesses a strong balance of abilities that allow her to formulate, coordinate and implement complicated global IT objectives successfully.
"She has a unique balance of being a visionary, a strategist and an executor," he says. "She is a pragmatic technologist because she focuses on how to leverage and deploy technology to be of actual benefit and value to the business."
Sept. 11 aftermath
Last year, Drewry had to draw upon all her knowledge, abilities and experience to face the biggest challenge of her professional career.
On September 11, during a global management team meeting in London, she received word that the World Trade Center towers had been destroyed. Aon housed its largest retail brokerage branch at Two World Trade Center and nearly 200 of its 1,200 employees there were killed.
Douglas, who accompanied Drewry to London for the meeting, recalls how she quickly rallied the IT crisis team despite being out of the United States and dealing with her own personal shock.
"I could see how deeply June was personally affected when she learned of the tragedy," he says. "However, she was able to put that aside, effectively communicate with other affected employees, and organized the U.S. crisis team to take control of the situation."
Aon's crisis management team worked quickly to restore the telecommunications network that provided data, voice and Internet services for the carrier's 16 offices in Connecticut, New Jersey and New York. A backup ISDN system came up immediately. Some of those offices remained on backup capabilities for up to five weeks after the disaster, until full service could be restored.
Policy processing was rerouted from the Northeast region to other regions of the country so work continued without interruption and new PC equipment was ordered "in the blink of an eye," Drewry says.
In addition to her concentrated efforts and pragmatic focus on the immediate IT need to keep services and work flow uninterrupted, Drewry also worked to address the personal needs of Aon's staff. She helped arrange grief counseling and also personally conducted open, candid question-and-answer sessions in the Chicago corporate offices for any rank-and-file IT employee who wished to attend.
"Not only did June effectively lead the U.S. crisis team from London to keep services up and running, she was very beneficial in helping me communicate with the Aon family of employees," says CEO Ryan. "She earned everyone's respect in the organization for her superb handling of the crisis."
There were several important professional lessons from the World Trade Center destruction that Drewry says she learned. First, she experienced the practical need to formulate an all-encompassing IT disaster recovery plan to prepare for even the most drastic scenario.
She has a better understanding of the need for more system redundancy and flexibility, the ability to switch and reroute work flow at any given moment. Drewry also gained a new technological respect for the value of document imaging systems.
"When we think of all the paper and documents destroyed in the explosions, these imaging projects went from being an effective way to save on productivity to being a priceless method to safeguard information for the future," she says.
Global IT challenges
After the events of Sept. 11, Drewry says her next biggest career challenge has been coordinating and consolidating Aon's global information technology operations.
She manages IT development, implementation and operations worldwide in approximately 130 countries divided into regions that include Canada, North and South America, the United Kingdom, Africa, Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Australia and New Zealand. She oversees a staff of approximately 2,300 employees and in 2001 controlled an IT budget of about $650 million.
The key to maintaining smooth worldwide IT operations, Drewry says, is a highly matrixed management system and constant communication. Each quarter, she meets with global business unit CIOs along with IT's CTO and CFO for multiple-day sessions in the United States and Europe. In between the quarterly meetings, one-day videoconferences as well as biweekly telephone calls help her and unit CIOs move to a centralized agenda.
To establish solid business relationships with unit CIOs outside the United States, Drewry says she travels frequently for regular one-on-one meetings. Through these meetings, she sends the message that Aon leadership in Chicago takes its worldwide information technology responsibilities very seriously.
"Face-to-face meetings help me communicate how we understand that different cultures and regions move at different paces," she says. "We also recognize that other cultures have different ways of conducting business both externally-with how customers buy and prefer to be serviced-as well as internally with how people are managed and how they respond to situations."
One of the biggest business challenges of Drewry's global IT responsibilities involves her role as gatekeeper to unnecessary technology investment and overspending.
"Patrick Ryan has made it clear that any technology projects undertaken must first have a clear business driver," she says. "He has challenged me and my unit CIO team to stop waste, provide less costly alternatives, and be the custodians to make sure the corporation is investing its IT dollars wisely."
Supporting the business
Aon's specific IT goals center around and support individual business unit strategies and objectives. For example, in November 2000, Aon announced the implementation of a business transformation plan for its U.S. retail brokerage to enhance client service, accelerate revenue growth and reduce costs. The transformation plan included the creation of four regional client service business units, or CSBUs, in New York City, Los Angeles, Houston and Glenview, Ill.
These four call and transaction processing centers for both customers and agents will consolidate all client services currently provided by some 70 offices throughout the United States by the second quarter of 2002.
Aon will rely on technology to support other global business units as they undergo business transformations to become more focused on the customer.
"We will work with other business units as they begin transformations so that each unit fully understands the customer profitability and productivity that can be achieved through a totally integrated approach," Drewry states.
The events of Sept. 11 and the proliferation of computer viruses and worms have created an environment where "back to basics" IT objectives are now more urgent, she stresses. Increased and improved security, backup, and recovery systems will be implemented more quickly. More redundancy in the infrastructure also will be added in case of disaster. Aon's larger business units have been mandated to receive document imaging and workflow systems much sooner as well.
Aon's future IT goals include building Web capabilities throughout the world for both carriers and customers, particularly in those customer segments with small premiums and low profitability. Drewry maintains that servicing these market segments through the Internet instead of through people will save money and maintain a profit margin that makes business sense.
The IT group will support the recent "One Aon" client team initiative, which strives to present customers with a unified, integrated approach to utilizing all of the various financial and insurance products and services Aon business units offer.
"If you want to bring a customer a full set of "One Aon" capabilities, he won't want to sign on with a dozen different companies with a dozen different IT systems," Drewry says. "Our challenge is to create a seamless, standardized infrastructure and capabilities for better system-to-system communication to allow the customer to do business with a variety of Aon companies."
In fact, Drewry says using standardized formats and a language such as XML will help the entire insurance industry reduce IT expenses and increase profitability in the future.
"If we can all agree on transaction definitions, collect data from customers in a standard format so that we have automated interfaces, the industry could eliminate errors and human contact and realize significant savings," she says.
Despite more than 20 years of experience in the insurance industry, Drewry says she still sees many exciting opportunities ahead in information technology and the industry. At Aon and other insurance and financial services companies, technology and business will continue their symbiotic relationship to offer more products, improve service, reduce expenses and increase profit margins.
"Technology has enabled us to do more business on a much larger scale, opening new channels of distribution that were unimaginable or too expensive to use before," she says. "Similarly, as the industry begins to better understand and utilize its vast amount of customer data, the information can be used to create better products and services and to better manage risks in a cost-effective way."
Tina Tapas is a freelance writer based in Prospect Heights, Ill.
June E. Drewry
Bachelor's degree, mathematics, Caldwell College, Caldwell, N.J.
June 1999 to Present
Executive vice president, CIO, Aon Corp., Chicago.
1996 to 1999
Senior vice president, CTO, Lincoln National Corp., Fort Wayne, Ind.
Vice president of information technology, Aetna Inc., Hartford, Conn.; President, Systematized Benefits Administrators Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Aetna.
1979 to 1991
Senior vice president, information systems, Mutual Benefit Life, Newark, N.J.
Past president, Society of Information Management (SIM)
and member-at-large on the SIM board of directors.
Board member, ACORD.
Committee member, LOMA.
Aon representative for WISe Operations Council.
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