Ashley Pettit: Building a digital backbone for State Farm
In her role as one of three SVPs of State Farm’s IT capability departments, Ashley Pettit presides over the platforms that power digital innovations and advancements for the largest P&C insurer in the country. With oversight of architecture, engineering, data and analytics, IT operations and infrastructure, her job may seem back-office-focused. But, Pettit says, her approach to her position is driven, like so much else in insurance, around providing a top-notch customer experience.
“One of the things we spend a lot of time doing at State Farm is focusing on the customer, especially how experiences outside the insurance industry influence what you expect from us,” she says. “There definitely are a lot of changes from just the underlying technology, and we’re thinking about how we provision and deliver technology services.”
For example, Pettit was instrumental in the development of unified personal auto experience — an end to end product that expanded the company’s quote and application capabilities into a more unified system that gave all stakeholders visibility into the customer journey. For the customer themselves, the experience was made consistent across devices.
“The visibility this system offered was we knew at any given time where a customer was in the process — there was more consistent flow across all channels,” Pettit explains.
She also is credited with leading efforts that have increased operational efficiencies, reduced expenses and enhanced products. Pettit assisted in an effort to change the IT operating model in a way that delivered faster, simpler experiences internally and externally. As a result, State Farm and its agents and associates have been able to navigate a rapidly changing insurance market easily.
The story of that transition touches all areas of the IT department. State Farm had three separate IT groups that Pettit helped consolidate into the single enterprise technology area. The company realigned where its IT talent lived within the company, moving employees to various locations around the company – not just at its Bloomington, Ill. Headquarters — in order to make sure that business and IT units were co-located and able to iterate quickly. There are now IT teams working in Bloomington, Atlanta, Dallas and Phoenix; the latter three are State Farm’s “hubs.”
“Gaps that maybe in the past existed between business and IT teams have gone away,” she says. “It’s easier for the business teams to more easily provide feedback, and better for the IT teams to see and observe how the business uses a capability.”
The changes to the structure have also helped State Farm in recruiting tech staff, Pettit says. At a time when insurance companies are competing with companies of all kinds for leading digital talent, having a distributed presence gives State Farm more access to more young employees and show them the benefits of a career in insurance.
“A lot of my focus on STEM has been through community outreach, partnerships with local education systems, K-12 through universities,” she says. “It’s interesting, as we have ventured into these markets, we show up at job fairs and tech meetups. A lot of the feedback we get is ‘I wouldn’t expect to see [State Farm] here.’”
Pettit is working hard to change that view of the industry as technologically lagging, and is especially focused on encouraging women and girls to get involved in technology. She sponsored a seven-week Girls Who Code summer immersion program at the State Farm location in Atlanta for 20 high school students, and sponsored a one-day Millennium Girls tech camp for 2,000 girls between fifth and eighth grade. She notes that some women in the company have been reticent to participate in “hack days,” and leads an employee resource group for women in tech to encourage them to raise their voices.
“As a female executive in a tech field, I’ve been successful, and had the benefit of a lot of opportunities to help me get where I am,” she says. “I feel that responsibility to reach back and help mentor and guide some of our newer and younger employees, how to engage and look for opportunities.”