When John Kellington joined the Ohio Casualty Group in May 2001, he knew exactly what challenges awaited him. That's because Kellington had worked for Ohio Casualty previously as a consultant for IBM Global Services to help transform the carrier's legacy systems."I knew that Ohio Casualty Group had excellent operating systems capabilities," says Kellington, chief technology officer of the Fairfield, Ohio-based carrier. "The major issue was that the IT department was having a difficult time delivering new business applications and functionality in the appropriate timeframes."
Kellington has used his technical expertise-and his excellent communication and staff organization skills-to successfully reform a department with a checkered history of developing new applications and innovative technologies, explains Dan Carmichael, Ohio Casualty's CEO.
"John's primary challenge was to restructure our IT organization into a project management organization," Carmichael says. "He has not only prioritized all major projects . . . he also has established a process for identifying, managing, coaching and developing all our IT talent."
From all accounts, Kellington's changes have re-energized Ohio Casualty's IT department and have given it the momentum to fulfill new, more ambitious technology priorities. These initiatives are closely tied to the carrier's business strategy of improving information and service capabilities for its independent agents.
With more than 3,500 agents nationwide selling its products, independent agents serve as the carrier's principle marketing channel. Ohio Casualty Group encompasses six property/casualty companies and is ranked among the top 37 P&C insurance groups in the country. The company is active in more than 40 states and has annual written premiums of $1.5 billion, with Ohio Casualty Insurance as its flagship company.
People and projects
During his days at IBM Global Services, Kellington was not only privy to the inner IT workings at Ohio Casualty, he also worked extensively in the IT departments at most major carriers in the United States. With this vast technology and insurance industry experience, he set out to reorganize his IT department to improve time-to-service project delivery, as well as manage human resource issues such as staff professional development.
"When I came here, I had staff managers who played all four major roles: project manager, technical expert, human resource supervisor and even subject-matter expert," Kellington says. "Under severe deadline pressure, it's a license for failure to expect one individual to handle all those roles successfully."
Kellington first centralized and grouped together telecommunications, help desk, and network engineering to give staff more unity and focus. He then divided the IT department into two distinct, but interconnected management groups: project management/application and professional development.
The project management office (PMO) serves as the department's central project management organization to provide "best practices" of concepts including status reporting, change control and risk management. This main office oversees the individual project offices that handle single or multiple projects, which in turn supply the PMO with status reports. These individual offices and their staffs can be restructured and reformed according to need.
"It is a fluid system for a good reason," Kellington says. "If you can understand that there are different roles to play in different projects, you can assemble the best team that will deliver faster results."
The PMO and project office restructuring efforts have indeed shortened project delivery timeframes and have yielded overall improvements in project management. For example, the group's policy administration rating and issuing system (PARIS) has moved from a four-year delivery timetable to 18 to 24 months.
To manage human resource priorities, Kellington created professional development managers who serve as advocates for their employees and manage their individual skill and career growth. These managers also are in charge of performance assessment and job transfers between particular project offices or service groups.
Karol Wolf, assistant vice president of professional development, says Kellington's initiatives have boosted staff morale and fostered a teamwork environment that keeps the IT organization perpetually focused on reaching its goals.
"John knows how to leverage talent and technology," Wolf says. "He is a fan of putting the right person in the right job... and is not afraid to 'tweek' the system to be sure he has the righterson in the right job."
A five-year plan
Restructuring Ohio Casualty's IT department to provide more focus on project management and delivery is just one of Kellington's many achievements. He also created a five-year technology mission with specific goals and a plan to achieve those goals.
The mission statement helps clarify why and how technology can support business goals, allocates resources and prioritizes projects based on an enterprise view of business value, facilitates communication between business leadership and IT, and keeps IT staff informed about prospective technology applications and initiatives.
To help fulfill the mission and accomplish its goals set for 2006, Kellington also established an IT steering committee composed of representatives from business areas such as claims, personal lines and commercial lines. Through regular meetings, the committee provides an open forum for discussion of how technology initiatives can support business initiatives and vice versa.
The committee also scrutinizes projects from an enterprise perspective and prioritizes them according to their business value, says Mark Robinson, PMO director and an IT facilitator of the steering committee.
"Before this committee was formed, each business area had its own IT priority list, which strained our resources," Robinson says. "Now as one group, a lot of synergy is created and we have one group looking across the entire company and prioritizing projects on a corporate level."
One project that tops the priority list is completing PARIS, Ohio Casualty's policy administration system built on Java and component technology. Five commercial products have been introduced through the system and the group plans to fully implement three more products in the next few months.
The system will be rolled out to agents throughout 2003.
PARIS is designed to receive ACORD XML messages directly from agents' systems. As a result, agents won't have to re-enter data when downloading or logging onto the system. And they will be able to send and receive information from their systems to Ohio Casualty's without different browsers, mailboxes or PCs, Kellington says.
Using PARIS as a foundation, Ohio Casualty Group continues to make strides toward achieving true single-entry, multiple carrier interface (SEMCI) that will allow its agents to use their own systems to communicate with the company for quoting, claims, policy issuance and inquiries.
But Kellington stresses that complete SEMCI will be an evolutionary process with many hurdles to overcome, including the technology issues arising from the wide variety of products and agent management systems in use nationwide.
Ohio Casualty also plans more improvements to the company's Web site, which was launched in 1996. Although recent enhancements have been added to the consumer portion, the agency services section has and will continue to receive the most attention in the future, Kellington says.
The main thrust of Web-based improvements will concentrate on increasing online convenience, capabilities and services for agents.
"Our independent agents are how we get business and how we keep business," he says. "If we provide technology solutions that make it easier for them to service their customers, they will choose to place business with us versus with our competitors."
Agent interface and online quoting abilities have been enhanced through Web-accessed applications. Also, the company added online billing payment status for agents and policyholders as well as an online claims reporting system for private passenger automobile claims that eventually will be expanded to include other business lines.
Using information technology to increase capabilities for agents to improve service to their customers is the foundation for technology priorities that will in turn help support and accomplish Ohio Casualty Group ambitious business goals for the future, Kellington says.
Tina Tapas is a freelance writer based in Prospect Heights, Ill.
Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering, University of
Cincinnati, Cincinnati, Ohio.
May 2001 to present
Chief technology officer, The Ohio Casualty Insurance Cos., Fairfield, Ohio.
1996 to 2001
Chief architect and principal, National Insurance Practice, IBM Global Services, Cincinnati.
1994 to 1996
Senior information technology architect, IBM Global Services.
1993 to 1994
Client server architect, IBM Corp., Cincinnati.
1987 to 1993
Advisory system engineer, IBM Corp.
1984 to 1987
Industrial engineer, IBM Corp., Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
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