Building IT/business alignment into business operations and a sense of urgency are two keys to success, according to panelists at Celent’s recent Innovation & Insight Day in Boston. Making legacy systems a thing of the past also helps.

The closing panel of the day consisted of three insurance executives: Michel Finschi, SVP and COO, XL Insurance Claims, who accepted the Insurer Model of the Year award in the morning for an extensive overhaul of its global claims handling, as well as fellow Model Award honorees Bonnie Wasgatt, VP, Jackson National Life Insurance Company and Justin Manley, CIO – Americas, Torus Insurance, who was concerned with avoiding legacy systems.

“I’ve actually been told to innovate. And one of the things that’s been advantageous for us, is ‘no legacy,’” said Manley. “Without that burden we’ve been able to think about what we’re doing, how we’re doing it, and challenging the thinking of the business rules.”

That’s only half the battle though; unified systems must be accompanied by balanced business operations and decision-making.

“It’s not just IT; I don’t have the responsibility solely, or my team. Innovation really is the alignment of business and IT,” Manley said. “We started with e-business platforms as niche solutions within certain business lines, but we have now brought those under one umbrella so that we have all our e-platforms are run out of one group, so we’re all charged to innovate and move the company forward.”

Jackson National Life’s Wasgatt emphasized communication as opposed to any infrastructure or architecture tactics.

“From a business operations perspective, I think it’s impossible to over-communicate. The company is moving very quickly, knowing the best way to communicate is key,” said Wasgatt. “When we come up with the business case and partnership with IT, it would be very important to make sure that we are truly achieving the goals that we set and communicating our status effectively.”

Moderated by Celent Analyst Donald Light, the panelists were eventually asked how the unstable economic and industry environments have affected their close relationships with the business side, and how consensus has been reached on investment decisions.

“The growth that we’ve experienced in the last 10 years, the focus of the company has been reducing expense, especially in the last 3 to 5 years—making it efficient for growth,” said Wasgatt, adding the mantra: “Short-term goal for long-term gain.

“Keeping our operating expenses low and investing in the right things—not just everything—has made us very competitive. We’ve invested a lot in the skills of our staff, technology, partnerships with local colleges, college graduates, and really raising the bar on customer service. So our investments have been very focused on not just retooling our IT investments, but more on investment in staff and servicing,” added Wasgatt. Later she discussed hiring practices and offered this advice for insurers trying to hire the right mix of people for creating innovative teams: “It’s nice to get a mix of people who have been in start-up firms versus large companies. If you put those types of folks together you get a very nice mix of approaches to problem solving.”

Manley agreed that a mix of backgrounds, even if the trade knowledge isn’t there, is key to hiring, saying, “One of the things I’ve looked for is adjacent markets for staff, people who have been in insurance, go to another industry then come back. I didn’t worry so much about the depth of knowledge from an insurance perspective.”

Panelists also discussed IT plans and said there needs to be a sense of urgency behind not only technology implementations, but behind attempts to keep technologies up to speed and avoid letting expensive investments become another legacy system.

According to Finschi, “Going forward I’d like to talk about what is there, what’s possible. Think about what we have, and I believe I’m sitting on big data; of course, we’re already doing a lot, but there’s much more we can do. These are the kinds of discussions I’m having.”

“We achieved a lot, and we don’t want to lose it,” he added.

Manley echoed Finschi’s persistance and explained how Torus maintains a sense of urgency: “A sense of urgency is incredibly important. I do not have three-year projects. I don’t have anything over a year. If you’re going to take three years to get something done, you’re probably going to miss the target; not because you did something wrong, but because the target moved.”

To find out more about the 18 projects receiving awards at Celent’s Innovation & Insight Day, visit our slideshow.

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