Tara Long: Making seats at the table at MassMutual

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As the technology leader behind MassMutual’s $80 billion institutional solutions group, Tara Long has built an enthusiastic, effective and diverse team that is delivering results for the growing business segment.

Institutional Solutions comprises a range of products aimed at institutions’ financial and risk management needs: institutional insurance, defined benefit, pension risk transfer, DC investment only, medium term notes and municipal guaranteed interest contracts. Long says: “There are a lot of legacy environments at a company that is more than 165 years old, so we are continually aiming to modernize the systems and create even more scale. But on the other hand, some of the businesses are fairly new and we are implementing new technology capabilities in the market that they need. As some of these areas continue to rapidly expand, we’ve created additional new systems and capabilities to help automate and streamline to meet the growth.”

However, she has been able to reduce the unit’s application footprint while making her organization a leader in tapping into many of MassMutual’s corporate innovation initiatives, including an increased focus on data science and customer experience.

“We want to make sure that we have more than simply market parity. We need to exceed it in portals, digital and analytics capabilities so we can support team enablement, business and risk management decisions, and provide an exceptional customer experience,” Long says. “We developed a data mart and are deeply involved with data analytics. What used to take days or a week now only takes hours.”

For the data mart, Long says that her group partnered with MassMutual’s customer experience and data science organization “very closely.” “The power is in that data. It’s definitely a market need across every single channel,” she says.

Long also supports those groups’ efforts to increase the presence of women in data science positions. MassMutual has partnered with the women’s colleges Mount Holyoke and Smith, which are located near its headquarters in Springfield, Mass., to encourage female students to enter the analytics profession. She serves as chair of the company’s Technology and Administration Diversity and Inclusion Committee, which has yielded more diverse interview panels and candidate pools under her watch.

And Long doesn’t only look to increase the profile of women. She is a contributor to groups that help raise the profile for other under-represented populations, including the Hispanic IT Executive Council and the Information Technology Senior Management Forum, which focuses on black IT professionals.

“Diversity and inclusion is a strategic imperative for us — we have metrics at the enterprise level that we’re measuring,” she says. “One of the things that we did was stand up a committee specific to the tech organization. We’ve made a lot of significant and different positive changes — for instance, we recently held a fireside chat with a UMASS professor whose research specializes in unconscious bias and how it impedes the experiences of women and people of color in STEM degrees and fields.”

But creating a more diverse tech organization takes several different forms, Long adds. It’s not just diversity from a gender and race perspective, but also involves bringing people in from different backgrounds and gaining new approaches to digital challenges.

“We’re hiring non-traditional tech folks, coming from the business side,” she says. “Technology skills can be taught. I’m looking for someone that wants to be a continuous learner — push themselves and learn something new.”

And within the technology organization, Long encourages her staff to explore new ideas and take the time to continuously learn new technology. For example, many of the developers on her team have started learning to develop in newer tech languages and recently one of the mainframe developers is excited about learning Python.

“The technology is constantly evolving. We need to have someone who’s a quick study and wants to get into and learn that skill set to support the evolving tech,” she says. “We want communication and execution skills and accountability. An inclusive team that can put all the different ideas together on the table and come to the best innovative solutions.”

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