Michael Keller's mission is to create a collaborative IT environment, maximize ROI on technology investments and deliver value-added services.With the rapid increase in the number of companies under the Nationwide Financial Services Inc. umbrella, Michael Keller had a formidable mission in his first year: create a cohesive, collaborative IT community within Nationwide to leverage capabilities, maximize return on IT investment and deliver more value-added services.
"It may sound simplistic, but my biggest challenge this first year as CIO has been to redefine my role and create the framework to best manage IT across all of Nationwide's companies," says Keller, Nationwide's executive vice president and enterprise CIO.
CIO Role Redefined
In fact, Keller's challenge has been extremely complex when viewed in the context of the divergent insurance and financial services companies that comprise Nationwide today. Along with its subsidiaries and affiliates, Nationwide is the 30th largest insurance and financial services company in the world with more than $113 billion in assets.
Within its three core businesses of domestic property/casualty, life and retirement savings, and asset management, Nationwide offers a broad range of insurance and financial services that include auto, fire, life, health and commercial insurance, administrative services, annuities, mutual funds, pensions, and long-term savings plans.
Through multiple distribution channels, the company does business in the United States, Canada and the Virgin Islands and also provides life and long-term savings products in Asia, Europe, and Latin America. Nationwide acquired London-based Gartmore Group in 2000, the asset management arm that has leading market positions in the United Kingdom, as well as in Europe and Japan.
To give Keller the top leadership role across IT operations, Nationwide Chief Executive Officer W.G. Jurgenson expanded the responsibilities of the enterprise CIO position when Keller was hired.
As a result, he now oversees 5,000 IT staff members in three major areas: Corporate IT, Line of Business IT and the Nationwide Services Co.
Corporate IT includes the chief technology officer and staff in technology strategy, information risk management, processes and governance. Line of Business includes the CIOs for Nationwide Insurance and Nationwide Financial, as well as CIOs for Nationwide's affilitates and subsidiary companies such as Allied Insurance, Scottsdale Insurance, Gartmore Group, and others. The Nationwide Services Company includes IT staff that provide supporting services, including corporate applications and technology, supply management and document services.
Another way Jurgenson significantly redefined the enterprise CIO position was to make Keller a direct report. This unprecedented action instantly elevated the status of IT and was a drastic change that did not go unnoticed throughout the organization, according to Srinivas Koushik, enterprise chief technology officer.
"Now that Mike reports directly to the CEO, IT has reached the right level at Nationwide," Koushik says. "Mike has raised the profile of IT and brought attention to the fact that the various businesses can achieve more success working together on common IT objectives."
In his efforts to create a cohesive IT community across Nationwide, Keller reorganized his leadership within the Corporate IT group which included hiring a new head of IT risk management, a new chief technology officer, and a new leader of strategy.
After a strong team was in place in the corporate group, Keller then created two separate IT committees to facilitate honest, ongoing communication between IT leadership within the line of business, corporate and Nationwide services groups.
Keller says this communication was essential to determine and solve practical issues and formulate long-term IT direction.
"Because Nationwide is so large and has had some significant acquisitions over the last few years, there were different models and different expectations on how we should run IT," he says. "Through more open dialogue, we have been able to create common goals and strategies as well as determine which IT functions can be better done on a collective basis and which functions would be better done on a decentralized or autonomous line-of-business basis."
The IT steering committee, which meets once a month, consists of senior leaders and technical staff and provides overall business direction for IT, helps with IT strategy and leverages IT capabilities at an enterprise level. CIOs of the business units comprise the CIO committee that meets semi-monthly and focuses on operations, setting technical standards and executing IT objectives.
These committees also have provided a unique open forum for discussion, Koushik says.
"These committees have made significant achievements because senior leaders and CIOs of the individual business units are actually talking about common goals across the enterprise," he explains. "Because we committee members have become so comfortable with each other, we can now raise and address issues that used to get buried."
Creating IT Strategy
The committees are responsible for creating a cohesive three-part IT strategy for the entire enterprise. The first objective is to strengthen the company's core IT capabilities.
Keller and the CIO committee established a framework that outlines the core IT competencies most important to Nationwide's long-term business growth and success. IT goals through 2005 center on improving those core competencies, which include value-delivery ROI, flexible and robust architecture, IT solution delivery capability, IT operations excellence, adequate risk management, and high-performing staff.
Because of newer Web-based technologies, the two capabilities that demand the most staff attention and present the most challenges are solution delivery (which includes application delivery) and operations excellence, Keller says.
"Moving from a mainframe or client-server environment to Web-based technology has mandated dramatic changes in our staff skills, infrastructure and processes," he explains.
"Similarly, maintaining operations excellence with a large complex set of servers and storage subsystems, data centers, and telecommunications networks in the new Web-based arena also requires more of our attention to ensure a high level of reliability and availability."
The second component of Nationwide's IT strategy involves scrutinizing the multiple, relatively autonomous lines of business that sell different products in different distribution channels, and to be sure sound business technology strategy supports efforts to differentiate products in the marketplace. Specifically, Keller says Nationwide is working on new systems to manage the pension business and also to manage sales automation and CRM arenas for Nationwide Financial Services and Nationwide Insurance.
The third aspect of the IT strategy calls for leveraging and sharing IT capabilities across the various companies to reduce expenses or find new revenue or growth opportunities.
Keller says his original mission to create an IT community with a synergistic, team approach to managing information technology at Nationwide will remain an ongoing challenge. By all accounts, however, he has made tremendous progress in his first year.
"Mike has succeeded in creating a collaborative environment that did not exist here before," says George McKinnon, chief executive officer for Nationwide Insurance. "Under his leadership we have taken huge steps forward to operate as one team, and the power of that teamwork has helped us eliminate redundant projects, solve mutual problems and harness creativity."
Future Goals, Vision
In the future, Keller says Nationwide will continue to focus on using Web-based technology to improve how systems interact with both distribution partners and end customers. He points to industrywide standards such as XML as revolutionizing the processes that will allow the exchange, management, and flow of information between Nationwide companies without paper work and excessive manual intervention.
Nationwide also wants to extend Web-based technology to end customers who wish to conduct business through the company Web site and in some cases, direct system-to-system connections. However, he does not see Nationwide focusing its major IT resources on technology to allow more product sales directly through the Internet.
"I don't feel that technology is an end in itself here at Nationwide," Keller explains. "I still view it as a means to increase internal and external productivity, improve service to end customers and enable new kinds of business capabilities."
Tina Tapas is a freelance writer based in Prospect Heights, Ill.
Michael c. Keller
Bachelor of Science in Mathematics,
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Mich.
June 2001 to present
Executive vice president and CIO, Nationwide Insurance and
Financial Services, Columbus, Ohio
1999 to 2001
Chief technology officer, corporate infrastructure,
Bank One Corp., Columbus, Ohio
1998 to 1999
Senior vice president, business & partner management,
Bank One Corp.
1996 to 1997
Director, consulting & systems integration, IBM Corp., Detroit
1995 to 1996
Automotive industry executive, IBM
1993 to 1994
Business unit executive, IBM
1992 to 1993
Manager of consulting services, IBM
1989 to 1991
Marketing manager, IBM
Industrial sector program manager, IBM
1982 to 1987
Marketing representative, IBM
Columbus technology leadership council, Hewlitt Packard customer advisory board, Center for Information Technologies in Management advisory board
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