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3 Secrets to Allstate's Innovation

Allstate EVP of technology and operations Suren Gupta says he wants the company to be known as innovative. He reveals three secrets to building an innovative corporate culture.

Suren Gupta
Suren Gupta, Allstate
When former Wells Fargo CIO Suren Gupta was named EVP of technology and operations for Allstate ($724 million in Q4 2011 net income) in April 2011, his new boss, Allstate CEO Thomas Wilson, praised Gupta's "leadership, innovative thinking and technology expertise." A year into Gupta's tenure with the Northbrook, Ill.-based insurer — where he is responsible for enterprisewide technology strategy, network infrastructure, enterprise applications governance, security and compliance — those qualities are coming to the forefront in the ways he's shaping Allstate's technology organization.

"Technology is smack in the middle of everything we do today, right from putting products together to how we interact with our customers and serve them day in and day out," Gupta tells Insurance & Technology. "We as a company always want to be seen as innovative." Gupta outlines three ways he has worked over the past year to install an innovative culture across Allstate:

1. Ensuring Systems Are Prepared for the Future

Upon arriving at Allstate, Gupta says, a major goal he was tasked with was ensuring that the insurer's systems and infrastructure were able to scale up to its customer service needs and demands. "One of the areas of focus I had during the first year is making sure our existing systems are stable and scalable and always able to be up and serving our customers," he relates. "It's always good for someone coming in to make sure that from a capacity management standpoint, systems are ready to go."

Allstate's systems were tested soon after Gupta's arrival with a multitude of catastrophe events that made 2011 notorious in the insurance industry. "Clearly over the past couple of years, the CAT events have tested our systems, but I'm delighted to say that we've run through the events using our systems with no glitches," he says.

2. Re-Envisioning the IT Department

Gupta initiated a reorganization of the IT organization to better align it with business needs; meanwhile, he began to emphasize a focus on the quality of code produced both by internal and external developers.

"For any company that is in the software business, quality of code that we produce is key to our ability to serve all the stakeholders that we have in the company," Gupta explains. "With every new capability you have, the complexity goes up exponentially. The probability of failure is also higher. We have to make sure we pay attention to the details."

The reorganization involved promoting some internal people to new positions as well as bringing in new talent both from inside and from outside the financial services industry. "We organized in a way that we were closer to the business; in doing so we had some open positions, and industry experience wasn't the only factor we considered [in filling them]," Gupta says. "We also have outstanding talent at Allstate who have taken on broader and bigger roles."

3. Facilitating Innovative Ideas From Across the Enterprise

Finally, Gupta reports that he has put together a cross-functional working group featuring representatives from across Allstate — including members of the technology, marketing and sales departments — to which any employee can submit ideas. He's quick to point out, however, that the goal isn't to create an extra bureaucracy; rather, the group functions like a venture capital organization, evaluating and funding ideas.

"You cannot force someone to be innovative — it should be encouraged as a natural thought process that people can capitalize on," Gupta says. "There has to be a platform for innovative ideas to be presented that's supportive of the innovative ideas that the business comes up with."

This innovative focus has one goal, Gupta concludes: "At the end of the day, the center of our universe is our customers. Our focus is certainly to make sure that we're servicing them in the most effective way."

[What's the Potential of Allstate's Online Life Insurance Sales? See related story.]

Nathan Golia is senior editor of Insurance & Technology. He joined the publication in 2010 as associate editor and covers all aspects of the nexus between insurance and information technology, including mobility, distribution, core systems, customer interaction, and risk ... View Full Bio

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User Rank: Apprentice
4/5/2012 | 5:31:47 PM
re: 3 Secrets to Allstate's Innovation
I'm surprised by this article. The systems we have at Allstate are slow, slow, slow. The website is not user friendly, there is constant outages, every time we get an "upgrade", it makes things slower. Half the day is spent WAITING on the user interface to load the next screen. Instead of all this innovation, how about going back to the basics? More, and faster, servers to handle the traffic. Hours are wasted at Allstate because of slow technology,
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