It may sound like a cliche, but the insurance industry is moving faster than ever when it comes to business agility, and CIOs need to work harder at keeping up with technology developments that can support business objectives, opined Joe Cooper, CIO, Manulife (Toronto), in a recent conversation. "I think the industry is coming of age; many companies are realizing that this isn't just cost structure anymore," Cooper comments. "It is something where you make an investment and you get a return."
Cooper, who spent most of his career at IBM, including running the company's insurance outsourcing business prior to arriving at Manulife, says that today's insurance CIO needs not only the knowledge to make the right technology decisions, but also what he calls executive presence, and the ability to make the case to senior leadership.
"You have to have the salesmanship and the confidence that you're making the right choice," Cooper opines. "You have to have salesmanship not only in explaining choices to senior executives but also in attracting the right talent to be able to execute."
The case Cooper made soon after arriving at Manulife was to move the company's IT organization and capabilities away from its traditionally decentralized, locally autonomous scheme to a federated model. Cooper has renovated the company's infrastructure, implementing a new VoIP network, and undertaking other enterprise projects such as consolidating onto a single e-mail system. Cooper reports that Manulife's renovated infrastructure has facilitated SOA deployments around the business. "Governance in a SOA environment, which has been a failure in many companies is much easier to execute within a federated model because of the sharing of intellectual capital the model fosters," he comments.
The company is also seeing increased dialogue between technology and operations on the business process management front, according to Cooper. "I think BPM is where some of the winning spaces are going to be in competitive execution," he says. "It is one of the elements that will make financial institutions much more agile, much more reactive to market changes, much more capable of creating the market change versus reacting to it."
Reflecting on other areas large insurers and financial services companies will need to focus on in the coming years, Cooper notes the need for increasingly robust networks to support burgeoning data and voice communications needs. "We will have to keep extending [the network] to support the sheer fact of mobility and having access to huge information flows that are starting to come into the organization and through it," he advises.
Companies will also have to invest heavily in business intelligence and analytics, Cooper suggests. "You have to make a heavy investment into collaboration, and to support that you have to have seamless flow and connectivity," he comments. "With those things going well for you over the coming few years, you'll be able to provide better customer service, and make faster, better qualified decisions."
Cooper reports Manulife's deployment of visualization tools for performance management, as well as risk management dashboards.