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Insurance CIOs Are Reshaping Their IT Organizations to Fit the Times

A combination of economic, cultural and technological forces is making insurance CIOs rethink the configuration of their IT organizations.

Sourcing presents special challenges within mobile initiatives as well, because of the diversity of related technologies, platforms and service providers, according to Muthuswami. He recommends that insurance carriers retain core mobile capabilities within their IT organizations. "The senior architects and technical people must be in-house, [because] this is not an easily outsourced area of work," he says. Insurers should choose external partners based on their program management capabilities and comprehensive skills across the mobile arena.

"Agility is the other most important requirement of the chosen provider," Muthuswami adds. "Using multiple vendors restricts agility."

The multiple classifications of professionals within an internal IT organization also impede the kind of agility required to respond to a rapidly changing marketplace, argues Ram Sundaram, principal at X by 2, a consultancy that specializes in architecture and execution leadership for large, transformation initiatives. Like the armed forces, insurers need to be prepared less for challenges requiring massive mobilization and more for localized efforts better addressed by special forces squads, Sundaram suggests.

"The concept is one of a highly versatile and flexible workforce that can go on special missions and get things done," he says. "It's the idea of a strategic and tactical versus an operational IT organization."

Sundaram says that these teams are designed as workforces with orders of magnitude of productivity above traditional staff. They would typically represent only 10% to 20% of the entire IT organization's staff and would consist of individuals with a breadth of expertise or "coarse-grained versatilists." "The phrase we use is '10-exers,' in the sense that they are 10 times as capable as your average resource," he relates.

The teams need to be given greater latitude in how they direct their own work; and while they still require supervision, it should be in the sense of leadership rather than management, according to Sundaram. "You should give them responsibility and accountability as opposed to detailed tasks and rigid job descriptions," he advises. "They need the opportunity to 'color outside the lines.'"

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan (Lansing, Mich.; $20.9 billion in 2012 revenue), an X by 2 client, has developed such a multidisciplined, flexible workforce, reports Paul MacLellan, director of healthcare value IT at BCBSM. MacLellan's team approach combines IT analytics professionals with medical informatics specialists and what he calls "pure analysts," who could be Ph.D.-level statisticians or medical economics analysts. "Using this analytics-informatics-IT triangle, we've broken out of the pattern of building things that business users end up saying aren't useful," he says.

The traditional way of working would be for IT to form a production line against a request, assemble people to perform design and development tasks, and emerge with a completed product. "We find that doesn't work," MacLellan reports. "We seek to have continual visibility through the entire development life cycle to ensure we're building the right things."

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MacLellan describes the interaction as partnering rather than "policing" to ensure that the team is on track. Working this way obviates the need for user testing, he says: "In the end there's a formal quality gate that we have to go through, but without the typical back-and-forth struggle and arm-twisting to go live."

Through the analytics-informatics-IT team's work, BCBSM has found that it's more efficient to pay more for people who can handle multiple roles. "I don't have a project manager, business analyst, developer, designer and a tester, but rather a person who can fill any number of those roles," MacLellan says.

One way the approach optimizes work is to lessen the amount of documentation needed, MacLellan says. "When you're documenting what you're doing for yourself and don't have to explain from scratch, you're much more efficient," he explains. "You always need quality, but most interim documents we create in IT are disposable artifacts that don't live on to be useful to anyone. You can make your team more efficient when you take all that waste out of the process."

MacLellan doesn't use the "10-exer" term but says that it wouldn't be far from accurate. His team recently built an engine to verify the accreditation of products for health exchanges, as required by the healthcare reform law. "We signed at the end of September and had a working engine with results of our work in the hands of [healthcare] providers for review in December," MacLellan says. "I've met a million vendors who say they can deliver within 90 days, but it never seems to happen. In this case we did that."

Anthony O'Donnell has covered technology in the insurance industry since 2000, when he joined the editorial staff of Insurance & Technology. As an editor and reporter for I&T and the InformationWeek Financial Services of TechWeb he has written on all areas of information ... View Full Bio

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User Rank: Apprentice
5/31/2013 | 2:58:27 PM
re: Insurance CIOs Are Reshaping Their IT Organizations to Fit the Times
Excellent article! It was enlightening to receive such thorough insight into the IT aspect of information management, especially from CIO, Al Parisian of Montana State Fund. Really reveals how technical strategy and tactical decisions are truly influencing the state of IT infrastructure today.
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