October 28, 2013

A self-described "people person," Robin Arendt has a passion for inspiring and developing IT professionals. "I love that part of the job," declares Arendt, global CIO of P&C and reinsurance firm XL Group. "I love to find a diamond in the rough, someone who hasn't gotten the exposure or recognition, see the potential and help them grow into better leaders. I had the advantage of that myself, and it goes a long way."

Her passion for people development and what she calls "the power of a team" has given Arendt a significant advantage in attracting top talent to XL. "You're only as successful as the colleagues you work with," she says. "It's really about the network and people I worked with before and bringing them together."

This is fortunate for XL because it has enabled Arendt to assemble the necessary resources to tackle a wide-ranging business transformation encompassing eight strategic initiatives: implementation of new global claims and underwriting systems, data center consolidation, modernization of pricing applications, enhancement of XL's internal and external Web portal, development of an enterprise data warehouse infrastructure, a new client and broker management system, improved risk management capabilities and introduction of innovation teams. Leveraging software partners including Microsoft Dynamics, FirstBest, Duck Creek, SAS and Cognos, it's part of a five-year IT road map to support XL's profitable growth.

[Meet Arendt and hear from other prominent insurance technologists, including keynote speaker Marsh COO Bill Pieroni and 2013 Elite 8 Amica Mutual CIO Peter Moreau, at I&T's Elite 8 Executive Forum, Nov. 7 in New York City]

The impetus came from CEO Michael McGavick (with whom Arendt worked when he was CEO of Safeco), who identified talent and technology as the two drivers of XL's success. "My mission is around enabling the strategy and providing the flexible systems or capabilities that enable the business to really support complex risk and have scalability." For XL to potentially double or triple in size -- profitably -- "my IT budget can't grow two to three times its size," she adds. "The only way to do that is move to global platforms."

When she joined XL in 2010, Arendt encountered an environment with siloed and redundant systems. "We are replatforming our core business platforms, all the way, from the front end, which is managing our customer and distribution channels, through the core underwriting and policy processing [systems], all the way to the back end," she says. "Then you've got all the data and analytics in support of every single process underpinning the strategic programs."

Business/IT Cooperation

So far, migration to a single global claims system (Accenture's Claims Components) has been completed. Overall, execution on the eight initiatives will be about 50% done by the end of the year, and about 80% complete by the end of 2014, Arendt reports. Not surprisingly, a key factor in the progress of the transformation has been a strong partnership between IT and the business. Every program has a different business sponsor who is paired with an IT program manager so there is "joint leadership on both sides that is really driving the change."

Since the transformation involves several potentially multiyear projects, Arendt has sought ways (with the help of agile development methodologies) to break them up into smaller pieces and achieve some quick wins that motivate the IT team and show progress to the business partners -- what she calls "strategy sizzle." According to Arendt, "Along the way we identify quick wins to add incremental business value." One such recent win was the launch of an iPad-based risk engineering app, developed in conjunction with Cognizant.

This also is where XL's revived focus on innovation comes into play. When the IT road map was launched in 2011, Arendt assembled a small team that adopted "kind of a strike-force approach to business solutions -- you have to be able to deliver in 90 to 120 days." The team didn't focus on "large, hairy, complex problems, but small issues," such as providing risk engineers with a mobile system.

Although the group produced more than 12 innovations, after that first year Arendt recognized that there were missed opportunities to tap into the ideas and creativity from other XL colleagues. "For 2012-2013, we went from innovating through a central team to innovating with project teams," she says. "We're trying to take the same approach and embed that further into the organization."

It's more than the familiar "deliver on time and at budget" mandate, although Arendt's organization consistently has done so throughout the transformation. She explains, "All of the goals for my IT organization are aligned with achieving business outcomes, and then taking the next step, around the benefits we're going to achieve. All that gets fed into the businesses' plans. That accountability is built into the business as well as IT and it comes through in the performance goals."

It all comes back to the power of the team, Arendt says. "It's one thing building out a system; it's another thing putting the right training, support and accountability in place so end users can successfully leverage the new technology. Your return on investment will be marginalized if you don't get that right."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Katherine Burger is Editorial Director of Bank Systems & Technology and Insurance & Technology, members of UBM TechWeb's InformationWeek Financial Services. She assumed leadership of Bank Systems & Technology in 2003 and of Insurance & ...