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Information Is Power

Ronald Williams champions technology to support the creation of a high-performance culture as Aetna innovates consumer-directed healthcare.

To characterize Ronald A. Williams, CEO and president of Hartford-based Aetna (2005 revenue of $22.5 billion), as tech-savvy is an understatement. As a member of the Class of 1984 at Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan School of Management, Williams was required to use a personal computer - at the time, a brand-new business tool. "I have followed the evolution of computers from that period," he notes. Furthermore, early in his career Williams worked for seven years at supercomputer pioneer Control Data Corp. As a result, he acknowledges, "I have a deep appreciation for the importance of technology in most businesses. This made me, as an executive, much more facile and comfortable with technology than many of my peers."

Today, Williams relies on his BlackBerry, travels with a Toshiba Libretto laptop and has videoconferencing capability in his office. "If anyone tries to reach me and they can't, it's because they haven't tried," he quips. But technology isn't just about convenience for Williams, who joined Aetna, a provider of healthcare, dental, pharmacy, group life, disability and long-term care insurance and employee benefits, in 2001. It's also been central to the company's dramatic transformation into a profitable leader in the emerging consumer-directed healthcare (CDHC) market. "At Aetna, we think about technology as the means by which we actually achieve implementation of our strategy," Williams says. "At our core, we really are a healthcare information technology company."

Lower Costs, Higher Quality

This approach to technology investment is producing measurable results at Aetna, which serves 27.9 million unique members. "In 2005 we added one million new members, principally on the basis of the innovations we have developed using technology, and on the ability for us to integrate different components of the healthcare system - which has helped us lower medical costs and [provide] better quality," Williams declares.

Williams sits on Aetna's IT governance committee and is "involved in the development [and monitoring] of the IT plan and [its] integration into our business strategy." In partnership with executives such as SVP/CIO Meg McCarthy, VP/CTO/deputy CIO Michael J. Connolly, and former CEO and now Executive Chairman John W. Rowe, M.D., he has championed Aetna's tech-driven CDHC strategy. "Information technology was a fundamental enabler of the innovation of consumer-directed health plans," Williams says. "We had to fundamentally change our information systems so they became decision-support vehicles that could help members understand what information they need to make decisions about this new category of product."

Aetna is now on the eighth version of its HealthFund product line that includes health savings account, health reimbursement arrangement and retiree reimbursement account options. "Each version has been preceded by a significant investment in our information systems to support the product," Williams reports.

Other recent initiatives include creation of the Aexcel Physician Networks; development of the Aetna Navigator Web portal, which gives members access to their health information and claims history and facilitates self-service; and the 2005 acquisition of ActiveHealth Management, a New York-based healthcare data analytics company that converts clinical research and peer-review findings into computer algorithms.

Williams also spearheaded implementation of an executive management information system, which "gives us [consistent] access ... to all of the financials, operational indicators, service indicators and metrics information." The importance of this system cannot be underestimated, according to Williams: "It has been helpful to the creation of a high-performance culture, and also in making certain there is a unified and consistent way of understanding how we're performing and the challenges we face."


Ronald A. Williams


"At Aetna, we think about technology as the means by which we actually achieve implementation of our strategy."

Career: Joined Aetna in 2001 as EVP/chief of health operations; named president in 2002 and CEO/president in February 2006. Previously, Williams was group president of the Large Group Division at WellPoint Health Networks and president of its Blue Cross of California subsidiary (which he joined in 1987). Before that, he was SVP at Vista Health Corp., group marketing executive at Control Data Corp., and president/cofounder of Integrative Systems.

Education: Williams is a graduate of Roosevelt University and holds an M.S. in Management from MIT's Sloan School of Management.

Hobbies: Williams is a self-described "jazz aficionado" who also enjoys reading and movies - "The Treasure of Sierra Madre" is a favorite.

To hear more from the 2006 Tech-Savvy CEOs, go to:

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It's fair to say that behind every successful insurance CEO you'll find an effective CIO; no business leader who dismisses the importance of technology will fare well against competitors in the long run, and those not trained in technology must collaborate effectively with those who are.

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Running a Tight Ship
Mark Schwarzmann's up-front discipline improves the technology process and drives the use of standards at Ameriprise Financial.

Information Is Power
Ronald Williams champions technology to support the creation of a high-performance culture as Aetna innovates consumer-directed healthcare.

Making Things Easier
By keeping it simple, Kent Cannon drives IT to facilitate business growth at Beneficial Financial Group.

Getting Closer
Insurance company CEOs might not yet know as much about technology as their technology officers might hope, but they know they need to be informed -- and so do the boards that evaluate their performance.

Changing the Game Through Technology Leadership
Michael D. Fraizer, CEO, Genworth Financial, one of Insurance & Technology's Tech-Savvy CEOs of 2005, shares his thoughts on the centrality of technology and the disciplines of innovation in shaping the insurance enterprise of the future.

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 & Technology in 1991. In addition to ... View Full Bio

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