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02:34 PM
Lisa Valentine
Lisa Valentine
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There’s No ’I’ in ’Team’

At Nationwide Financial, business and IT work together to reduce costs and improve processes. CIO Dennis Noice leads the charge.

Dennis Noice is no stranger to getting the most out of every IT budget dollar. In fact, as CIO for Columbus, Ohio-based Nationwide Financial Services, he has saved the company millions of dollars by implementing new technologies and improving process efficiency. Back in the late '90s, for example, Noice and his IT staff teamed with a group from Nationwide's life insurance business and collectively managed to save $7 million per year in ongoing costs and decrease underwriting time from 45 days to 22 days by deploying, among other solutions, an underwriting desktop application to automate manual processes.

A more recent initiative that netted impressive savings is the individual investment group's (IIG) "Challenge the Base" program. Partnering with IIG, the goal was to automate the manual processes that had proliferated over the years. Implementing new imaging, workflow and back-office systems saved IIG more than $5 million and Noice's IT organization $1.2 million in just two years, the CIO relates.

And the list of savings continues. Noice's IT group will save about $6 million in 2005 by working more efficiently with the company's infrastructure support organization. Most of those savings have come from tiering storage support, consolidating servers and deploying support resources more effectively, he explains. Noice and his infrastructure partners also are exploring server virtualization to achieve additional savings.

To encourage cost savings throughout the organization, Nationwide Financial ($117 billion in assets) asks business units to commit to saving a dollar amount based on predefined criteria, and then holds the unit accountable by reducing the budget by that amount. Noice says he's lucky to work in an organization that takes cost reductions so seriously. "If you just did those projects and added an extra layer of expense, that would be unacceptable," he says. "We need to find significant savings so we can take those savings and invest them back in the business to lead us down our strategic path."

Judicious use of technology, Noice points out, is only part of the reason his organization has been so successful in reducing costs. As an example, he credits a combination of technology and process changes orchestrated by the life operations underwriting department as having had the biggest impact on savings. "These programs demand a great partnership between the business and IT," explains Noice. To encourage these partnerships, the IT staff has been relocated to be physically closer to the business for iterative development, daily progress meetings and visioning sessions to map out future strategies.

More for Less, Together

While Noice is proud of the money savings and operational efficiencies gained by initiatives such as the Challenge the Base program, he gets most excited talking about how such initiatives demonstrate what can happen when IT and the business work together. "You not only reduce your costs, but you come out with better service for the customers and better employee engagement because employees are not doing mundane tasks - they are doing more-valuable activities for customers," he asserts.

Despite his past successes, Noice says he currently is facing the biggest IT challenge of his career as he leads a complete transformation of his IT organization while still meeting the ongoing demands of the business. The transformation, he relates, will change significantly the way the company uses and deploys its IT resources.

"Nationwide aspires to be a great company, and this is what great companies do - continually evaluate your organization, processes and capabilities, as well as how you are spending dollars to assure that everything is appropriately aligned to deliver on our commitments to the business," explains Noice. "I have committed to deliver more higher-quality deliverables for significantly fewer dollars." According to Noice, transformation planning began in the first quarter of 2005 and "Transition State 1" will roll out starting in January 2006.

Noice expects the transformation to enable his IT staff to execute projects more effectively, improve the capabilities and skills of his staff, and enable IT to apply more-effective application development methodologies. "As we start more globally prioritizing where we can spend our money to get the greatest value for the company, it is necessary to be a little lighter on our feet in how we allocate resources," he explains.

Additionally, Nationwide Financial and the other IT units at Nationwide will transition to an organizational model in which IT associates will have a reporting relationship to competency centers based on their skills.

Another benefit, adds Noice, is that IT will be better aligned with business units. And the money saved through the transformation - upward of $150 million over five years - will help fund growth initiatives and new business opportunities, he notes.

Fortunately, Noice considers himself lucky to be surrounded by "ambitious technology professionals who want to do the right things for the company. If there is one thing I stress above all else, it's that IT staff are, first and foremost, team players who strive to help one another succeed," says Noice. "I also emphasize that IT staff needs to understand our businesses. My team has a solid mix of technology and business savvy, they like one another, and they work exceptionally well in raising the level of trust and credibility of IT with our businesses."

An expert at spending IT money wisely, Noice is working on spending his time wisely as well. "It's very easy to allow others to decide how I spend my time," he explains. "But I need to spend my time in ways that have the greatest impact on the goals of the company. I am getting much more selective when I have a choice and am opting to spend it interacting with our associates and business constituents."


Fact Sheet

Dennis Noice

Senior Vice President and CIO

Nationwide Financial Services (Columbus, Ohio; $117 billion in assets).

Size of IT Staff: 1,300, including 140 contract employees.

IT Budget: $200 million.

Education: B.S. in Accounting from Franklin University (Columbus, Ohio). Noice also is a CPA and holds certifications as a Chartered Life Underwriter and Chartered Financial Consultant.

Work History: Noice has been at Nationwide for 34 years, the last seven as CIO. For 12 of those years, he managed the Individual Annuity and Variable Life Operations, and Customer Service and Systems. Noice also took management turns at Public Sector Operations, Customer Services, and Systems Development and Mutual Fund Operations.

Management Philosophy: Technology projects "demand a great partnership between the business and IT," Noice says. "You not only reduce your costs, but you come out with better service for the customers and better employee engagement because employees are not doing mundane tasks - they are doing more-valuable activities for customers."

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