670: In this interview, Willard discusses the topic of continuous modernization and innovation through co-creation. Will begins with an overview of The Hanover Insurance Group’s business model and the two sides of his purview. He shares his career journey through various roles in IT, operations, and other business lines; how they culminated in his current role in both IT and innovation; and how they have positioned him to better seize opportunities in innovation. Will also covers how his team is set up, its intersections across the rest of the business, and the role of IT in the agent, customer, and employee journeys. Finally, Will touches on the role of data and analytics at the company, his perspective on rising InsurTech players, future trends, and the keys to his career success.

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664: Puneet discusses the combination of business operations and technology in his career. Puneet begins with an overview of Unum Group and his purview as both CIO and CDO. He talks about the skill sets he looks for in talent when building his team and how they contribute to the company’s focus on creating value through platforms in addition to other areas of innovation at Unum. Puneet also shares his career experience in both operations and technology and covers the ways the CIO role translates into adjacent areas of influence in a company. Finally, Puneet gives his perspective on his pathway to board membership, trends in technology that are on his radar, and the keys to his success in his field.

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647: Bill discusses the expansion of the technology leader’s role and its growing impact on the company’s interactions with customers. Bill begins with what his joint responsibility consists of and the power it holds under one executive’s responsibilities. He explains how people are the most important asset of a company and MetLife’s investments in talent to retain its skilled workforce. Finally, Bill gives his perspective on being cognizant of customer experiences outside his industry to ensure he is providing the best service to his customers and the company’s natural coopetition with InsurTech companies in the space.

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This episode is sponsored by Cisco.

Dean Del Vecchio is the Executive Vice President, Chief Information Officer, and Chief of Operations at Guardian Life, roughly 160-year-old mutual company with roughly $10.5 billion in annual revenue. He leads a team of about 4,500 employees. He is a major driver of innovation across the company, but he and his team hoped to open up innovation to the majority of colleagues rather than make it a purview of a single team at Guardian Life. In fact, he has even facilitated a method to engage outside partners and vendors in the process, as well.

Del Vecchio has defined three categories of innovation:

  • Core innovation
  • Adjacent innovation
  • Transformational innovation

Core innovation entails finding a better, a faster or a simpler way to perform everyday tasks of the company.

Adjacent innovation requires monitoring other companies, including innovative ideas driven in other industries and translating them back to Guardian Life. “If there is somebody else doing something out there, it does not have to be in our industry, our segment or our market,” said Del Vecchio. “If somebody is doing something interesting and differently than we are today, let’s copy it.”

Transformational innovation fosters the development of truly big and new ideas for the company to pursue. “It is rethinking a market segment, [for example],” said Del Vecchio. “It could be rethinking how we do work entirely. We have been quite innovative in the way we thought about operating in the cloud, for example. We have been operating in the cloud since 2018. We shut down our data center in 2018. We no longer have an owned operating data center.”

To foster the development of all three types of innovation, Del Vecchio has developed innovation challenges for the team. It involves posing a challenge question of the team and leveraging the wisdom of the crowd to develop creative answers to the question. “We have employees vote on [the ideas], and we have them do pairwise comparisons on [them],” noted Del Vecchio. “Then the good ideas that bubble up, we do a Shark Tank experience. We have people put forth their idea, present it to a group of people, we vote, and we challenge [them with] questions. If an idea gets thumbs up, we move it forward to a minimum viable product.”

In recognizing that the best ideas will come when the net is cast widely, Del Vecchio recognized that he had to grow more technical talent, which is especially a challenge these days when the war for talent is raging at a level not previously seen. He introduced a program called Code for Good, which identifies employees in non-traditional technology roles and trains them to become developers. “It is a six-month boot camp [including] programming and learning, and then they are out on the floor,” he said. “We make sure that there is a job for them and that they have an opportunity to participate in that.” He has had multiple cohorts go through this program, and the value derived from these newly minted programmers has been profound.

Del Vecchio is building on this success with the development of an Automation for Good program. This is geared at engaging employees who work on transaction-heavy processes and engaging them to help design automation to take the place of some of the most tedious and time-consuming tasks. “Employees could be adding much more value and dealing with much more complex issues if they had the time, but because they are dealing with all these transactional things,” he noted. “Why not allow them to be able to self-automate and identify those tasks that they wish they did not have to do in the first place, and then create a much more fulfilling job for themselves?”

There is a broader vision to this. Del Vecchio and his team are mapping out the customer experience journey to understand where there are opportunities to digitize, and where to introduce self-service capabilities. He and his team hope to automate to the point of facilitating proactive and predictive capabilities. “We are doing that in ways of a digital agent, for example,” said Del Vecchio. “We have installed, using AI and automation, the digital agent capability so you could chat with a digital agent and get claim status or get eligibility of benefits.”

Del Vecchio and his team have also focused on each aspect of the relationship and the journey, whether it is the initial onboarding piece or further along in their relationship with the company. “Can we help customers with decision tools to help them select the right products?” he asked. “Ultimately, when they are on board and they need services, can we provide them with all of those avenues?” A key is to serve clients as they wish to be served. If they want to interact with a chatbot, they can do so through their mobile device. If they prefer the web, they can do that. If they want a mobile app, Guardian Life provides that capability. “We are not there yet but that is how we are looking at it, and we are looking at it across all medium, as well as all segments of that lifecycle engagement,” said Del Vecchio. He and his team have the processes and the ideas to drive continued innovation through Guardian Life on behalf of its customers.

Peter High is President of  Metis Strategy, a business and IT advisory firm. He has written two bestselling books, and his third, Getting to Nimble, was recently released. He also moderates the Technovation podcast series and speaks at conferences around the world. Follow him on Twitter @PeterAHigh.

Amala Duggirala has joined USAA as executive vice president and enterprise chief information officer. Founded in 1922 by a group of military officers, USAA is among the leading providers of insurance, banking and investment and retirement solutions to more than 13 million members of the U.S. military. USAA has offices in seven U.S. cities and three overseas locations, with a headquarters in San Antonio, Texas. The company employs more than 37,000 people worldwide.

In her new role, Duggirala will lead a team of 6,000 colleagues, and her purview will include technology, data, security and third-party management. She will be a member of USAA’s executive council, and she will report to the company’s president and chief executive officer Wayne Peacock. USAA was founded in 1922, and Duggirala has been tasked to lead USAA’s technology transformation to strengthen the company for its second century in business.

“Amala is one of the leading strategists in technology, and we are thrilled to leverage her industry expertise and passion for developing people to lead USAA’s technology transformation,” said Peacock. “Her enthusiasm and innovative spirit are the perfect match for USAA as we continue to build innovative products and services for our members and teammates into our second century.”

“I’ve admired USAA for its accomplishments in technology throughout my career, and I look forward to maintaining its reputation as a technology and innovation leader in the financial services industry,” said Duggirala. “It’s my honor to serve the military community as well as our 37,000 employees worldwide.”

Duggirala spent her prior five years at Regions Bank. For the first two years, she was the chief information officer and chief technology officer of the company and for the last nearly three years, she expanded her responsibilities to include over operations as the chief operations and technology officer. In that expanded role, she and her teams had important responsibilities in driving Regions Bank’s fast response in serving communities through the Paycheck Protection Program, a lending program launched by the U.S. Small Business Administration to help entrepreneurs facing unprecedented financial challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prior to her time at Regions Bank, Duggirala led technology and product transformations in the fin-tech and telecom industries at companies including Kabbage, ACI Worldwide and British Telecommunications.

Duggirala holds a Master of Science from Columbia University in New York with a specialization in Business and Digital Transformation, as well as a Master of Business Administration from the University of Nebraska at Omaha and a certification in Advanced Project Management from Stanford University. She earned her degree in Electronics and Communications Engineering from Osmania University in Hyderabad, India.

Peter High is President of  Metis Strategy, a business and IT advisory firm. He has written two bestselling books, and his third, Getting to Nimble, was recently released. He also moderates the Technovation podcast series and speaks at conferences around the world. Follow him on Twitter @PeterAHigh.

631: In this interview, Amir and Dean discuss scaling artificial intelligence as a method of delivering innovative customer experiences. Amir begins by talking about how AI/ML creates value at the highest level at Discover and what the team structure looks like when bringing these innovations to market. Dean talks about how AI is used along the customer journey at Guardian Life and provides a few use cases of how automation is improving business results. Both executives then share insight into how they are integrating cross-functional product teams with the operations of the company.

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This episode is sponsored by Splunk and Cisco.


611: In this interview from our recent Metis Strategy Digital Symposium in September, Lisa Davis, SVP and CIO of Blue Shield of California, and Mike Shadler, SVP and CIO of Pacific Life, join Metis Strategy’s VP and West Coast Lead Chris Davis in a conversation about IT-led breakthroughs in the insurance industry. Lisa talks about how the pandemic has accelerated the digital business and customer experience at Blue Shield of California while Mike discusses the way Pacific Life has digitized its B2B business operations. Both leaders share insight into how their past experiences have shaped the way they lead and approach their current roles as CIOs of their respective companies. Mike gives examples of how Pacific Life is shifting and reshaping the employee experience and Lisa provides a look at how Blue Shield of California is sustaining its pace of innovation. Finally, Lisa and Mike look ahead at trends in technology that are on their radar and how they are setting the foundation for future plans at their companies.

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This episode is sponsored by Transmit Security.

599: In this interview, Dean Del Vecchio; Executive Vice President, Chief Information Officer, and Chief of Operations at Guardian Life; focuses on the expansion of the CIO role in company innovation, customer experience, and infrastructure modernization. Dean provides an overview of his responsibilities as CIO and Chief of Operations and how his responsibilities have expanded over the course of his career. He discusses the company’s Guardian on the Go Strategy as it relates to enabling employees for successful remote work and the future of remote and hybrid work environments. He gives his perspective on how remote work leveled the playing field for employees and how this might work in a hybrid work environment. Additionally, Dean talks about how culture plays a critical role in innovation and how to develop and upskill talent to foster innovation, and areas where innovation is crucial including the evolving customer digital experience. Finally, he shares how his team looks at modernizing the company’s IT Infrastructure, how ecosystems can benefit efforts in innovation, as well as trends in technology he has his eye on, among other topics.

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This episode is sponsored by Quickbase.

Like so many companies over the past year and half, Ralph Lauren has had its resilience tested as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. It had to shut down stores and offices, and had to advance efforts to better interact with customers and associates alike, safely.

Fortunately for the company, Janet Sherlock, who has been the chief information officer of Ralph Lauren for the past four years, initiated a number of initiatives that gave the company a leg up. Her purview is such that she has unusual influence for a CIO. She runs strategy and overall management of all of the technology including design conceptualization through to the point when products are distributed to either wholesale partners, the company’s stores, or directly to the company’s consumers. Her team is also responsible for store technology and the full ecosystem of in-product management and user experience. Additionally, Sherlock oversees all global digital platforms, marketing technology, data analytics, and data science. All of this is on top of global infrastructure, cybersecurity, IT risk, compliance, and privacy.

Among the fortuitous programs that were in place prior to the pandemic that aided the company’s transition during the pandemic was a hybrid flexible work arrangement called Flex Place. Upon this foundation, Sherlock’s team rapidly rolled out virtual appointment booking. Her team had already made significant progress on curbside pickup for customers. Completing its rollout ensured that the company could still do business through stores even if customers were unable or less willing to go in them.

“I think our biggest shift left efforts was probably in virtual stores,” said Sherlock. “We had been considering our approach to virtual stores before Covid hit but that was something that we pulled forward very quickly and aggressively. Our stores were such masterpieces, and the experience is so unique, we felt it was important to offer the world of Ralph Lauren to our customers, even if they couldn’t physically visit our stores.” Her team rolled out a rich virtual store experience and quickly integrated it with the company’s e-commerce platform so that customers could purchase certain products via hotspots directly from their virtual experience. “At this point, we have seven different virtual store experiences, and are continuing to build on the capabilities that we have in our virtual store environment,” noted Sherlock.

One of the thornier issues that Sherlock and team had to grapple with how to assist Ralph Lauren’s design and merchandising teams, each of whom relied and thrived on in-person collaboration. Sherlock’s team set up a design collaboration platform for them to use, and it proved to be a silver lining of the pandemic inasmuch as the teams developed new ways to work and collaborate. Now the design and merchandising teams anticipate an ability to continue to work both in person and virtually, adding flexibility to their work routines.

Another process that the company took for granted had to be done in person was the product approval process, which traditionally relied on in-person meetings to discuss milestones related to lines, styles, and fit approvals. It was long assumed that those involved had to be able to physically see and touch the material in order to make decisions. “We were able to leverage our 3D product development for the approval process, which also had the side benefit of streamlining the process,” said Sherlock. “We [also] had to create online experiences to replicate and replace our showroom visits, and support different virtual ordering processes for our wholesale partners.”

As Sherlock contemplated the future, she noted three strategic priorities: experiences, data, and automation. The overarching benefit of these foci should be greater nimbleness for the company. The experiences center around creating a variety of customer journeys and allowing customers to engage in the ways that best suit them rather than dictating how they shop and purchase products from Ralph Lauren. “Everything is interoperable between our online, our [marketing technology] and our in-store capabilities are blended together so we can create seamless experiences and we have some really cool ones planned for the future,” noted Sherlock.

Next, she believes data strategy will be a critical area of focus. “We’re being very deliberate about the overall data strategy for the core elements of data, things like our product data, our digital assets, our customer data, thinking strategically about where they’re stored, how they’re accessed and leveraged, how they’re maintained,” said Sherlock. “[This will impact not only] data analytics, but [it will allow Ralph Lauren] to serve up on a real-time basis things like personalization, real-time actions, real-time decision-making…Then, of course, it leads to our capabilities in advanced analytics and data science, which for us is a major area of emphasis and focus.” She refers to IT as the “connective tissue” of the enterprise relative to data, and that this is a discipline that will lead to better collaboration across the traditional silos of the company.

Sherlock believes that greater degrees of automation will improve the efficiency of all that IT delivers while further modernizing the practices of the company to better compete in the digital age. Sherlock and her team have implemented a variety of changes that have overturned decades of inherited wisdom about how business can be done, providing new benefits along the way. Necessity is the mother of invention, it is said, and many inventions have been created due to the necessities that the pandemic has driven.

Peter High is President of  Metis Strategy, a business and IT advisory firm. He has written two bestselling books, and his third, Getting to Nimble, was recently released. He also moderates the Technovation podcast series and speaks at conferences around the world. Follow him on Twitter @PeterAHigh.

Blue Shield of California is an 83-year-old nonprofit health system that earns roughly $20 billion in annual revenue, but it caps its net income at 2% of revenue. As a result, the company has returned more than $650 million to customers and communities through its history. With 4.5 million customers across the state of California, the company has a mission to create a healthcare system that is worthy of employees’ family and friends while being sustainably affordable. The pandemic has transformed the way in which the company interacts with customers. There has been a digital relationship with customers that has deepened since March of 2020. Blue Shield of California has focused on being holistic and personalized while being high-tech and high-touch.

The leader who has catalyzed much of this change is the company’s chief information officer Lisa Davis. In her role, she runs information technology as well as the company’s data and analytics organization, while setting Blue Shield of California’s technology strategy.

Davis draws upon an unusually deep reserve of experience as a technology leader, having spent 26 years at the United States Department of Defense, rising to the post of CIO at multiple divisions of DOD. She was also a CIO at Georgetown University for nearly three and a half years. After that, she joined Intel, first as a technology leader, and then ran a $9 billion business for the company. All of this was prior to joining Blue Shield of California in February of 2020.

Davis has seen the past 16 months of the pandemic as a remarkable driver of innovation and change. By way of example, she referenced telehealth, which has been an area of focus for Davis, and an area of tremendous growth for the company during the pandemic. “Prior to the pandemic, there was a lot of consternation and a belief that telehealth wasn’t wanted by consumers and wouldn’t be leveraged or used by our members,” said Davis. “In fact, the pandemic showed just the opposite. Telehealth has soared almost 500%. We are seeing better health outcomes, and [in many cases] our members prefer telehealth appointments to having to go into the office.”

Davis also notes that an area that the healthcare system in the United States has lacked historically has been a holistic approach to personal health. The pandemic has underscored the need for the healthcare ecosystem to work more closely together to serve patients. Davis referenced Blue Shield of California’s Health Reimagined program as an example. “Imagine an experience where providers, members and payers have access to the same data; that we’re making decisions that are best for the member or the patient because they have all of the providers sharing information from a single electronic health record,” said Davis. “[We aim to make] decisions based on [information that is] holistic and personalized to that member.”

Davis believes that the best way to serve providers, members and payers is to re-orient the IT function to be more tied to the rest of the organization. She and her team have spent the last year developing a new operating model for the information technology function centered around portfolios and products.  “We spent the last year changing our operating model to align against and support the key lines of business and key horizontal functions within the company,” noted Davis. “We have created seven different portfolios: three to support lines of business, four to create horizontal functions such as Medi-Cal, commercial business, senior markets, customer care, and marketing. Corporate services [is] a horizontal function and a large complex horizontal function [is] our Health and Growth Solutions organization, which has a big need around data and analytics capability.”

The portfolio teams have a variety of roles associated with each burgeoning partnership across the organization, including a portfolio leader, a solution delivery lead, solution architects, business architects, security personnel and data and analytics team members. Davis believes that this mix and the stronger partnership increases IT’s business acumen. “[This model creates a] basis of trust and a foundation with our business partners to improve collaboration, understand the opportunities that [they are] trying to solve, the capabilities that we’re trying to bring to market, so that those teams are connected hip-to-hip, working together to ultimately accelerate capabilities and services that we want to bring to market for our members,” said Davis. “That has laid a foundation [toward] being a cloud and data company that is required to support this new digital experience and vision of Health Reimagined that we want for our members.”

Davis joined Blue Shield of California only a couple of weeks before the company went into quarantine. As such, she became a test case for onboarding virtually, and she drew several lessons about how best to lead a team without the benefit of getting to know them in person. She has added more than 150 people to the IT team since the beginning of the pandemic, infusing the team with new talent at a time of great transformation, giving her ample opportunity to test those lessons.  The first lesson in leading during these most unusual circumstances is to lead authentically. Davis indicated that it is necessary to “listen more, to understand where our employees are [personally and professionally], to understand the capacity for change that they can handle, to be connected to what all of our employees are dealing with.”

Second, she recognized the sanctity of communications. “I’m a firm believer that you can never communicate enough,” said Davis. “That engagement and trying to stay connected, keep the video on [on video conference calls], trying to find that connection with the employees has been extremely important in navigating this change.”

Third, she models perseverance with the team. These are uncertain times, and it is difficult to predict what opportunities or threats might be around the corner but being steadfast in moving the organization in the right direction remains paramount.

Davis draws strength that helps her persevere through her diverse set of experiences, and she understands that there is more that is common across those experiences than is different. “One of the beautiful things about being a technology leader is no matter what sector that you’re in, our challenges are all pretty much the same,” she noted. “We all address those technology opportunities at a different place, at a different maturity level. Our stakeholders are clearly different, but the technology opportunities and how we leverage technology to support mission or business outcomes doesn’t change.”

Peter High is President of  Metis Strategy, a business and IT advisory firm. He has written two bestselling books, and his third, Getting to Nimble, was recently released. He also moderates the Technovation podcast series and speaks at conferences around the world. Follow him on Twitter @PeterAHigh.