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Adversity Equals Opportunity for The Hartford’s CIO

The financial crisis has been felt more acutely at The Hartford than many other carriers, but its challenges may paradoxically present an opportune moment for the unification of the carrier's IT organization under a single executive.

The financial crisis has been felt more acutely at The Hartford than many other carriers, but its challenges may paradoxically present an opportune moment for the unification of the carrier's IT organization under a single executive. The Hartford's enterprise CIO Brian O'Connell acknowledges that near-term cost reduction has become a higher priority as a result of the crisis, but at the same time the current climate provides leverage for change of a more creative nature. "I think it presents an opportunity to drive the changes that often encounter resistance in good times," he comments.

To a significant degree O'Connell's enterprise role was prefigured by the worked he undertook after being named CIO of Hartford Life about a year ago. Tasked with achieving integration and efficiency, he achieved results such as tripling the number of staff working within a shared-services model. He also worked in collaboration with the P&C company's IT organization and other IT units to leverage capabilities across the enterprise and to establish a testing center of excellence planned to open in early 2009.

Cross-company collaboration has taken on a different character now that O'Connell is enterprise CIO. Since his Oct. 6, 2008 start date, he has undertaken efforts to lessen functional redundancy across the different business areas while striking a balance between efficiency and business flexibility.

"We have to make sure that we don't break the alignment between our business lines and the components of IT critical to differentiating them," O'Connell says.

Nevertheless, O'Connell intends to drive corporate-wide technology architecture as much as possible. "Clearly there are opportunities to establish an enterprise architecture that will give us greater leverage and also facilitate more interactions across our businesses," he comments.

For example, The Hartford markets products to small businesses from its P&C company and from the life company through its group benefits and retirement divisions. "Looking at that segment on a more holistic basis presents an opportunity for growth," O'Connell reasons. "Today our technologies in those areas are very inconsistent, so establishing an enterprise architecture that can establish consistency and retain flexibility for the businesses is going to be a key focus area."

Longer-Term Business Gain
The objective of more consistent enterprise architecture is one that has been talked about many times at The Hartford but was always traded off for shorter-term, immediate business gains, O'Connell relates. In the current climate, however, he says, "this is an area where people are saying, 'This may not be an immediate save, but we know we have to do this because in the long term this will lead to a company that is far more competitive from an operating cost perspective, as well as in terms of an ability to deliver."

The current focus on efficiency has also driven the opportunity to achieve greater transparency in application portfolio management at The Hartford. "We're taking an aggressive look at that, gathering information and data that really hasn't been looked at very hard before," O'Connell explains. "We're now able to see what products we're using, how many people use them, what they're used for, etc., and we're in a position to ask questions such as whether we need to pay the maintenance, how much we actually tap into the support we're paying for, and whether it might be better to pay for something on a time-and-materials basis."

"Gathering that information would have been more challenging in the good times," O'Connell adds. "That is one long-term objective that we should have been pursuing but the current environment is providing an impetus for it."

It is too early to put a timeline on many of O'Connell's longer-term goals for The Hartford's IT organization, but he expects his plans to gel during his second quarter on the job. "Our goal is to have a new organizational structure at the beginning of the new year, and that will give us clarity about who will be responsible for driving some of our initiatives," he says.

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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