In a rapidly changing business environment, infrastructure takes on new significance for the insurance enterprise, suggests Andy Dulka, Allianz Life's newly appointed vice president for infrastructure and application maintenance. As a result, the business side is taking unprecedented interest.
"We no longer hear 'I really don't want to hear about the technology — just go do it,'" Dulka shares. "Now we're having a much more architectural conversation with our business colleagues. They want to know that they're investing in something that will meet their needs and will be around for more than just a couple of years."
Allianz Life had originally considered seeking an outside candidate for the infrastructure applications executive position but decided to stick with Dulka after he filled the role on an interim basis for six months in 2009. "They got a bit of a 'try-and-buy' with me," Dulka quips. He joined the company in 2003 as chief architect, where he had responsibility for enterprise architecture for application development and infrastructure services, as well as for core infrastructure and ITIL services. In August 2006, he was named CIO, Allianz Income Management Services, and later served as vice president, online channel management and senior director of enterprise architecture.
From a strategic point of view, Dulka sees his job as key to helping Allianz Life react to a rapidly changing market, from a product and service point of view. "Infrastructure enables the flow of business in and out, and thus conditions our ability to respond to market changes, to provide our business partners storage, should they need it, to run different models, and to scale up and down, based on demand," Dulka comments. "On both the infrastructure and application maintenance side, being able to change our core systems to match needed product changes gives our distribution folks the comfort of knowing that we're able to respond, that we're not the traditional stoic life insurance company."
Today's product and service demands are putting more pressure on Dulka's realms, particularly as both businesses and policyholders adopt anytime/anywhere capabilities. "It puts tremendous stress on IT organizations in general and on infrastructure in particular," he remarks. "When you factor in the regulatory requirements that we often have to deal with, it changes the dynamics of what we can do for the business."
Dulka's organization is challenged to support the circulation of information throughout the company as efficiently as possible while also have sufficient agility to support rapid and frequent product launches and the demands of acquisition, he says. "We're using several strategic partners to help us accelerate to that curve, because trying to maintain that much knowledge in your core IT staff is a challenge, given the rate of change today," he relates.
In order to manage that change better, Dulka has adopted a pair the motto "no surprises" and has identified teamwork as a key emphasis. "The idea of 'no surprises' is to identify and escalate challenges quickly," he explains. "We're working with at least two or three strategic partners at any given time, so there's a lot of opportunity for issues to show up at the last minute. I'm pushing 'no surprises' to encourage everyone to take the extra half-step so that we get a better product earlier to our business partners."
Teamwork is also vital in a working environment that includes multiple partners, Dulka insists. "The more time we spend ensuring that we're aiming at a comment set of outcomes and a common vision, the better our teamwork will be," he says. "Then it becomes less about partner A and partner B, and more about the collectivity of IT that we represent to the business."
Among the initiatives that Dulka's team will focus on are a refresh of Allianz Life's infrastructure and a move to greater server virtualization. Dulka is also driving a tiered storage initiative that will enable his organization to offer the business different classes of storage at different price points. An initiative to develop business capability maps will help Dulka's team prepare for the changing needs of the business both on a long-term basis and for temporary scaling up and down. A Customer Care Capability initiative will examine how infrastructure and application maintenance responds to incidents. "It is essentially a collaboration and communication activity with our business partners," Dulka explains. "It will ultimately feed down into better disaster planning and recovery, as well as better service level agreements that we build with our vendors."
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