In a departure from the offshore IT outsourcing model, New York-based AXA Equitable is leveraging a small team of students at Syracuse University to supplement the carrier's IT staff. Working with Franklin, N.J.-based consultancy Ed Williams Associates (EWA), last fall AXA developed a program with the university that could address the carrier's quality assurance (QA) testing needs.
"We set up a one-credit course concerning our [Palo Alto, Calif.-based HP] Mercury IT testing/scripting tool," Kevin Murray, EVP, CIO, AXA Equitable, explains. "If [students] were interested, they could work on QA testing that we needed to get done for current projects, working in a QA test lab we set up at the University."
Six students signed on to the program, which served as the basis for a formal pilot that began in February, to test the program's viability as a solution to AXA's QA bottleneck. The carrier built a secure network connection to its internal systems from the University lab to enable students to complete needed QA tasks, Murray says.
The students typically worked two to four hours daily. "In some cases, they were writing test scripts and executing them; at other times they were just executing test scripts," Murray relates. "They would report the problem tickets back to our development group in Syracuse; then they would begin work on the tickets and begin the regression process again."
While AXA did not develop formal metrics for the program, according to Murray, it was a success. The students, he says, "worked well at the QA piece, keeping projects on-time, on-budget and at much lower staffing rates."
Keeping IP at Home
Murray plans to keep the program going through the year, potentially with the addition of four more team members. He says he favors the Syracuse (N.Y.) University arrangement over an offshore option. "We do a lot of code construction offshore, but I like to keep business analysis and QA kind of tight to the vest because of access to intellectual property (IP)," Murray explains. "Also, I am hoping to connect a little bit better with some of the talent coming out of Syracuse University."
Murray regards QA testing as a core competency that will continue to reside within AXA's inner IT sanctum, but sees the student program as a supplemental solution for resource spikes in QA. The two- to four-hour stints the students make daily "are sometimes all we need to get through the temporary bottleneck on the systems development side," he says.
AXA Equitable, the primary U.S. life insurance subsidiary of Paris-based AXA Group ($795 billion in assets under management), inherited a relationship with Syracuse University from its 2004 acquisition of MONY (Mutual of New York), which was a major employer in the city. MONY's former CIO, E.P. Rogers, maintained a relationship with the university's computer science program partly as a source of IT talent.
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