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Allstate CEO’s Goal Is Being There 24/7

Ed Liddy looks to IT to bring Allstate's broadened product footprint to customers where and when they chose.

Since Ed Liddy became CEO on Jan. 1, 1999, Allstate truly has been in good hands. The Northbrook, IL-based company ($118 billion in assets) has reinvented itself as an integrated financial services company under the Allstate Financial brand, broadened its product offerings and reorganized itself into financial and protection products operating units. Supporting this new mission has taken some gutsy moves, such as cutting loose a captive agent force and restructuring senior management, as well aspromulgating an aggressively innovative approach to the firm's technology infrastructure.

When Liddy arrived at Allstate "some of our technology was leading edge, some right in the middle and some was not very good. What we've tried to do is take the middle part and make it better, and move everything out of the not-very-good category," he says.

Value of Information

That modest explanation belies the huge task of realizing Allstate's multi-access strategy, which has united data for all customer contact points and brought Allstate into the Internet age. Along with massive legacy and call-center integration efforts, the company launched its consumer site, in May 2000, and in August 2002 launched a producer site, named Access "We've been trying to position ourselves to be in more places for the customer to reach us, and at more times," Liddy observes.

Having overseen the integration of legacy systems to provide a consistent customer view, senior vice president and CTO Cathy Brune says Allstate's multi-access initiative, while important in itself, has paved the way for an even greater payback. "We now understand the absolute value of the information we store, and we know that being able to get it to the fingertips of agents and claims folks makes the information knowledge, resulting in better service and greater selling capability," she says. "We also learned that we're good at integration, and we're taking the next step to Web services quicker than other companies of our size."

Liddy has played a starring role in pushing the company to its current technological state, including initiating a technology inventory project to assess strategic opportunities and develop a road map for the future, says Brune. "He is a tremendous leader in his understanding of the power of technology," she says.

Such leadership is necessary today, in Liddy's view. Today's CEO must "be aware of how big technology investments fit together across the corporate enterprise, and you have to think about technology in terms of a portfolio of investments," he says. "If you're not careful, you can throw enough money at technology to choke a horse, and still not like the results."Allstate has avoided such an unappetizing outcome by avoiding obvious pitfalls. "One is trying to do too much too fast, thinking that technology is the solution to everything," Liddy theorizes. "Sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn't, so rigorous cost/benefit analysis and assigning accountability are important."

Questions of scale are also fraught with hazard, magnifying the perennial dilemma of "buy versus build," according to Liddy. "Frequently if we buy things that work on a small scale and try to operate them on our scale, they cease to work," he relates. "On the other hand, if you try to build it yourself, there's a temptation to add every bell and whistle anyone can think of." Helping Liddy guide through those minefields is an IT organization that has seen some big changes, including naming Brune the top tech executive and Anthony Abbattista VP, enterprise technology strategy and planning. "The technology group has really distinguished itself over the last couple of years," Liddy says.


Tapping IT's Power

"The technology group has distinguished itself," says Allstate's chairman/CEO Ed Liddy.

Background: Joined Allstate in 1994 as president/ COO; named chairman/CEO in '99. Previously, CFO of Sears Roebuck.

Recent Wins: - Multi-access strategy for connecting to consumers, partners.

- consumer site.

- AccessAllstate producer site.

Hobbies/Sports/ Affiliations: Skiing, scuba diving, tennis, golf. "I have a son who's a basketball player and I live vicariously through his enjoyment of the game." Chairman, Boys & Girls Club of America. Last book read: "My Losing Season," by Pat Conroy.

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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