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Growth Engine

Al Bowen, SVP of information systems, is modernizing Ohio National Financial Services' infrastructure to support agents' use and aggressive business growth.

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Al Bowen says "being well grounded in technology" is the foundation of his management style, a philosophy he learned on his first job working in a garage. "The owner of the garage would, from time to time, go into the shop and do mechanical work," Bowen recalls. "I asked him once why he did it. He said, 'It's important for the guys in the shop to know that I know.' I never forgot it." Today, Bowen leverages that lesson as the SVP of information systems at Ohio National Financial Services (Cincinnati).

Bowen joined Ohio National in 1997 after a successful 14-year career at Life of Virginia (Richmond), which was acquired by Genworth Financial (Richmond, Va.; $105 billion in assets) in May 2004. He says he understood that he was signing up to help create an architecture that would support significant, rapid business growth. "I don't think there was any [system] we didn't touch," says Bowen. "I've been here nine years, so I can't blame anything on the guy that was here before me. Whatever we are is because of my leadership -- or the lack thereof," he jokes.

Over that time, Ohio National doubled its assets to $20 billion, and Bowen plans to ensure that IT continues to enable the enterprise's future growth. "We are working very hard to make sure what we do with technology is supporting the business goals and objectives," he relates. That is even more important with an IT budget of just $16 million a year. "It is not about technology at any cost," Bowen notes. "Technology must compete for capital like any investment and, most important, focus on profit growth."

Recent strategic technology investments by Ohio National include a policy admin system conversion, development of a Web-based broker-dealer portal, deployment of El Segundo, Calif.-based Computer Science Corp.'s (CSC) nbAccelerator (nbA) for new business processing, expansion of image and workflow capabilities, implementation of enterprise content management (ECM), and enhancement of business intelligence (BI) capabilities. "The kind of investments we are making are ... tied closely to the strategic business plan," says Bowen.

Leveraging its investment in its long-standing relationship with CSC, Ohio National is migrating its life portfolio from a homegrown policy admin system to the CSC VANTAGE-ONE platform. The IT group completed the migration of term life insurance business at the end of last year and now is working to move the whole life portfolio onto the system.

Along with other carriers, Ohio National worked with CSC to develop the VANTAGE-ONE platform. The collaboration resulted in the addition of Web-based and XML-related capabilities, among other enhancements. "It made sense to us to leverage and invest in the relationship with CSC," Bowen explains. "We felt like we really needed to give VANTAGE-ONE the pizzazz that a modern solution would have to meet current and coming business needs."

Another tool that is helping Ohio National meet business needs is TermXpress, the carrier's Web-based broker-dealer portal. According to Bowen, the portal gives nontraditional life insurance distributors a simplified, streamlined application process and the tools they need to sell the carrier's term life products. Based on the success of the portal for several distributors, Ohio National made TermXpress available to all of its independent agencies in September 2006.

After failing to find a suitable out-of-the-box solution, Bowen and his team built TermXpress in-house. "The Internet is a tool for facilitating the business for our distributors," says Bowen. "This was no small task -- building the engine and understanding the intelligence that needed to be in the engine, and then actually getting it into the architecture and supporting it." But the effort was worth it, he stresses. In addition to receiving legible and complete applications that are ready for immediate processing, by simplifying the application process for independent agents, Ohio National also is more likely to keep their business.

The carrier also is in the process of installing CSC's nbA to create additional efficiencies in the underwriting and issue process, and to cut turnaround time for new business. The system currently is running in the fixed annuity arena and soon will be running all variable annuity business. Based upon Web service interfaces, the nbA product represents Ohio National's first steps toward creating a service-oriented architecture (SOA).

According to Bowen, one of Ohio National's most successful recent projects has been establishing imaging and workflow capabilities across the enterprise. After an extensive search that began in 1998, Ohio National launched a pilot using DST Systems' (Kansas City, Mo.) Automated Work Distributor (AWD) in variable and fixed annuity environments. The carrier began to roll out the product in 2000 and now is in the process of installing image and workflow in the accounting and claims areas.

Productivity Workbench

The most challenging aspect of the project, Bowen says, was installing the system in the underwriting department. As with any significant change, the carrier assumed that the productivity of case managers and underwriters would degrade slightly and then recover. But while "we were experiencing good benefits in other areas," Bowen says, "underwriter productivity went down dramatically and stayed down."

In response to the problem, Bowen and his team of 100 staffers created an electronic Underwriter Workbench that pulls together backend data sources into a desktop presentation tuned to the needs of the underwriter. "With the implementation of the Underwriter Workbench, ... underwriter productivity increased to a level 30 percent higher than it was prior to the introduction of image and workflow," says Bowen.

To manage image and workflow in compliance with federal regulations such as Sarbanes-Oxley, Ohio National added Vignette's (Austin, Texas) Enterprise Content Management Suite. Bowen refers to the solution as "Google for Ohio National," due to the product's ability to create a searchable, manageable repository and presentation for information.

The ECM program will work in conjunction with new efforts in BI, designed to further enhance corporate governance, Bowen notes. ECM focuses on the "unstructured content," he adds. BI, Bowen continues, will help the carrier utilize the "structured content" more effectively, enabling it to improve management reporting and decision making based upon "a single version of the truth."

"Financial services companies are under a lot of pressure for better control, for better compliance -- goals that are achievable through business intelligence capabilities for tracking and understanding where the data comes from, what the data means and where the data gets used," says Bowen. Ohio National recently signed on to use Business Objects' (San Francisco) XI BI platform.

"We are a company with aggressive future growth plans and a successful technology delivery program bolstered by strong partnerships," says Bowen. "Couple that with a talented staff of insurance technology professionals and it is clear that we are very optimistic about the future of our endeavors."

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Allen Bowen

SVP, Information Systems, Ohio National Financial Services (Cincinnati; $20 billion in assets).

Size of IT Staff: More than 100

Annual IT Budget: $16 million

Career: Bowen joined Ohio National in 1997 as SVP, information systems. Prior to joining Ohio National, Bowen spent 14 years with Life of Virginia (Richmond), where he also served as SVP of information systems. Bowen earned his bachelor's degree in business administration from the College of William and Mary.

Pastimes/Hobbies: Building and driving high-performance cars, and hunting.

Last Book Read: "Woods and Waters," a collection of stories and poems about outdoor life by Kentucky authors.

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