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Improving Tech Vision by Turning on the Lights

CNA's Steve Lilienthal turns to technology to illuminate strategic opportunities for the business.

When Steve Lilienthal joined CNA in July 2001 as CEO of its largest operating unit—CNA Property & Casualty Operations—he felt he was flying blind. "Because of the fragmented nature of the carrier's operating platform and the lack of information to manage the business, I felt like I was trying to land a plane at an airport without landing lights," he says. Regarding the technology organization, Lilienthal adds, "there were multiple CIOs, each of whom had made determinations as to what approach and strategy they would take to a technology platform within their organization, without much regard to what the overall enterprise needs were."

Since that time, Lilienthal has relentlessly driven the pursuit of an enterprise-oriented IT infrastructure. When he took on corporate CEO duties in August '02, one of the first things he did was appoint a new enterprise CIO. He chose John Golden not only for his technology, business and collaborative skills, but also because the two saw eye-to-eye on two other key desiderata: the need for being practical, and the importance of moving fast (See related article in April 2003 I&T,

Both of those values characterized what CNA calls its "End-Game" solution—begun under the watch of former CIO Bob James (who has since returned to business unit responsibilities)—to link the carrier's disparate systems. "It would have taken years to get this entire company onto a single platform, so Golden and James proposed a middleware solution that got us through in a less-than-perfectly effective way, but much faster and ultimately much more effectively," says Lilienthal.

CNA's 20 IT groups have been reconciled into one central organization, and over the past year it has eliminated 17 percent of its applications-reducing its maintenance responsibilities, and freeing up the development team for new projects, according to Golden. "Within technology from 2001 through 2002, we reduced fixed expenditures by $80 million and have a target to reduce by another $45 million over the next 18 months," he says. But the primary goal is not cost-cutting, Golden insists: "To date we've reinvested the majority of that back into large programs."

When it comes to technology investment, Lilienthal's philosophy is to "invest in whatever high-impact initiatives we can reasonably deliver, while making sure we're well-platformed going into the future," he says. For key strategic investments that pay back quickly, he adds, "I will spend those dollars all day long."

CEO's Pet Project

One project that benefited from reinvested technology dollars is Merlin, a database-driven executive dashboard, which Lilienthal describes as his pet project. Merlin's purpose was to unite critical business information scattered among nearly 20 business unit technology silos into one database, Golden explains.

A focused business and technology team led by Golden on the IT side "delivered the equivalent of two years of work in one year," Lilienthal says. And in so doing, "they turned on the lights on the runway." Merlin now gives the carrier "a close-to-real-time look at our businesses at a variety of levels, and a very easy was to access and interpret it," Lilienthal says.

"Technology initiatives are underway to expand CNA's more than $700 million share in the small business market, as well as efforts in litigation management and subrogation and salvage. "Technology is woven into every fiber of CNA," Lilienthal says. "Every business we're in, every function we undertake, we look to implement a technology solution to support it."


Speed & Practicality

"Technology is woven into every fiber of CNA," says Steve Lilienthal, CEO, CNA Fin'l;Chmn./CEO, CNA Insurance.

Background: Came to CNA in 2001 as president, P&C operations, having led the St. Paul Companies' US insurance operations. Trained as underwriter, began career in 1972.

Recent Wins: - End-Game consolidation project.

- Merlin executive database dashboard.

- Small Business platform.

Sports/Hobbies/ Affiliations: Golf, photography, fishing. Lilienthal is a board member of the Boys & Girls Club of Chicago. Last book read: "Who Says Elephants Can't Dance?" by Lou Gerstner.

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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