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Laying a Technology Foundation

MetLife's Steve Sheinheit has been driving infrastructure consolidation for Met's five lines of business, as well as roll-out of Web-enabled capabilities.

Steve Sheinheit came to MetLife (New York, $302.5 billion in assets) late last year to fill the chief technology officer post. Since arriving from what was formerly Chase Manhattan Bank (now JP Morgan Chase), he has been driving infrastructure consolidation for Met's five lines of business, as well as roll-out of Web-enabled capabilities. Ease-of-business and improved cooperation between business and the IT organization get high priority under Sheinheit's direction at MetLife.

I&T: You came aboard as MetLife's CTO in the wake of the company's April 2000 demutualization. What challenges have you faced in the organization's technological transformation?

Steve Sheinheit: One of the first challenges I faced was the consolidation of the technology infrastructures across MetLife's different franchises. At the same time, we rolled out a broad array of Web-enabled capabilities for each of our lines of business. This required the integration of new technologies with legacy-based transaction processing systems. To achieve these improvements a new type of collaborative partnership between business and information technology was created. This focused our technology investments onto the highest-return initiatives.

I&T: How is IT organized and run at MetLife?

Sheinheit: MetLife has a large IT organization to support the many efforts of the enterprise. The IT Governance Board is headed by Dan Cavanagh (executive vice president of IT), and includes each of the five CIOs and myself.

The CIOs are responsible for all application development supporting their particular line of business (individual business, institutional business, investments and brokerage, MetLife Auto & Home, and corporate systems).

As the chief technology officer, I am responsible for the infrastructure upon which those applications run. MetLife's Governance Board meets formally each month to discuss overall standards, policies and direction for the entire company's IT. However, there is constant contact between the CIOs and myself as is necessary in the everyday life of MetLife.

I&T: What are some of the challenges of working for such a large IT organization and coordinating efforts with MetLife's five CIOs? How is your CTO role defined overall, and how is it defined in relation to the CIOs?

Sheinheit: Working for any large organization involves some unique challenges. However I find that with our organization of IT we eliminate many of them. My role as CTO is to support and serve the lines of business through the CIOs. I provide the foundation on which they build systems that enable new business products and services.

Day to day, I am responsible for the IT infrastructure and asset and risk management, i.e., IT procurement, security and business continuity. Longer range, I direct the enterprise architecture and promote the use of common technology components and processes. Together, the chief information officers and I look to leverage the company's IT resources for the greatest overall effectiveness.

I&T: Financial services convergence is not as hot a topic as it was a year ago. Drawing from your experience in banking, how do you assess the convergence opportunity for insurance companies, and what technology infrastructure do they need in place to exploit it?

Sheinheit: Whether or not the topic is hot, convergence continues and insurance companies expand into new financial services offerings. Both insurance companies and banks are financial services organizations that need technology-based products and services, ultimately broadening the opportunities for convergence. An organization that wishes to grow and expand into new or related areas needs an integrated infrastructure that is not only reliable, but is also scalable and will provide certain economies of scale.

I&T: What specifically is MetLife's strategic/ technological approach to convergence?

Sheinheit: From a strictly information technology point of view, the ease of systems integration is an important aspect of convergence. We have undergone significant integration with our subsidiaries and affiliates, moving towards common platforms, and we continue to hone the technology portfolio. We are experiencing the benefits of integration-reduced costs through economies of scale, and synergy.

I&T: What technological challenges will MetLife face over the next couple of years and what technologies will have a significant impact on the evolution of the company?

Sheinheit: Our continued information technology focus is to make it easier to do business with MetLife through technology. Already under way is the enterprise-wide Internet-based applications integration. MetLife sells many products and services through not only MetLife, but also our subsidiaries and affiliates, such as New England Financial and GenAmerica Financial. As we employ the Internet more and more, we are working towards providing a common face to customers no matter the product, service or affiliate they use.

I&T: What events, people or other sources have most influenced your development as a technology executive? Where do you look today for best practices, business and technology insight, and inspiration?

Sheinheit: I would say that broadening my perspective from technology to the management of technology has been a key element in my career, since a big part of technology management is leading and motivating people. Clearly, I have been influenced by the people I've worked with and for over the years. The professors in the Harvard Advanced Management Program have also been an important influence on my career. Today, I look to technology industry leaders—the heads of key technology suppliers, research groups, and information technology executives in financial services organizations. However, at the end of the day it's not the technology that's most important; it's how you deal with people.

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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