To understand where business is going, it is helpful to understand where business has been.
For instance, relates Joseph Z. Gauches, executive vice president, eBusiness/Property-Casualty, for The Hartford Financial Services Group, Inc., it took manufacturing companies 40 years to convert their steam-powered industrial manufacturing models to electricity, once innovation made electricity the preferred power source. While there are few similarities between manufacturing plants from 100 years ago and today's financial services business climate, Gauches says it is worth noting how technology is speeding change.
Today, if a business takes four years, or even four months, it may be behind the curve and miss out on business opportunities to which more nimble competitors were able to adapt, Gauches reflects. "Think about it, 40 years to convert to electricity, and now cell phones can take pictures and digital cameras have been moving pictures around the claims organization for a few years now," he says. "However, in many cases technology is not the end all. While digital pictures have made things more efficient, for the most part, the claims process remains the same."
At The Hartford ($207.8 billion in assets, Hartford), Gauches has excelled in promoting and managing change. "The real obstacle is not technology, it's change," he says. "There isn't any organization that I've encountered that accepts change in a wholesale embrace-that's not unique to The Hartford."
Gauches, who oversees the strategy and operations for electronic interface with the company's independent agency distribution system and with customers, championed a major shift in the IT organization starting in 2000 that has significantly streamlined the operation. "We had five or six technology areas in the P&C operation, all with similar charges and missions," Gauches recalls. "We felt that the future called for technology that was more plug-and-play," with other technology that could be used throughout the P&C operation. "It was in our best interest to consolidate."
The shift in The Hartford's strategy is in step with what Gauches is seeing in the marketplace. "If you look back 20 years in technology, most initiatives were internally driven as insurance companies attempted to automate internal flows and processes," he says. "Over the last five to seven years, technology initiatives are focused externally, for the customer. There is a clear case of change and IT is becoming a more critical component of the business model."
In fact, Gauches says he is most proud of helping the IT and business community at The Hartford realize the importance of focusing on customers. "Focusing IT and business objectives on external customers instead of internal initiatives is very important," he says. "We have realized that we are not developing technology just for The Hartford, or just for our customers. We are doing it for both of us."
To meet the requirements of the outwardly focused business model and meet the expectations of the users, Gauches makes sure that customers have input on IT initiatives. "To have your user community accept the technology that you build, you have to build what they will use," he says. "You need input from customers at every step of the process."
And customers wanted access. "In the late '90s, we put platforms in place to enhance e-commerce initiatives and we took self service to a new level," Gauches boasts. "We began building technology so we could interact with the customers in real time," for such things as submissions, policy view, policy inquiry and other self-service functionality.
During the past 18 months, The Hartford's e-commerce offering, the Electronic Business Center (EBC), has seen many improvements, Gauches adds. "We have significantly increased the policy inquiry and policy view capabilities," he says, in addition to allowing agencies to keep an electronic copy of a policy instead of a hard copy. "It's all about ease of doing business." A year ago, the EBC had 1,000 policy views per month. Today, each month it receives 75,000.
However, much like the way digital photos have made things more efficient but have done little to change the claims business process, the same is true for electronic policies. "The only issue that our independent agents have with an all-electronic process is that other companies do not supply all-electronic" access to policies, Gauches notes. "If The Hartford does it, but other companies don't, it's hard for an agency to build a business process centered on electronic."
Still, an all-, or mostly, electronic process will go a long way to satisfying customers' demands. "Customers want real time and the expectations for levels of service continue to rise," Gauches says. For instance, many things that insurance companies considered unique about their products or service are now just accepted as normal business practices, he says. "Now, 24-hour turn-arounds on policies are considered commonplace" in many lines of business, where a few years ago it would be considered a competitive advantage.
ELITE 8 FACTS
JOSEPH Z. GAUCHES
Executive vice president, eBusiness/Property-Casualty
The Hartford Financial Services Group, Inc.
SIZE OF IT STAFF:
2,500 people in e-business and IT.
Gauches joined The Hartford in 1967 as a management trainee and has managed operations improvement, workload quantification, customer services planning and support and the company's Commercial Business Vision. He is a graduate of the University of Florida.
Get out with the kids. Also, golf, golf and more golf.
"The Innovator's Dilemma," by Clayton M. Christensen
Greg MacSweeney is editorial director of InformationWeek Financial Services, whose brands include Wall Street & Technology, Bank Systems & Technology, Advanced Trading, and Insurance & Technology. View Full Bio