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The Case for Change

The Hartford's Mike Byam helped transform how the carrier's personal and commercial lines do business. Now, he's driving transformation for the entire P&C technology organization.

Early in his career, while working at a manufacturing company, Mike Byam was advised by a boss to stick with his programming duties. "You'll never be a manager," the boss said. Not convinced, Byam set out to test the thesis. He later joined The Hartford and sought opportunities where he felt he could succeed and be influential. It seems safe to say he's proven his old boss wrong.

Today, Byam heads The Hartford's Transformation Office, responsible for driving the reengineering of the entire IT organization. Having formerly led The Hartford's business insurance sector, Byam commanded a staff of about 500. But his new job requires a different approach. "It's not a hierarchy-type role - it's about influencing people and creating the case for change," Byam comments. "A traditional CIO can say, 'Here's what you're going to do.' This role is more a matter of leveraging relationships and people skills to get buy-in for change." As Byam's boss, John Chu, senior vice president, e-business and technology, remarks, though Byam manages a staff of 50, he influences 2,000 employees.

Byam began his managerial career at The Hartford in 1996, at a time when the carrier's Internet distribution capabilities were in their infancy. Byam worked in the carrier's personal lines IT organization and eventually led efforts that resulted in the construction of both consumer and agent distribution quote-to-issue sites. As director of personal lines IT, "I was accountable for leveraging the Internet and building a distribution mechanism, which today is our primary source of distribution," he says.

As CIO of the insurer's 500-person Business Insurance IT organization, Byam achieved a comparable expansion of Internet-based distribution for commercial lines through his direction of the development of The Hartford's ICON 2.0 distribution platform for small commercial businesses. As a result of the project, which engaged about 100 IT professionals, Byam received the Chairman's Award, one of the company's most prestigious forms of recognition.

According to Byam, the creation of ICON 2.0 was driven by inadequacies of the first version of the platform that caused confusion among agents about the carrier's risk appetite. "It was a complete rewrite," he relates. Byam says his team united "multiple solution products" into a single platform. "We embedded a catalog of the classes of business we write into the platform to make it easier [for distributors] to identify our appetite," he explains. "We also integrated the platform with our call center in such a way that our service reps had clearer data."

The resulting improvements in process and speed of response helped The Hartford to attract more agents, Byam asserts. Following implementation of the platform, he notes, small commercial business grew 21 percent during 2004. Additionally, a reduced learning curve increased users from 18,000 to 26,000; average data entry time was reduced by 27 percent; submissions costs are one-third what they were for paper/e-mail/fax submissions; and, with underwriting appetite built-in, the declination rate was reduced 30 percent. Over 90 percent of commercial business is now submitted through ICON 2.0, Byam adds.

Byam believes his successes in both personal and commercial lines technology initiatives helped pave the way for his appointment as head of the Transformation Office. When John Chu began to drive change in the carrier's IT organization, "I think he looked at me as someone who had the relationships and trust with other individuals in both IT and the business," Byam relates. "We knew that this was going to be a large-change event and thought it was important to have someone in the role who had knowledge of the business, but also had the relationships to be able to drive and influence the change."

Byam's manufacturing background also helped. A 2004 assessment of the organization concluded that its legacy systems wouldn't be able to handle future growth and that the operation lacked standardized processes. "In order to meet the demands of the business, we needed to be much more process focused to be able to deliver value," Byam says. Thus, he adds, "I have the opportunity to take some of the process experience and focus on continual improvement that I have from manufacturing."

One of the major goals Byam is advocating in pursuit of a more manufacturing-like environment is more-rigorous IT governance. The aim, he says, "is to provide transparency, first to the business and then in our own organizations, about what we're doing, how we're spending our time and what we're spending our dollars on."

Cultural Challenges

The cultural challenges of reorienting a 2,000-person-strong organization are at the heart of Byam's role as transformation officer. IT managers have to be broken of the habit of appeasing their line-of-business executive customers. Byam is working to persuade them to regard their business customers much as a doctor regards his patient. "A doctor doesn't always tell the patient good news - he has to push back because he's trying to watch their health," he explains. "That's what we're telling our people now: You need to push back on the business - we need to make sure we're doing the right thing to support the business."

Often the right thing may be at odds with line-of-business priorities because it's better for the organization as a whole. "It's not just about the one customer anymore; we're trying to look at things from an enterprise point of view," Byam notes. "What are common processes we can use? What are common platforms we can use? It's not about aligning to one customer, but across customers."

Byam also needs to get the organization used to the idea of working with external partners. "As we look to the future, where business is going to rely more and more on IT deliverables, we can't continue to rely on heroics," he says. "There will be too much to get done, so we're going to have to rely on partners to gain capacity and capabilities - and that's a different way of working."


Fact Sheet

Mike Byam

Vice President of e-Business & Technology and Head of the Transformation Office, The Hartford Financial Services Group (Hartford; $260 billion in assets).

Size of IT Staff: 50.

Education: B.A. in Mathematics and Computer Science from Providence College; M.B.A. from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Masters in Project Management from George Washington University.

Work History: After nine years as a software engineer at Pratt & Whitney Aircraft, Byam joined The Hartford in 1996 as manager of an application team for personal lines. He became business technology director, personal lines IT, in February 2002; VP, P&C enterprise development, in August 2002; VP and CIO, business insurance applications, in November 2003; and VP, Transformation Office, in February 2005.

IT Philosophy: "We need to make sure we're doing the right thing to support the business," Byam says. "It's not just about the one customer anymore; we're trying to look at things from an enterprise point of view."

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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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