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Triumphant Technologist

Having created the foundation for an online, real-time infrastructure, Steve Sheinheit is building technology for a single MetLife customer experience.

Steve Sheinheit was a technology pioneer, earning one of the first BS degrees in computer science ever offered. But early in his 28-year technology career in banking and financial services, he decided to hone his business acumen. "To be able to communicate with the business, I needed to have a better feel for and understanding of the language of business," he recalls. Nevertheless, Sheinheit earned an MBA in operations research. "I still was not willing to give up the truly technical side."

As he moved through the executive ranks, Sheinheit's education was rounded out further through participation in the Harvard Advanced Management Program, as well as work in a series of strategic roles, including key leadership positions during the mergers of Manufacturers Hanover Trust, Chemical Bank and Chase Manhattan Bank. Having reached the rank of executive vice president at Chase, Sheinheit decided to retire just as the JPMorgan-Chase merger was announced in 2000.

His retirement was short-lived, however, as Sheinheit was approached by MetLife to rebuild the company's infrastructure. The carrier had just been through the rigors of Y2K and demutualization, and was on the verge of casting off its staid "Mother Met" image and reinventing itself as an Internet-era company. Sheinheit signed on with MetLife in November 2000. "Both my business and educational experience fit very well with what MetLife was trying to do," he says.

Taking issue with the claim that the insurance industry is somehow behind the banking industry in its adoption of technology, Sheinheit sees the arrival in the insurance industry of technology executives like himself with experience in banking as a question of the right expertise at the right time. "There were a lot of sophisticated and complex technologies in insurance companies; they just didn't happen to be 7-by-24, real-time technologies," he argues.

The Internet changed that, however. "It effectively made everything you do within the company transparent to the outside world. Once you're in that kind of world, your ability to say, 'I can fix that, but I'll need some time,' changes," Sheinheit says. "You no longer have the time, and because of that you need different kinds of infrastructures."

Building for the Future

In overhauling MetLife's infrastructure, Sheinheit instituted a program called R.A.S.P. (Reliability, Availability, Scalability and Performance) to ensure that all initiatives meet anticipated customer expectations. He also promulgated a new road map whereby all infrastructure needs would be planned and vetted at the same time that application work was being plotted. Additionally, Sheinheit established architectural principles that would serve as a model for building future systems.

Among the greatest challenges was to standardize MetLife's disparate systems, which were created as a result of mergers and acquisitions, including New England Financial, General American and the book of business purchased from the St. Paul Companies, which merged with MetLife Auto & Home. "We needed to bring those businesses in and integrate them in order to reduce the overall cost of the technology," Sheinheit says. "Through consolidation and integration, we brought infrastructure down by at least 15 percent - while at the same time growing capacity multiple times to support new applications and new volumes of real-time, online systems."

Sheinheit says he focused on "getting the 'R' out of ROI." This meant ensuring that technology was truly enhancing business processes, through the implementation of technologies that lower costs and enable the handling of higher transaction volumes, such as self-service-related, imaging and workflow technologies. By 2004, the idea, Sheinheit explains, was to ensure that MetLife could build on what had been accomplished to enable growth and innovation.

Having laid the foundation of Met's infrastructure, Sheinheit was called upon at the beginning of the year to head application development for the carrier. While retaining the CTO title, Sheinheit now has the charge to "look more broadly across the company in terms of what the businesses need, how we're developing our systems and applications to support those needs, and working on improving how well planning is done and making sure business and IT are aligned," he explains.

In maximizing the value of MetLife's technology investment portfolio, Sheinheit has established what he calls "planning principles" to foster decision-making that is consistent with line-of-business strategy. According to those principles, investments must be made to fulfill any of five objectives: revenue generation and protection; cost reduction; risk reduction or cost avoidance; maintaining the current portfolio; and addressing long-term strategic goals.

The architectural principle within which planning occurs is the concept of "One MetLife," which Sheinheit defines as creating the capability for customers to view MetLife's services seamlessly across businesses, products and channels. "The customer's experience is the key, and I look at the mission of technology as one of continuous improvement," Sheinheit says. "Within that, we've defined a set of strategic goals." Those goals, Sheinheit adds, are investing to support growth and innovation; building world-class service; modernizing technology and increasing agility; gaining efficiencies; improving quality and controls; and retaining, developing and attracting highly skilled, motivated and diverse associates.

"We know we're doing the right things," Sheinheit says, "when it's the folks outside - our agents, our customers, the marketplace - telling us that MetLife is differentiating itself in the marketplace."

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Steven L. Sheinheit

SVP and CTO, MetLife (New York; $350.2 billion in assets).

Work History: Before joining MetLife, Sheinheit was an EVP at Chase Manhattan Bank, where he was responsible for corporate systems and architecture, and a member of Chase's management committee and technology governance board. He has also held key leadership roles in the mergers of Manufacturers Hanover Trust, Chemical Bank and Chase.

Education: Sheinheit is a graduate of the Harvard Advanced Management Program and has an MBA from Baruch College. He received a BS in Computer Science from City College of New York.

Last Book Read: "Agenda: What Every Business Must Do to Dominate the Decade," by Michael Hammer (Crown Business, 2001).

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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