Ray Oral's idea of relaxing is driving a Corvette around a racetrack at breakneck speeds. The recently appointed CIO of CNA acknowledges that it's not entirely unlike his job, in as much as he races against time, implements risk mitigation strategies and collects metrics with a view toward improvement. "It's about learning to get around the track faster and being able to analyze what I've done to improve my performance the next time," he relates.
Having joined Chicago-based CNA ($7.8 billion in annual revenue) in 2008 as SVP for application development and maintenance, Oral was quickly given the opportunity to analyze ways to improve the carrier's IT organization while then CIO John Golden embarked on an attempt to summit Mount Everest. "During the time John was pursuing his dream I was essentially responsible for managing the IT function here and had an opportunity to interact with new leadership while they were refining strategy," Oral recalls.
Since taking the CIO reins in mid-September 2009, Oral has deepened that interaction as part of what he calls the "key theme" of aligning IT to business strategies and objectives and delivering on them as expediently as possible. Results of that focus include an increase in IT investments in support of specialty lines, improvements in managing underwriting risk and the addition of capabilities that make underwriters more effective in their interactions with distributors in the field, according to Oral.
If there is an even greater theme animating Oral's tenure, it is the message to employees, distributors and end customers that CNA is reinvesting in the business. "We're not looking to be more efficient and effective simply to post improvements to the bottom line. If we save a million bucks, we want to invest that in future IT capabilities to enable the business to be more effective in the marketplace," he comments.
"We intend to invest in the business, and that is reflected in our IT budget," Oral adds. "We have increased budget from 2008 to 2009, and more so from 2009 to 2010 as a result of some of the efficiencies we've obtained."
To support a strategy of reinvestment Oral is developing road maps that delineate what work will be done to enable improved business processes on an ongoing basis. "We have three- to five-year plans that reinforce that we want to take more of an enterprise view," he elaborates. "We want to make sure we clearly articulate to the business where we want to go together."
Single Platform Strategy
Among the enterprisewide improvements Oral is pursuing is standardization on single platforms, including CNA's Guidewire PolicyCenter (San Mateo, Calif.) policy administration system. The carrier still has multiple policy admin platforms, Oral concedes. But, he says, it is making significant progress toward consolidation. "I hesitate to identify a finish date, but we're holding our feet to the fire to standardize on a go-forward basis," Oral comments. "Standardization will be critical for us, so we'll invest in spaces that are amenable to that approach."
In addition to consolidating its policy administration environment, CNA has standardized on Guidewire's ClaimCenter as a part of a claims transformation effort. The carrier has also standardized its financial systems on Oracle's (Redwood Shores, Calif.) PeopleSoft Suite.
And analytics will remain a major investment area for CNA, according to Oral. "That area is critical to us, particularly with regard to applications in distribution and decision-support for our underwriters," he explains. "Most of our solutions in the analytics area are homegrown, but we have leveraged intellectual property from Deloitte [New York] and execution capabilities from Capgemini. We have also enjoyed significant involvement in this regard from offshore resources from partners such as Tata Consultancy Services [Mumbai] and Syntel [Troy, Mich.]."
Oral adds that he also wants to drive internal development of IT leadership. "I have always been interested in how we can invest in people in such a way that we can produce the next generation of leaders organically, and thus be prepared for the next set of challenges without having to go out into the industry to find them," he says.
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