Linda Fraley is pretty certain that there is a secret network tracking her every move.
"I am convinced it's a covert group that is doing this," she says, not wholly in jest. "They know where I am within 24 hours." Fraley is not an Iraqi diplomat. She is just experiencing the occupational hazards of being vice president and chief information officer for Lincoln National Life Insurance Co. (Philadelphia consolidated assets of $92 billion). And the group that is "after her" are members of the technology vendor community.
Instead of running, Fraley embraces a select few members of the group, and even engages them in her favorite part of the job: strategizing. "I frequently bring vendors in when I want a fresh look at the organization," Fraley says. "I am very interested in identifying root causes of IT problems and attacking them." But vendors, please note: Don't take that as an open invitation to use her time.
Fraley is busy waging her latest battle on redundancies that exist within Lincoln's life and annuity businesses. The two units, formerly decentralized, are currently undergoing business and technology consolidations as part of Lincoln's effort to reduce its operational expenses. At the start of the centralization in July 2003, Fraley was CIO for the life company. But having served last year as CIO of the annuity company, Fraley holds a unique mix of business and technology skills, which make her the perfect candidate for CIO of the reorganized enterprise. But the fact that she seems made for the role doesn't mean that she won't be challenged.
The Pain Of Lay-offs
Fraley speaks candidly about the realities associated with what she describes as her least-favorite part of the job. "In this economy, we are dealing with the need to downsize, and the effect on people is difficult," she relates. "It's painful and stressful, and no one is excited about having to make layoffs." As a result of restructuring, Fraley is going to have to do just that. The carrier has reported that between 800 and 1,000 Lincoln employees will lose their jobs. Of that number, approximately 36 IT members will be affected. Also, Fraley had to eliminate 45 IT positions in the life company earlier this year. Although tasks associated with job eliminations are troubling, Fraley's mix of honesty and compassion are helping to make the unpleasant news more manageable for affected employees. In an attempt to manage IT personnel who will remain with the carrier through the transition, Fraley is practicing patience and advising members of her group to do the same.
But Fraley has never been one to rush things. The 16-year veteran of Lincoln National had two children before she began to pursue her college career in earnest at the age of 27. Before that time "I took a few classes between and around children," relates Fraley who cared for a two-year-old and five-year-old while juggling her collegiate career. She began pursuing an undergraduate degree at Purdue University (West Lafayette, Ind.) and finished those efforts with a bachelor's degree in computer science from Huntington College (Huntington, Ind.). Fraley also holds an MBA from the University of Notre Dame (Notre Dame, Ind.).
Fraley started her entirely financial services-based technology career 22 years ago in banking operations at a local bank and then moved into a systems programming role. She then began taking on management roles, first in operations, then development, and eventually she moved into data centers. The breadth of her experience has become quite an asset for Fraley, who stresses the importance of business skills in an IT leader. "It's been my good fortune to move around the company a lot," Fraley relates. "There are a lot of CIOs that come out of a strictly programming background and miss the business side of things. They tend to look at technology through only one lens."
In an attempt to eliminate single-sidedness when it comes to the aggregation of precious budget dollars-which, according to Fraley, have been reduced in the last year-Lincoln relies on a strategic implementation council. This is a group of business executives, relates Fraley, including the operational heads and members of finance. These strategic thinkers join members of IT each week. "We have discussions about how to best spend our time and money," relates Fraley. "I have been with several companies, and this has been one of the most effective groups I have worked with."
Currently, Fraley's business skills are helping her determine where it makes the most sense to consolidate. She is examining vendor management, software development and maintenance, project management and quality assurance, as well as combined operations areas. Her job is made a little easier because "the life and annuity technology infrastructures and base platforms are similar, and in some cases nearly identical," she explains. As part of an effort to free up support staff and reduce costs associated with life administration systems maintenance, Fraley is setting her immediate sights on Lincoln's policy administration systems.
ELITE 8 FACTS
Vice president and chief information officer Lincoln National Life Insurance Co. (Philadelphia, consolidated assets of $92 billion).
SIZE OF STAFF: 185, plus 350 in outsourced arrangements post-consolidation.
IT BUDGET: $130 million post-consolidation.
EDUCATION: Fraley holds a BS in computer science from Huntington College. She also obtained her MBA from the University of Notre Dame.
LAST BOOK READ: "The Alchemy of Growth: Practical Insights for Building the Enduring Enterprise," by Merhdad Baghai.
JOB DESCRIPTION: "Staying abreast of technologies and knowing what they can do for my business."