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Constructive Discontent

Having transformed MetLife's e-business IT, Georgette Piligian went on to become CIO of corporate systems, and play a leading role in finance transformation and the carrier's acquisition of Travelers Life.

In 1987, Georgette Piligian left E.F. Hutton and joined MetLife, where she was given an opportunity to apply what she had learned on Wall Street to MetLife's mainframe pension systems. She has been exercising a transformative influence at MetLife ever since. "My career at MetLife started with introducing change," Piligian says. "Every couple of years I was asked to take on a new assignment where we needed to do something new and different and had a problem to solve within a short time frame."

While Wall Street tech savvy helped Piligian make an impression, she also was aided by an innate quality she calls "constructive discontent," which she describes as a dissatisfaction with the status quo. "Sometimes, people have the attitude that 'This is the way we've always done it.' I'm always looking for what we should be driving to do better for the organization," Piligian remarks. Through the 1990s, Piligian worked to improve online benefits and self-service systems for MetLife, and on the eve of the insurer's demutualization in 2000, she drove the Internet strategy for MetLife's institutional business division as VP, e-business application development.

Beginning in fall 1999, Piligian helped devise and implement a single-point-of-entry portal strategy, based largely on service-oriented architecture (SOA). The program resulted in the creation of three portals - MyBenefits, for employees/members; MetLink, for employers; and MetDental, for dentists and their office managers - with functionality broken out into four categories: Content/Education, consisting of product marketing information; Decision Support, including calculators and quote engines; Enrollment Capability, supporting purchase of product; and Self-Service. By fall 2001, all three portals were up and running - and serving as a major competitive differentiator for MetLife in the group insurance industry.

"It was pretty risky introducing SOAP [simple object access protocol] and SOA back when we did," Piligian reflects. "What we did in e-business set the standard for how we take advantage of service-oriented architecture - taking a business process, decomposing it and creating a service, as opposed to having a monolithic application."

Financial Transformation

Following her appointment as CIO, corporate systems, Piligian began work on another major transformation, in MetLife's financial systems. Building on the foundation of a common ledger built by her predecessors following demutualization, Piligian has focused on creating end-to-end financial systems functionality through business-rules-driven architecture.

The challenge she and her business partners face is to enable consistent, timely and accurate financial reporting across an enterprise that has grown increasingly complex through acquisitions. A significant part of the job simply is dealing with the inefficiencies stemming from more than 100 administration platforms. Piligian's team also has been implementing enterprise platforms for the company's cash management and valuation areas. "We have introduced foundational systems for these areas, converted a significant amount of our portfolio and delivered returns through improved control processes and business functionality," she comments. In order to accommodate MetLife's rapid worldwide expansion, Piligian also has driven the creation of a global financial data architecture. "Few companies have had the will to do that," she asserts.

Piligian has played a key role in the massive undertaking of assimilating Travelers Life, which MetLife officially acquired July 1. Given the integration challenges posed by the acquisition, Piligian characterizes the performance of her team working with the business and MetLife enterprise technology head Carl Morales as a "phenomenal" accomplishment in such a short period of time. "We announced [the acquisition] in early January, and we were set to go without a hitch on July 1," she recalls. "We had everyone enrolled for benefits, on payroll, had the financial systems integrated for reporting and had the networks connected so that we could deliver financial data immediately."

As the consummation of the $11.8 billion deal fell on a Friday, Piligian says her team was prepared to work all weekend to address any latent problems associated with bringing the elements of the Travelers organization fully online. "We started with conference calls that day at about 6 a.m.; by the time the third call came around, we decided that we would just have one call per day," Piligian remembers. "We then decided we almost didn't need any calls because everything went so well."

Piligian attributes that kind of success to a management style that allows talented people to fulfill their potential. "People fundamentally want to do the right thing, so my management philosophy is to empower people to develop their vision and make the decisions needed to deliver it," she explains. "I'm involved in providing the right checkpoints, but I let people run with their show."

Intense but Fair

That involves a lot of listening on Piligian's part - but as part of a strictly goal-oriented dialogue. Piligian keeps in her office an image of MetLife mascot Snoopy imprinted with the legend "No Whining Allowed," given to her by one of her long-term associates, which she says always evokes a smile when she looks at it. "People are allowed to come in and vent, but they need to focus on what we're going to do about it," she says. Her team would probably describe her, Piligian adds, as "intense but fair."

That intensity also characterizes how she listens to her partners on the business side, Piligian says. Listening well helps to avoid the eventuality of having to do the same things over again in a couple of years, but, more important, it drives a vital, creative partnership, Piligian believes. "I go out of my way to spend time with my business partners to share what we're doing, to see what we could be doing better and to explore opportunities," she says. "I'm a member of their planning boards, get to know their teams, get their feedback about what my organization can do better, discuss what they're experiencing within their organizations and give them suggestions, when appropriate."


Fact Sheet

Georgette Piligian

Senior Vice President, CIO, Corporate Systems, MetLife (New York; $320 billion in assets).

Size of IT Staff: 575.

IT Budget: $219 million.

Education: Piligian holds a B.S. degree in Business Computer Information Systems from Hofstra University.

Work History: Piligian joined MetLife from E.F. Hutton (New York) in 1987. After working as a programmer, Piligian rose to lead e-business efforts for institutional business; in 2003 she became CIO of corporate systems.

Management Philosophy: "People fundamentally want to do the right thing, so my management philosophy is to empower people to develop their vision and make the decisions needed to deliver it," Piligian says. "I'm involved in providing the right checkpoints, but I let people run with their show."

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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