James D. Lester III, recently promoted to CIO at Columbus, GA-based AFLAC ($37 billion in assets), says his 20-plus years as a technology entrepreneur taught him some valuable technology lessons.
Before joining AF-LAC in 1999, Lester founded a technology company in 1979 and sold it to an insurer in '89. Lester then founded a forms automation company in '92 and sold it to AFLAC in late 1998. He joined AFLAC in 1999. "I became very familiar with AFLAC and we sort of mind-melded," he says.
"The most important lesson I learned is, the customer pays the bill," Lester says. "As an IT entrepreneur, you can starve to death if you don't pay attention to the customer. At AFLAC, the business units are my customers. If they're not happy, I'm not happy," he adds.
However, keeping the customers happy at AFLAC is on a much larger scale. "It is harder to focus in a larger company because there are more demands. In your own company, you can focus on one thing and deploy your limited resources in a limited way. At AFLAC, I have to deploy resources effectively over a broad spectrum of technology and needs."
For the future, Lester still thinks that a large portion of AFLAC's resources will be deployed towards the Internet. "We are now at a plateau on the Internet that is very wide and productive and insurers have to use the newer Internet technologies, such as XML, to take advantage of the opportunity," Lester says. "The real work with the Internet is still ahead of us. The backlog of potential application enablement is absolutely huge and it will consume us, just like Cobol and CICS did in the early '70s."
Greg MacSweeney is editorial director of InformationWeek Financial Services, whose brands include Wall Street & Technology, Bank Systems & Technology, Advanced Trading, and Insurance & Technology. View Full Bio