Using small teams of IT and business professionals, AXA Client Solutions now plans project deliverables in 120-day increments. ""The time determines the scope,"" Billis explains. ""We started it with our e-business strategy.""
There has been another benefit of stricter project management principles: The time it takes the company to bring products to market has been dramatically reduced, from 18 months a few years ago to six months. ""Our goal is to get product to market in less than four months,"" Billis says.
With that structure in place, AXA Client Solutions has embarked on a number of initiatives geared toward improving customer interactions and distribution. ""When we undertook the transition from insurance to financial services, we realized we didn't know which customers were good customers who we wanted to retain, which customers really were not profitable, which agents and associates were not profitable, and which products were unprofitable,"" according to Billis. ""So we built a series ofdata warehouses, and today we have the ability to measure the profitability of all our channels.""
Increasingly, the Internet is playing a significant role in facilitating these interactions. A system called EQ Access enables clients to go online and ""get a total view of all the business they're doing with us real time."" Also, the firm is enabling customers to handle transactions such as address or beneficiary changes or account transfers online.
This is only part of the e-business strategy, Billis says. ""The real unfolding of our e-business initiative will be in 2001. It's based on what we call a layer cake, with four layers: an information layer, a guidance layer, a product layer, and a relationship layer, where financial planners and clients can interact.""
Even with all the corporate transformation, perhaps the most dramatic changes Billis has experienced have been in his own responsibilities. ""Most of my career, I was focused on technology as a technologist,"" he reflects. ""Now I spend my time on the business. Our chief technology officer, Don Buskard, worries about being abreast of all the technology. I spend my time figuring out where we are taking the businessand how we can enable it?""
There will continue to be a need for a CIO who truly understands technology's role in enabling business strategies, Billis stresses. ""I don't think the role of the CIO will ever be eliminated. I think future CIOs will come more from the business community, not the technology community. The CIO is becoming more of a visionary of where to take the business, rather than, 'Is it Cisco or 3Com?'""
Strength in Numbers
Although many CIOs feel isolated, Leon Billis can take advantage of the fact he has 60 colleaguesthe individual CIOs of the 60 AXA Group companies worldwide. Within AXA Financial alone there are 16 companies.
However, it was not until recently that those organizations took advantage of their clout. ""About two years ago, we realized that, at the group level, we spent a little over $2 billion annually on technology,"" Billis recalls. ""We weren't taking advantage of our size and our capabilities.""
Not anymore. AXA instituted the Atlas Program, ""which is focused on really taking advantage of our size from a sourcing standpoint,"" Billis explains. ""Now, if we buy from a Microsoft, Cisco, or IBM, we buy at a group level, rather than at a local company level. This gives us great leverage in terms of price.""
The group also has a common architecture, which facilitates reuse and sharing of technologies. It standardized on both Microsoft's (Redmond, WA) Windows NT and Sun Microsystems' (Palo Alto, CA) Unix platforms. Other key vendors include Cisco (Santa Clara, CA), IBM (Armonk, NY, for its Insurance Information Architecture and the IIX database structure that supports IIA), and Candle Corp. (El Segundo, CA), for legacy systems middleware tools.
LEON B. BILLIS Executive Vice President and CIO, AXA Client Solutions, LLC
SIZE OF IT STAFF: 900
IT BUDGET: $300 million
EDUCATION: Baruch College, BBA in management; St. Johns University, MBA.
RECREATION: Spending time outdoors, charitable work.
Q: WHAT OTHER TECHNOLOGY EXECUTIVES DO YOU ADMIRE?
LB: Dennis O'Leary of Chase, Bill Friel of Prudential and Kevin McGilloway of Lehman Brothers. Kevin and I started the Technology Tango, which is in its seventh yeara black tie affair that supports several charities.
Katherine Burger is Editorial Director of Bank Systems & Technology and Insurance & Technology, members of UBM TechWeb's InformationWeek Financial Services. She assumed leadership of Bank Systems & Technology in 2003 and of Insurance & Technology in 1991. In addition to ... View Full Bio