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09:24 PM
Lisa Valentine
Lisa Valentine
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Driving Innovation at Allstate

During her almost 30 years with Allstate - the past two as CTO - Cathy Brune has seen the company move from "silos and chimneys" to a common services architecture in which application components are reused.

I&T: What is your relationship with your strategic partners?

Brune: We need partnerships, but strategic partnerships to me are few and far between. Everyone comes in here and wants to be my strategic partner. But the reality is that I can only have a few because being a strategic partner is hard work. We spend a lot of time with some key suppliers - Microsoft, IBM, Computer Associates - because we have some contractual relationships with them and they have given us some incentives to be good partners. But to tell you that I have any strategic partners - and the way I view strategic is that they give and we give; we build together and our companies' livelihoods are dependent upon how each of us acts - we don't have any of those.

We have pared down the number of vendors we work with in the last three to four years, but we never lose sight of the fact that competition is a good thing. It keeps vendors honest when they know you have alternatives.

I&T: Where are you spending your technology dollars?

Brune: The way we are spending money today is very balanced. We're spending money on the infrastructure because if you spend money there, you save money. We're very balanced about what we are doing in our claims organization, in our policy transaction systems, and the look and feel of our user interfaces. We're upgrading our HR systems and we've spent a lot of time with our financial systems - in the days of Sarbanes-Oxley I want to make sure I keep my CEO and CFO out of jail.

I&T: Does Allstate use any hardware or software that you would call outstanding?

Brune: No. Hardware or software is nothing without the people who can create the process to use it. A perfect example is CRM. It was going to help us market to our customers better and make us all happier, but how many of those projects failed? It really is about the process and getting people to work differently, and all the technology in the world can't make that happen. Technology is not your competitive advantage, but taking technology and tweaking it with your process is what gives you competitive advantage.

I&T: How will the insurance industry change in the future? What technologies will enable that change?

Brune: This industry needs to change the way it settles claims. We've all dabbled in making claims processing easier, but technology can make it even better. Strides in supply chain technology - and claims is a huge supply chain - and wireless and onboard systems will change the way we do auto claims.

Technology can also help us avoid loss. We as insurers help our clients put their lives back together when they suffer a loss, but it would be even better if we didn't let the loss happen or could minimize the loss. For example, microchips will make stolen items much more recoverable or notify us when water damage occurs in a home.

I&T: How do you manage to get done all that you need to?

Brune: You have to have really good people. You have to trust them. They have to understand what you are trying to accomplish. I've never had to wear so many hats, but I can manage because I trust that I can hand things off to others and they will get it done. My time has to be spent asking if I'm taking care of them and getting things out of their way that are keeping them from getting what they need to get done. My job is to make sure that people are getting the knowledge and support they need to be innovators.

I&T: What's your greatest accomplishment at Allstate?

Brune: Taking a disparate group of IT professionals who were working really hard to support their business entities and helping them think differently about building technology that will help all the business entities.

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