In terms of leadership style, Harleysville SVP and CIO Akhil Tripathi prefers to show the way rather than give marching orders. "I don't believe in very much of a hierarchy," he says. "My philosophy is very interactive and problem solving-oriented." That doesn't mean he's a soft touch as a boss. While Tripathi encourages open discussion, he expects results. "I don't like to hear, 'That can't be done,'" he says. "That's not a good answer."
Tripathi's collaborative management style jibes well with his concept of today's insurance CIO: While the CIO doesn't supersede the authority of other senior management, the CIO must take the lead in anticipating what technology can do for the business, communicating potential risks and rewards, and showing what must be done in order to realize possibilities. "The role of the CIO is to provide the vision, to have that vision corroborated by other functional parts of the organization, and then to jointly move the ball forward," Tripathi comments.
Tripathi's approach has produced striking results for Harleysville ($1.3 billion in annual premium). But it didn't take a visionary to diagnose the Harleysville, Pa.-based carrier's need for technology transformation when he arrived in 2005. "Agents would find ways to do business with us because our products and pricing were attractive, but our technology was not user-friendly," Tripathi says. "It was clear that we needed to improve our systems capabilities, especially Web-based access to our products and services."
At that time the carrier relied on nearly 10 policy administration systems that dated back more than 20 years, along with other legacy technology that was problematic in terms of both functionality and cost. High on Harleysville's list of concerns, Tripathi notes, was how these systems affected its ability to process its most important line of business, small commercial, to a standard that would satisfy existing agents and attract new business.
In keeping with Tripathi's philosophy of demonstrating project value early and often, his first move was to develop a functionally rich agent portal beginning in fall 2005. Tripathi reached out to distributors to form an agent technology council that would be critical in assessing the scope for this initiative and others to follow. He estimates that he has interacted with hundreds of agents in the process of shaping system functionality. Paying close attention to agents' needs, the carrier began piloting the portal at the end of 2005 and officially went live with the platform in early 2006.
By the end of 2006, a training program had fostered adoption of the portal by nearly 9,000 customer service reps (CSRs) representing 1,500 agencies. Further enhancements raised the level of user self-service, Tripathi reports, and Harleysville was able to reduce staff that would otherwise be handling agent requests.
As successful as the portal project was, it was only a prelude to addressing functionality and cost issues associated with the legacy systems to which the portal still connected. "We needed to replace our policy administration systems," Tripathi recalls. "In 2005 we secured approval for a plan to find vendors that would give us the capability to bring in a whole new platform for policy administration that would enable agents and CSRs to be able to do end-to-end rate, quote and policy issue."
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