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Management Strategies

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Keith Sievers Centralizes, Modernizes IT at Unitrin

Keith Sievers has used a mix of componentization and federalization to help streamline and modernize Unitrin's technology operations in his role as the company's shared services CIO.

There is a very good reason why Keith Sievers, now SVP and CIO of Unitrin Services Group, did not start his insurance career as an IT professional. "Obviously, 37 years ago, IT departments did not exist within insurance companies," explains Sievers, who joined Jacksonville, Fla.-based Kemper Insurance in 1972. "So for the first 10 or 15 years I worked on the business side."

By the time Chicago-based Unitrin ($8.8 billion in assets) acquired Kemper in 2002, however, Sievers was Kemper's CIO for personal lines, a title that he kept through the transition. But in those earlier years, Sievers notes, he spent his time immersed in underwriting and actuarial work. It wasn't until he moved over to the financial side of the business that he became interested in technology.

"That's where I really got into IT," Sievers recalls. "Back in the '80s it was popular to have your fledgling IT department report to the CFO. So I actually inherited the technology department, and I found that that's where my love was, with the technology."

In fall 2008 Sievers migrated from the Kemper business unit to the newly created Unitrin Services Group. Since then he has helped lead Unitrin down a path toward modernization and reorganization as the company has taken a more componentized approach to addressing its legacy issues while also shifting its IT operations to a more federated model. As a result, Sievers and other IT leaders across Unitrin's business units have helped establish technology as a key cog in the business engine, enabling time-to-market improvements, reduced maintenance costs and a better consumer experience.

In his relatively new role as CIO of the services group, an organization he helped create, Sievers has been tasked with unifying many of the IT functions across Unitrin's three P&C companies: Kemper, Unitrin Specialty and Unitrin Direct. "Within Unitrin, there are three distinct property and casualty business segments," Sievers details. "Today they are operating independently from a technology standpoint. Our primary project focus over the next few years is to move to a federated structure where there is a mix of local technology and shared services."

Keith Sievers, Unitrin
"Local" technology, Sievers says, includes any elements that are unique to one of the given business units. "We are attempting to keep the configuration of the shared services in the 'local' realm, even if the container programs are shared," he explains.

Shared services, meanwhile, include utility capabilities used by all, such as payment, forms and disbursement services. "If we can collapse the three or five or seven or 12 different versions [of a given system] within the organization today into one, there are definite cost advantages to doing so, as well as maintenance and time-to-market benefits," Sievers relates. "The overarching drive is to look at our policy and claims environments and incrementally replace the legacy technology that exists in these business segments with a service-oriented architectural approach, where some things reside in the [individual] segments and other services -- that gain heavy reuse across the policy and claims environments -- are shared across the companies."

According to Sievers, Unitrin is partnering with San Mateo, Calif.-based Guidewire on its claims initiative. CSC (Falls Church, Va.) is the carrier's primary vendor partner on its policy administration transformation. Sievers says he and his team are working closely with CSC to help reengineer the vendor's COBOL-based Exceed personal lines policy administration system into Exceed J, a Java and SOA-based version of the platform.

As part of the CSC partnership, Unitrin is taking a componentized track toward replacing its policy system, rather than a more traditional "big bang" rip-and-replace approach to legacy replacement, Sievers reports. "I'm a believer in SOA," he says. "This is going to be one of the big revolutions in our industry -- the final realization of this component-based approach to providing servicing capabilities."

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