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Management Strategies

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New Allianz Life CIO Jeff Palm Seeks to Improve IT's Value Proposition

New CIO Jeff Palm will look to deliver business value as he leads Allianz Life's policy admin system replacement and shapes the company's IT organization for the future.

When Allianz Life passed the CIO baton from Tom Bauer to Jeff Palm in October 2011, Palm took responsibility for shepherding the company's core policy administration platform replacement initiative at an early stage. Palm's experience suits him for that task, as well as other challenges faced by the Minneapolis-based subsidiary of global insurer Allianz SE (Munich, US$129.9 billion in annual revenue).

Allianz Life's implementation of the Accenture Life Insurance Platform (ALIP) currently is in the design stage for Phase One of the project, which will proceed throughout 2012. "The replacement is a $60 million project through this year, with the first delivery scheduled in 2012 and with other phases rolling out over the next three years," Palm relates. "We're working with a combination of resources, including internal people and Accenture, as well as offshore providers who provide analytical, development and testing capabilities."

Palm's prior experience has prepared him not merely for large systems implementation projects but for balancing the technology concerns of a regional financial services company with those of its large, multinational parent. He most recently was managing director of technology at RBC Wealth Management (Minneapolis), the former Dain Rauscher, which was acquired by Toronto-based Royal Bank of Canada in 2000. Prior to his 11 years at Dain Rauscher/RBC, Palm spent 14 years in consulting, including a decade with Arthur Andersen (now Accenture), followed by a stint at Booz Allen Hamilton.

"During my consulting career I acquired a sound base of technical skills and what you might call a strategic toolkit," Palm comments. "At RBC I not only acquired financial services executive experience but also faced issues very similar to those faced by Allianz -- for example, putting one's arms around and delivering an ultra-large, multiyear, multimillion-dollar program."

A Strategic Future

Given the importance of the ALIP implementation, Palm acknowledges that his job currently is focused 80 percent on existing projects versus 20 percent new projects. But, he says, the ratio should be reversed in a relatively short time, as he begins to shape Allianz Life's technology organization in accordance with his longer-term strategic objectives.

Palm's strategic focus areas include operational excellence and capable execution in support of business objectives, an emphasis that will serve large initiatives such as the ALIP project. He also will emphasize financial responsibility, which he defines as "continually delivering better stuff with less." Specifically, Palm says, he will strive to increase service quality, optimize IT investment and reduce total cost.

Another major focus will be the development of what Palm terms a "rich IT culture," which he says includes an investment in employee career and technical development, as well as driving the organizational values of leadership and transparency. "Fostering a culture that supports excellence, while it may not be written in my job description, is something I consider a key ingredient for success," Palm remarks.

Palm also expresses a commitment to innovation. In his view, a good CIO should have an eye on a few key trends, including mobility, social media and cloud computing. "You need to have a point of view on what you're going to do and, perhaps more important, what you're not going to do relative to those three technologies," he insists. And in his work as a regional CIO, according to Palm, he will support Allianz's global emphasis on "digitalization," which he characterizes as building interactive capabilities to support a business intelligence-driven customer experience.

All of Palm's efforts will aim at continually delivering value to the business through efficiency within the IT organization. "From an architectural standpoint, that means that when looking for technology solutions, we should look to reuse first, then buy and only if we can't buy, to build on a custom basis," he explains.

"Historically, there has been a tendency to jump to custom development," Palm adds. "Our approach implies reusable components and making sure that buying doesn't mean buying and then customizing. You can spend as much money on technology as you want and never get ahead. You have to distinguish between commodity solutions and the core solutions that differentiate you from your competitors."

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

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