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On The Record With AZOA’s Oliver Bussmann

I&T: What has your experience in other financial services sectors taught you about what technology organizations can and should do within the insurance enterprise?

Bussmann: The insurance industry is undergoing now what took place with banks and asset management firms 10 to 15 years ago in terms of automation, project management, vendor management and improving expenses. We're seeing that now in the insurance sector.

The insurance industry is heavily focused on managing data -- the industry is dependent on IT, and IT can facilitate the flow and accessibility of data. We look for ways to leverage core and non-core parts of the business and how to enable new functionalities. This leads to competitive advantages in terms of both business effectiveness and efficiency. IT can enable the introduction of innovative products, bringing them to market more quickly, and improve customer service.

I&T: Do the lessons you've learned working in the European insurance market translate to the North American market?

Bussmann: From a business perspective, the challenges and the solutions are similar. Implementing change is more complex here in the U.S., where insurance firms have to work with 50 different states versus only one legislative environment in European countries. However, in Europe there are other legal challenges and approvals necessary that sometimes make it more difficult to move forward with big change projects. Another difference from Europe: We are not developing in-house software -- we utilize what's currently available.

I&T: How have both available technology and sourcing opportunities changed in recent years, and what have the changes meant for technology architecture and sourcing?

Bussmann: Vendors are more mature now. In addition, the back-office sourcing market has exploded. This means that the sourcing vendor risk is reduced as compared to previous years. In terms of available technology, Web-based capabilities have become more common, which allows us to offer more options to independent distribution. Previously, we were more paper-based.

I&T: How do you ensure the success of major technology initiatives at Allianz of America and of the company's broader transformation effort?

Bussmann: We have implemented best practices in project management and reporting. This gives us continuous transparency and controls throughout the project to be sure we stay on track with our deliverables and within budget, time and scope. It is a more proactive approach rather than a reactive one.

I&T: How important is having the right management team?

Bussmann: It is absolutely crucial. Excellence in the IT area can only be achieved with a strong team that follows established leadership principles.

I&T: What workforce challenges do you anticipate facing in the future?

Bussmann: If you are trying to change IT processes, you require employees with very different skill sets, and IT professionals with old development languages aren't very common. The way to cope with this issue is, if feasible, to broaden the base from which you recruit. We have consolidated the application maintenance landscape, which reduces complexity. In addition, we leverage our vendors for maintenance -- they have a broader base and it makes more sense for them to have employees that know the older technologies. By using vendors we are buffered.

In non-IT areas we can help with data and support tools that make decision making easier and more efficient.

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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