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Management Strategies

12:46 PM
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Q&A: Aflac's CIO Says Distribution at the Top of His List

Michael Boyle, who took over the post in August 2011, says his goal is to provide customers, distributors and employers the best possible experience across all channels.

Michael Boyle was named CIO of Aflac last August after a stint as CIO and head of back office operations and customer service for Allstate Financial. Insurance & Technology caught up with Boyle to get a handle on what he'll be attacking in his first full year on the job at the Columbus, Ga.-based supplemental insurer.

Insurance & Technology: Aflac has been working on improving its distribution and agent-facing technologies a lot over the past few months, including an iPad app for sales. Are you planning to continue down this road?

Michael Boyle: It really is, in many ways, at the top of my list. I've been trying to learn a lot about what we're doing from a distribution point of view. I'm working with my team on improving the effectiveness of our great field force — we've got some projects planned on field force enablement. It's pretty early in the process still, but having those higher-level goals, I feel we're moving in the right direction.

I&T: What makes this such a high priority?

MB: We are such a dominant player in the marketplace, and what we'd like to do is drive our competitive advantage forward. We need to expand on our capabilities in producer, customer and employer experience. We're trying to create a set of central themes that allow us to look at all the work we do and understand how it contributes to those goals from a value-added perspective and also how it allows us to drive competitive advantage in the marketplace.

I&T: How do the three types of experience you mentioned relate to each other? Are there opportunities to improve the experience for all three major stakeholders in single project.

MB: They can be separate at times and tightly linked on others. We're planning on doing a lot of work on all our internet properties: we have internet-facing applications for employers, our agent portal, and How can we totally simplify a day in the life of our agents, and how do we make our policyholder's enrollment experience as simple and possible so they can really understand the nature of our products? We're replacing all of our IVRs this year to give a world class experience. We want to be compared to all the companies that are doing world-class work in those areas. When a customer deals with us today, they don't compare their experience with us to other insurers, they compare us to Amazon, Zappos, any number of different companies.

I&T: Specific to the agent side, we've had a dialog going on our site regarding the merits of using agent portals vs. agency management systems for most transactions. Where do you stand on this issue?

MB: I think if we do it right and build the right type of service-oriented architecture over our administration platforms, I don't think it's that big of a deal to provide real-time functions to agents for a number of the things that we do. There are a number of things they do in an offline mode that you're never going to get real-time on. For example, on-site enrollment on a laptop — that's dictated by a lack of wireless internet or where they are in the country. We need to be able to provide both types of capability for them and it's essential that the experience for that agent and the person they're trying to enroll at that period in time be exemplary.

[To get both sides of the portal vs. AMS story, check out our report on Novarica's agent survey and an agent group representative's response.]

I&T: What are the major challenges in getting to an endpoint in terms of the ideal experience?

MB: Something that increases complexity for us is scalability. Trying to really improve the simplicity of things when you've been built for operational efficiency is difficult. One thing we're doing right now is transforming the process of how we do IT. We're really focusing on developing a long-term strategic game plan for how we attack all the businesses we need to support. I've realigned my team into a bunch of business-facing teams, and we're focusing on really improving the engineering skills of our organization. If we do a better job of being technologists we can get better applications in the hands of all our associates.

I&T: What does this initiative involve?

MB: We're trying to put in place standardized program management tools, for instance, and standardized enterprise architectures so as we build components they can be used across the enterprise. We want to make more contemporary many of the management practices that we have and enable our workforce to do things more easily and faster.

Nathan Golia is senior editor of Insurance & Technology. He joined the publication in 2010 as associate editor and covers all aspects of the nexus between insurance and information technology, including mobility, distribution, core systems, customer interaction, and risk ... View Full Bio

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