However common it may be to emphasize the relationship between business strategy and technology initiatives, it still is somewhat unusual to meet a senior technology executive whose background is rooted exclusively in business. But Annaclair Kiger, senior vice president, customer service and information technology, for Columbia, S.C.-based Colonial Life & Accident Insurance Company, isn't your usual senior technology executive.
After joining Colonial (2 million policies in force and $838 million in 2004 revenue) 19 years ago as a project manager in the company's corporate project office with a B.S. in Financial Management, Kiger first became involved with managing IT projects. "At that time, the head of IT recognized that it was important to bring in more of a business perspective, which is how I became involved with IT initially," she explains. With expertise in managing teams to help them work together, make decisions and accelerate business processes, Kiger's success as a project manager led first to her appointment as manager of Colonial's legacy systems and then, in 1999, her elevation to vice president of IT.
"It was definitely a challenge managing an IT group without having certain types of technical training," Kiger concedes. "But the same good management techniques apply to IT as to any other part of the company."
And being presented with challenges is something that Kiger believes not only has helped fuel her career, but is an integral part of developing and motivating her staff. "In terms of management style, I feel it is important to hire very talented people and give them opportunities to challenge themselves," she says. Kiger also firmly believes that her exposure to multiple facets of Colonial's operations have contributed to her success as a technology executive. "I feel like I have greatly benefited from playing a wide variety of roles and have developed a broad view of the business, as well as an understanding of how to motivate people and how to effectively use technology to meet business objectives."
Kiger - who reports to Randy Horn, president and CEO of Colonial, and works with Elite 8 2004 honoree Bob Best, CIO of UnumProvident Corp., Colonial's parent company - has been tasked with developing applications to improve process and operational efficiency, as well as to keep pace with the rapid rate of growth in the supplemental insurance market. "Offering supplemental insurance, Colonial is in a fairly unique market space - one that has tremendous opportunity for growth as well as unique challenges in terms of needing to handle a high volume of small transactions efficiently," Kiger says.
Her approach to capitalizing on the opportunities in the supplemental insurance market, while at the same time navigating its unique challenges, has been to maintain a stable, robust suite of administrative applications and build new technology projects around these. "Having one stable platform over the last 25 years and a customer-centric operation have both been crucial to our success," Kiger relates. And Colonial's success has been significant, including $278.5 million in new premium sales in 2004 and customer service ratings that have outpaced rigorous internal goals.
Applications currently being developed by Kiger's 100-person IT team - including a new Internet-based enrollment system that will be used by Colonial's 6,000 independent sales representatives - target both process efficiency and growth opportunities. As a pioneer and leader in developing sales automation software, Colonial decided to build the enrollment application in-house using Microsoft (Redmond, Wash.) .NET and C# tools, and expects to launch the new system in mid-2006. Citing the ability of "IT people to understand as much about the business as they do about technology" as one of her "primary management beliefs," Kiger points to this project as the type of success that can be achieved by pairing functional and technical expertise. To develop the new system, IT staff interviewed sales representatives and observed the entire enrollment process while a technology advisory group made up of sales representatives gave their input on specific functions and features for the new application.
Colonial's expanding use of Internet tools also includes initiatives targeted at producers, brokers and plan administrators. Kiger says she plans to create "the ability to offer a wide range of transactional capabilities through a suite of electronic services that will enable data exchange with key business partners." For example, ProducerNet, a virtual electronic office, gives sales agents access to a number of different types of data and tools, including state-specific product and underwriting information, leads generation and account-specific updates via a password-protected extranet Web site. Plan administrators, policyholders and brokers can update policy information online and check the status of policies and claims through separate ColonialConnect secure Web sites, Kiger notes.
According to Kiger, a number of ongoing projects are focused on process innovation, including improvements in the product development cycle, increased automation in premium processing and operational efficiency in customer service. "In each area, we have an aggressive set of internal measures," she explains. And, in terms of customer service, external measures have confirmed the success of various initiatives. "Our target for overall customer satisfaction was 85 percent," Kiger relates. "We have not only met that, but exceeded it."
Still, Kiger knows there are more challenges right around the corner, particularly in the supplemental insurance market. "We see the supplemental insurance market as one offering tremendous growth since we're helping employers not only address rising costs, but also helping them offer more choice to their employees," she says. "I'm personally very excited about the growth prospects and feel confident that we have a platform and technology strategy to support that."
Senior Vice President, Customer Service and Information Technology
Colonial Life & Accident Insurance Co. (Columbia, S.C.; $838 million in 2004 revenue).
IT Staff: 100
Education: B.S. in Financial Management from Clemson University; Corporate Workshops; Center for Creative Leadership.
Colonial Life & Accident Insurance Company (Columbia, S.C.), 1986-present.
Bankers Trust of South Carolina (Greenville, S.C.), 1980-1986.
Management Philosophy: "One of my primary management beliefs is that IT people have to understand as much about the business as they do about technology," Kiger says. "In terms of management style, I feel it is important to hire very talented people and give them opportunities to challenge themselves."
On The Net