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Success by Design: I&T Talks to Regence CIO Cheron Vail

Vail Speaks with I&T about building out Regence IT's Architechture and Engineering organization.

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I&T: One of your most significant innovations within Regence IT was to create the Architecture and Engineering organization. What was the driver behind that?

Vail: Three years ago I had an "aha!" moment during a project operations committee meeting while listening to a timeline for what we were going to do when. There was a four-month requirements gathering phase, a four-month testing phase and somewhere in between those was a two-week design step, and there was a three-day holiday in the middle of it. We did a lot of requirements gathering, and then we just ran off to build things because nobody had any patience for design. We ended up doing a great deal of rework and longer testing cycles than we should have. Out of that came the A&E organization.

I&T: You have called your architecture and design people your "greatest strategic asset." Why do you concentrate those people in one organization?

Vail: To make sure that we are applying our architecture and design experience in a consistent fashion, and also to make sure that we have a central point to take what we learn there to influence the other parts of our organization in a consistent fashion.

I&T: How do you develop technology architects and engineers within your organization?

Vail: It takes a long time to build good architects and solution engineers — since that's the point where we forge strategic alignment, they have to know the business. So we are very careful about hiring those folks, and we dedicate a lot of effort to grooming them.

I&T: Do you concentrate other skill sets in different areas of the technology organization?

Vail: Yes — for example, we pulled all of our Web developers together in a single organization to drive the use of agile development [methodologies]. The intent was to create a nexus of people who understood how agile works and then start flowing that out throughout the organization.

We have also done this with our testing organization, which [VP of QA and testing] Bob Goetz created from scratch. He has brought together between 30 and 40 people and has created testing methodologies and procedures for projects related to our CPSS initiative [Common Platform, Single System, in which Regence plans to move its 3 million-strong membership from multiple, state-oriented claims systems to a single platform]. We centralized this for the CPSS initiative, and every year we flow about 10 IT people into it to better understand what constitutes a good unit, integration or performance test, and after a year they go back to their divisions. The idea is that over a period of years, we will be positioned to be an organization that knows how to do test-driven design.

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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