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11:18 PM
Lisa Valentine
Lisa Valentine
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Tactical Strategist

Allianz Life's Doug Reynolds leverages legacy systems with newer technology, while driving tighter business and IT alignment.

Remember the fable about the tortoise and the hare? In this version of the story, Doug Reynolds, Allianz Life's (Minneapolis; $9.7 billion in revenue) CIO since 2002, gets to play both parts - at the same time. But playing antagonistic roles isn't a dichotomy for Reynolds, who relishes what he describes as his tactical strategy role of "running heads down to keep up with emerging business imperatives - while still looking up and keeping our eyes on the horizon to make sure we are directionally correct in our long-term strategies."

Reynolds says Allianz Life's corporate culture of innovation and speed to market is in sharp contrast to other insurers. Allianz behaves more like a retailer than an insurer when it comes to getting products on the shelves quickly, he notes.

He should know - prior to joining Allianz Life, Reynolds, who also worked for Prudential for 18 years, put in time in a technology leadership role at electronics retail chain Best Buy.

One of Reynolds' mantras is that IT should never constrain the growth of the business. But how can IT match the furious pace of the business while still ensuring that the technology will provide long-term results rather than quick fixes? For Reynolds, the answer lies in marrying legacy systems to newer, more nimble technologies.

For example, Reynolds is moving Allianz Life to a component-based architecture that sits on top of the legacy environment and provides the flexibility to quickly change anything that is not hardwired. Another technology initiative is leveraging IP telephony to enable Allianz to communicate with agents via co-browsing and Web chat.

IT Problem Solving

It's not technology per se that gets Reynolds excited. He's quick to declare, "I don't have any religious words about technology - I'm probably the most agnostic technology person in the building." But what does get his heart racing is problem solving - and, in his eyes, IT work is a series of logical problems. "I'm a business solver who has technical tools in the toolbox," he says. "I love problem solving, and you get to do that with IT."

It's pretty handy that Reynolds loves to solve problems, because he was faced with a few when he took over the CIO job at Allianz Life. "When I inherited this group, there were some people who felt that IT was disconnected," he comments. "Job One was solving that issue because, although IT had had tremendous success, it didn't feel as close to the business as it should."

Reynolds started building relationships between the business units and IT by changing the way IT was measured. Rather than just examining whether or not IT delivered a product on time, IT is now measured against joint criteria agreed upon by business and IT teams.

"We incent on mutual success," Reynolds explains. When things go wrong - as they always will - IT is no longer throwing it back over the wall to the business and the business is not throwing it back over the wall to IT, but both work together to solve the problem, he explains.

Reynolds also implemented steering committees and a governance process that provided greater role clarification for those involved in the development life cycle. "It wasn't that people had the wrong motivation," Reynolds notes. "But we needed to make sure everybody understood that they were on a team and needed to understand their role on the team." He adds, "My greatest accomplishment, bar none, is aligning the business with IT and getting intimacy established."

The 'Thrill of Accountability'

Aligning IT with the business also creates a more interesting work environment that attracts top IT talent to Allianz Life. Unlike some IT organizations, where "you may as well work at Burger King," technologists at Allianz are expected to provide recommendations to solve business problems, rather than simply taking orders, Reynolds says. "Talented people like that. They want to be part of the solution."

Reynolds goes further to say that talented people want to be held accountable - what Allizanz Life CEO and president Mark Zesbaugh calls the "thrill of accountability." Walk through IT and you'll see whiteboards full of statistics that measure IT as a business. "Good people will go where they will be recognized and rewarded," Reynolds asserts.

Like any CIO of a large, complex organization, Reynolds has had to deal with some pretty hairy technical challenges, but he looks at those as just problems to solve. He names as his biggest technology challenge effectively demonstrating the link between IT investments and business outcome. Running IT as a "black art where things happen behind a curtain" is not an effective way to run IT, Reynolds says, and he looks for ways to articulate and measure the success of IT.

He's also looking for technologies to support emerging customer dynamics, such as an aging population, that are focused on long-term care, estate planning and a multicultural population. As the insurance industry transforms to deal with a rapidly changing and diverse buying population - Reynolds calls this Allianz's "sweet spot" - he's determined that his IT organization will be ready. For example, he's looking at how live video technology will change the way Allianz agents interact with their changing customer base.

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