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Unifying Force

Todd Ellis combined Chubb Commercial Insurance's home office IT and operations groups into a unified, high-performance service organization.

When Chubb Commercial Insurance was reorganized as a strategic business unit in 2001, its legacy IT and operations services organizations were not configured to effectively support the business. To put things right, Chubb called on Todd Ellis.

Ellis, whose last mission had been to manage the project team that developed Chubb's Commercial Underwriting Workstation, describes his task as unifying the fragmented support provided by the two organizations that he inherited upon becoming CIO and home office services manager of the Chubb Commercial Insurance strategic business unit (CCI SBU).

"They each had their own management structure, their own process and their own staff; there was a good deal of job overlap and unclear roles and responsibilities," Ellis relates. As a result, he adds, "We were not always producing as high-quality a product as we were capable of, and we had significant room for improvement for our alignment with individual customers in the SBU."

The first step for Ellis' team, in the first quarter of 2002, was to conduct an analysis based on interviews with key internal customers and other staff members across the organization, and to conduct a survey with the employees of both units. The information gathering process allowed Ellis first to understand the problem. "You have to ensure that you're solving the right problems," he relates. But it was also an opportunity, from a change management perspective, to engage the organization's customers and employees in finding a resolution.

Even without that formal input, Ellis says, it was clear that "We were ripe for change. There was frustration up and down the organization." But the information seeking provided a more specific diagnosis. All employees agreed that there was a lack of clearly defined and enforced roles and responsibilities; certain core processes were not defined, or were defined but not consistently applied, measured or enforced; and both field and home office line of business managers charged that the CCI support organizations were difficult to navigate and unclear in communicating expectations. In short, Ellis notes, the No. 1 customer complaint was, "Who do I call to get what done?"

The next step was an organizational redesign effort that yielded a new model. The two organizations were melded into one CCI Services Organization with three units: product delivery, handling IT application development; product services, responsible for state filings and product design; and branch services, which comprised the field support organization, including the help desk. The reorganization effort also included identifying how tasks and accountabilities would be aligned within each unit. To then adjust staffing to those changes, "We rewrote virtually every job description in the organization, right on up to my job description," Ellis recounts.

Ellis' team then worked at reengineering processes for the new organizational structure, beginning with an "as is" process mapping exercise that focused on the business requirements, documentation process, testing process and work prioritization. "We then pulled people from the two organizations and asked, 'If you could start from scratch, how would you do it?' From that we created 'to be' process maps," Ellis says.

Ellis acknowledges that some resistance was inevitable during implementation of the new structure, since virtually all staff were affected by job description changes and many had to go through skills inventory and training. In large restructuring projects, there is a risk of perceived "winners and losers," he says. Engaging the staff in reshaping the organization, however, helped defuse such concerns.

Some employees also bristled at the embedding of a robust work tracking system that accounts for 100 percent of the work done in the CCI Services

Organization. "Many employees were saying, 'Why do you want to know how I spend every minute of my day?'" Ellis recalls. "The answer is we will not use the data to gauge your individual performance, but to provide the organization with efficiency, flow-through and productivity metrics that give us the ability to communicate IT volume to the business and identify areas for continued improvement."

'Treasure Trove' of Data

In fact, the accumulation of data that work tracking has begun to yield will provide CCI with a tremendous advantage in the near future, Ellis asserts. "We have a treasure trove of tracking and project costing data," he says. Armed with that data, he adds, "We're going to be able to begin characterizing standard types of projects and be able to say what they cost."

The greatest benefit that Ellis can already report is a far greater degree of customer alignment than existed prior to the unification project. Another major result is that IT now enjoys advocacy from the business. Typically, IT pleas for resources are a cry in the wilderness, Ellis says, but now, "We've got the business by our side saying, 'Here's an area where we need more resources,' and making reallocation decisions."

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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