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02:45 PM
Tom Watjen, President and CEO, Unum Group
Tom Watjen, President and CEO, Unum Group
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Unum Group's Simply Unum Initiative Taps Technology's Capability to Provide Flexibility, Balance and Momentum

Unum's Tom Watjen, one of I&T's 2007 Tech-Savvy CEOs, describes how the success of the carrier's Simply Unum initiative is driving further IT/business alignment.

Tom Watjen, Unum GroupPerhaps at no other time in our history has information technology been more central to Unum's operations than it is today. And at no other time have the challenges and opportunities facing our employee benefits industry been more significant. Rising healthcare costs, a stagnant economy, a competitive hiring environment and workforce diversity all are contributing to unprecedented changes in how Unum does business.

Technology is at the core of these changes. We continue to demonstrate our belief that using technology smartly will create a substantial competitive advantage for us. Technology is as critical to Unum as the gyroscope is to the Segway scooter -- and IT functions in the same way: It provides us with flexibility, always maintains our balance and keeps us in a constant state of motion.

We can point to no more appropriate example of this than Simply Unum, an integrated product and service platform that embodies our IT "gyroscope" of flexibility, balance and momentum. More than two years in the making, the development of Simply Unum involved every department that interacts with a customer -- from sales, to underwriting, to enrollment, to service, to claims. IT was at the core of the process, knitting all the business objectives together while keeping the needs of our customers at the center.

Simply Unum was introduced to pilot markets in August 2007. Our approach from the beginning of the project was to remain nimble and respond to suggestions for enhancements -- in other words, to let the technology keep us balanced but with forward momentum. Our flexibility enabled us to incorporate feedback from the pilot launch, and to adjust and improve the platform, all while we were moving toward the national launch, which began this spring.

As a result, Simply Unum has exceeded our expectations in the marketplace. Sales from our pilot offices were nearly 60 percent above targets. Feedback from brokers and customers has been excellent. In addition, the technology platform at the foundation of Simply Unum has been recognized for its contribution.

Under the vision and leadership of Unum US COO Bob Best and CIO Kathy Owen, the company is ready to capitalize on the opportunity that has been generated by Simply Unum. The success of this initiative convinced us to break down the technology silos of the past and create a more contemporary organization that revolves around a centralized architecture group.

Across Unum Group -- at Unum US, Colonial Life and Unum UK -- we are enabling collaboration between technology and the business to deliver customer-centric solutions to the market. We are focused on developing business strategies, anticipating needs, building and expanding capabilities, and moving forward.

Global Alignment

We are certainly in a global economy and "flat world," in which a business from any country can seem as though it's operating from next door. Within Unum's various businesses, we have taken significant steps to align our technology assets within our global operations, specifically in relation to corporate applications and risk management. Over the past year, Unum US has created a much tighter technology partnership with Unum UK, sharing HR applications and general business platforms.

Like many leading businesses in this global economy, Unum is concerned about its ongoing ability to meet the needs of the business when faced with a shrinking labor pool. The work ahead requires highly skilled professionals, particularly in the field of IT. Yet the number of IT graduates in the U.S. continues to decline, with IT enrollment down 39 percent since 2001.

We are constantly looking at ways to invest in and develop our own people. But we also are looking at ways to reach out both domestically and globally for talent.

Earlier this year we announced the creation of a new software development and IT support center in Ireland. Ireland's excellent education system now graduates 10,000 highly skilled technology students each year. Unum Ireland will support the product development and service needs of Unum US.

Unum's success in 2007 and early 2008 certainly breeds the expectation of more success. Yes, the bar is being raised again. But we're well positioned for the challenge.

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