Advice to Insurance CIOs: Evolving Legacy Systems to Modern Platforms

Four imperatives that will speed migration to the cloud and the adoption of new technologies if they are made part of an insurance CIO’s overall strategy and daily execution.

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As technology executives and leaders, we have all faced immense pressure in migrating the technology eco-system on to the cloud and adopt modern technologies to better serve the business imperatives.  The lessons of the last three decades yield the following list of bold, yet practical steps CIOs can take to accelerate transformation while reducing the risk of these strategic initiatives.

  • Hire architects who can code: When it comes to technology, many small and large decisions are made natively within the source code or configuration files. In today’s medium to large enterprises, we have created a division of labor between architects and developers where architects make the decisions about the code or the technology, but the actual work is done by developers or engineers (often offshore).  This introduces significant inefficiency, causes churn, and increases overhead. CIOs must empower their architect pool. Hire architects who are ready to get their hands dirty and are not afraid to create prototype solutions which can be scaled by engineers.  This is how industries such as pharma, automotive and others provide scale and keep their costs low. Architects who cannot create a prototype without coding or configuring new technologies lack the needed skillset to solve the complex problems associated with evolving systems. Architecture processes are now mainstream in most organizations. Making the shift whereby architects are required to prototype solutions will help migrate legacy applications into modern technologies sooner than you might imagine.
  • Solve the data problem: This is the age-old issue. If you want a holistic solution as it relates to migrating your legacy platform on to the cloud you must adopt solution patterns that ultimately solve the data problem. Solutions patterns that will allow you to create authoritative source of data, integrate external data and workflows that will allow you to approve data you want in your data lake or warehouse. You must have full command of people, processes and technology when it comes to your domain data. Identify the structured data, unstructured data and semi-structured data you have. In the criminal justice system, it is said, “follow the money, to solve the crime.” When it comes to evolution of legacy systems, one must follow the data. Solving the data problem will also lead you to identify business processes suitable for reengineering. The ultimate goal is to enable analytics for the users—which can only happen if the data is accessible. It must be stressed that this is the hardest problem to solve and it takes years to really master your data.  That’s why it’s important to start slow, get a handle on your data model, and establish an efficient data governance process.
  • Hire integrators not just domain experts: Cloud technologies require a different mindset, as much of the infrastructure and platform has already been developed by the likes of Amazon, Microsoft, etc. Further, financial institutions should not be developing their own proprietary systems, such accounting, policy administration, underwriting, etc. They should be integrating the solutions that already exist as SaaS. To do this, they must change their approach and modify their resource pool. Over time, they will naturally see a shift in their technology eco-system.
  • Automate: CIOs should keep in mind that the benefits of cloud technologies come from automation. Simply migrating your infrastructure and applications to the cloud does not guarantee efficiency gains that will justify the transition. The trick is to automate the cloud environment as you are building it. Automation in this sense implies continuous integration and continuous development. Automation gives you repeatable, consistent and efficient environments. This is a different mind-set than ordering a bunch of servers and configuring and installing applications on them for users in your data center. Today’s cloud providers have provided hooks and scripts to automate just about everything, including deploying of infrastructure, security, application environment and scalability. The key is to have a resource pool that knows these technologies—and it is your job to empower them and trust them

Success depends on hiring the right people, having an open mind, and empowering your talent. Remember: we are participating in a paradigm shift. Your team must have the skills necessary to rapidly prototype. Hire integrators not domain experts. Incrementally solve your data problem and focus on automation from the beginning. If insurers make these four imperatives part of their overall strategy and daily execution, they will be able to much more quickly migrate to the cloud and adopt the new technologies they need for their digital future.

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Alok Mehta // Alok Mehta is a veteran financial services technology leader who most recently served as GCM Grosvenor Capital Management’s Chief Technology Officer between 2015-2019. Mehta was responsible for overseeing the strategic implementation of technology and information systems for the firm. Mehta has held senior technology in the insurance industry, including CTO at Continental Assurance Company, and Chief Architect at Allstate. He began his career at American Financial Systems as a Senior Consultant from 1990 to 1995 and later became Chief Technology Officer of the firm from 1995 to 2005.

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