The five-minute CIO: Karen Forte, Allianz

4 Mar 2016

Karen Forte, CIO, Allianz

“The pace of change is unprecedented; flexibility, agility and speed are paramount in delivering to the business,” says Karen Forte, CIO of insurance company Allianz Ireland.

Forte has more than 34 years’ experience working in IT, 28 of which have been as a CIO in the insurance industry and 18 of these have been with Allianz Ireland.

A graduate of Trinity College Dublin, Forte is a Fellow of the Irish Computer Society. She was also the inaugural president of the Association of Information Managers, which was founded in 2003. .

She began her career in the technology sector  in 1978 with Andersen Consulting in London. She joined Allianz as CIO in 1997.

Can you outline the breadth and scope of the technology rollout across your organisation and what improvements it will bring to the company? 

We have a big focus on Digital by Default, which emphasises ease of use, speed, straight through, no internal admin and no paper. This enhances both the consumer journey and that of our intermediaries. The value to us is lower operational costs while improving the end-user experience.

What are the main points of your company’s IT strategy?

The major business strategies below are heavily informing our IT Strategy:

  • Digital by Default – self-service solutions (MyAllianz) for the full journey
  • Customer centricity – speed, ease of use, SEO leadership, EFT and personalisation
  • Technical excellence – externalise the rating engine, rationalise product portfolios, postcode adoption and geo-coding and anti-fraud initiatives.

Can you give a snapshot of how extensive your IT infrastructure is?

We get shared services infrastructure delivery from our parent company, including MPLS network and IP telephony, including contact centre, virtual servers and desktop, with around 250 production servers and 80TB of storage.  We have a user base of around 600 staff and more than 4,000 external end users in intermediaries.

In terms of managing IT budgets, what are your key thoughts on how CIOs/heads of technology should achieve their goals?

We have to be flexible in how services get delivered, a hybrid approach of off-shore, near shore and on-site supported by on-premise, cloud and hosted shared services. Users and management have no interest in how or where they receive their IT services, just that it’s available, performs well and is value for money, and that it supports business initiatives.

How complex is the infrastructure, are you taking steps to simplify it?

Our core policy administration system sits at the heart of our application stack, providing a single source of data. We have surrounded that with best-in-class third-party apps for process management, print, electronic records repository and financials. Customisation of legacy and web presence ensures best fit.

Standardisation, consolidation and simplification are key considerations that inform our strategy. We are happy to buy rather than build if required and, where we build, maximum re-useability is the goal.

Do you have a large in-house IT team, or do you look to strategically outsource where possible? 

We have an in-house team of around 40 that handles the application development, change management, PMO, security risk assessment and access management. We have strategically outsourced infrastructure and have an off-shore partnership in place for 16 years for application development support.

What are some of the main responsibilities of your own role, and how much of it is spent on deep technical issues compared to the management and business side?

Most of my time is spent ensuring the delivery of the project portfolio aligns with the business imperatives and that resourcing and budgets support this. Vendor management and outsourcer oversight is a major aspect of the role. Less time is spent on technical issues as there are many experts in the chain who are better placed to handle these, alignment with our parent company’s strategies from both a business and IT platform perspective is key.

What are the big trends and challenges in your sector, and how do you plan to use IT to address them?

Mobile, internet of things, telematics, usage-based covers, the regulatory environment and skills shortages – these comprise both the trends and the challenges. The future of the business is tightly coupled to technology and how we support our customers with trusted products and services that are customer-centric rather than company-centric. Ease of use and device independence are key for the consumer and we have solutions that support them. A slick claims service is that “moment of truth” that customers value when they have a claim.

What metrics or measurement tools do you use to gauge how well IT is performing?

SLAs, KPIs, dashboards and regular surveys are all in the mix.

Are there any areas you’ve identified where IT can improve, and what are they?

In such a fast-changing world, where competition comes from non-traditional sources and expectations of consumers are so high, we are always challenging how to do things better to be able to deliver the flexibility and agility that’s needed.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years