Pramerica’s Ciaran Harvey: ‘Talent is at the core of all initiatives’

30 Nov 2018

Ciaran Harvey, senior managing director and CIO for Pramerica Systems Ireland. Image: Pramerica

Donegal native Ciaran Harvey oversees the IT roll-out across Pramerica and its parent company Prudential’s business units.

Ciaran Harvey is the senior managing director and chief information officer for Pramerica Systems Ireland, located in Letterkenny and a subsidiary of parent company Prudential Financial. Harvey oversees delivery of software and professional business services to Prudential’s business units and corporate centre functions. He is also the accountable executive for the Prudential El Paso Business & Technology Solutions Center in Texas.

‘Across the industry there is a drive to create innovative products that reflect the needs of our varied customer bases. The challenge is how to get these new products to the market quickly and effectively’

Harvey joined Prudential in 2000, Harvey was a member of the management team that founded Pramerica as a green field site and grew it into a fully functioning operation. He was promoted to his current position in 2016.

Tell me about your responsibilities in driving tech strategy?

I come from a software development background, so I have a keen interest in technology and tech strategy. Prudential is in the financial wellness business and has had a greater customer-centric digital focus over the past few years, so it’s important that Pramerica proactively supports our business partners with a strong focus on developing integrated digital services and solutions. In that regard, we must ensure we stay relevant, be innovative and adopt technology and solutions that support our business partners and, ultimately, our customers.

Are you spearheading any major initiatives you can tell us about?

Across the industry, there is a drive to create innovative products that reflect the needs of our varied customer bases. The challenge is how to get these new products to the market quickly and effectively. Significant efforts are being made in establishing software development practices based on continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) principles to facilitate highly effective time to market software releases. These CI/CD practices have been extended to focus on secure coding and address classical technical debt challenges.

Prudential has made some strategic bets in advanced analytics. We are heavily involved in driving key initiatives for the enterprise around artificial intelligence and machine learning. Through these initiatives, we are enabling a better understanding of customer needs for greater personalisation, simplifying their interactions and experience and helping create better engagement.

Our innovation lab is leading several technology initiatives partnering with other labs across the enterprise on topics such as artificial intelligence (AI), augmented and virtual reality, chatbot capability and cloud native. The focus is on how to derive real business value from the programmes and get the technology into the hands of both the internal and external customer as quickly as possible for feedback and improvement. Our infrastructure and engineering teams are heavily involved in the enterprise initiative to streamline the customer experience through a unified contact experience including voice, chat and video. The objective is to link our existing high-performing IT applications and our new digital footprint together for a more integrated and seamless customer experience.

Pramerica not only supports our US parent company from a technology perspective, but we have strong financial services as well. Clients include UK insurance companies who wish to immunise parts of their book of pension payment liabilities against the risk of improvements in life expectancy. Pramerica’s role includes data work, deal analysis and underwriting support. All deal execution and underwriting decisions are made by Prudential in the US.

Talent is at the core of all these initiatives and Pramerica is actively engaging with and investing in the talent landscape to attract the best and the brightest.

How big is your team? Do you outsource where possible?

We provide over 200 services across three sites – Letterkenny in Donegal and both Newark, New Jersey and El Paso, Texas in the US. Through our workforce management framework, we ensure value creation opportunities for each site whilst ensuring the right work resides in the right location.

What are your thoughts on digital transformation and how are you addressing it?

Voice-based virtual assistants and chatbots have continued to make considerable strides with consumers’ confidence and comfort level. We see this as another interface to communicate with our customers and have started to roll out voice-based features and services on our products. Most recently, our retirement business has rolled out an Alexa skill, which will allow our customers to get their retirement account balance.

AI first has started to replace mobile-first with increased focus on embedding AI into all areas of our daily life. Our customer support areas have leveraged AI to better service our customers’ needs.

What big tech trends do you believe are changing the world and your industry specifically?

Data analytics: With the proliferation of the wearables market, there is now a phenomenal opportunity to leverage the vast amounts of data being produced. The life insurance market, for one, is uniquely positioned to get a much deeper understanding of an individual’s lifestyle and general health over a more sustained period. This in turn will allow providers to better personalise products to best align to an individual’s lifestyle and adapt that product faster. Ironically, this leads us onto another significant trend this year: security and the use of personal data. Users’ confidence in the digital platforms and products they use has never been more important. As a result, we see significant efforts being made by organisations to not only ensure their policies are robust, but to highlight this to their consumer base.

Intelligent process automation: In the last five years, intelligent process automation has seen a sharp incline to achieve automation saves. Prudential has been on this journey using the Blue Prism RPA (robotic process automation) technology. The key to realising impactful and successful outcomes is to ensure both business and technology stakeholders are on-board and engaged early in the process. With a more technology-savvy and empowered workforce, remote desktop automation (RDA) looks set to become a preferred option to RPA. Digitisation remains a key challenge to unearth future automation opportunities. This also paves the way for machine learning and AI technologies to become more prevalent in the coming years.

Cloud: With respect to Cloud adoption, the organisation has two very specific and discrete strategies in the application and infrastructure work streams. In terms of applications there is a very deliberate plan to look to the cloud when deploying new capabilities specifically where the application or competency is born in the cloud or the cloud is its natural home. The ability to consume these newer technologies on a pay-as-you-go basis allows business to do much greater and meaningful due diligence on the potential business impact of new and emerging technologies in way that doesn’t consume too much capital or is tied to a specific vendor or technology.

When you talk about infrastructure, it’s about leveraging all the good methodologies that are native to the cloud and deploying them internally to achieve improvements within our own infrastructure as an important first step to adoption. Real-time capacity management, employee self-service, internal billing integration and on-demand scalability are key components in bringing the cloud experience to life for employees and business partners in a way that’s safe and secure. Ensuring that it’s extensible over the longer term is the greater challenge and figuring out how to leverage the public cloud for less sensitive systems and building the capability to move workloads seamlessly between public and private clouds is critical to its sustainability within the enterprise. The opportunity to leverage low-cost off-premise infrastructure for system mothballing or seasonal demands associated with systems development and testing will generate key competitive advantage for the organisation in the future.

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