Policy Matters

By Samuel Greengard Print this article Print

New York Life’s success is based, in large part, on the IT team’s ability to understand and deliver solutions that support business needs in the most efficient and cost-effective way possible.

Policy Matters

Although enterprise IT systems help New York Life harness the power and efficiency of digital technology, the company’s success is firmly rooted in a management structure that makes the IT department a valuable business asset to the overall enterprise. Slevin says that IT executives strive to maintain a forward-thinking perspective that extends seven to 12 years into the future. Moreover, the company has built processes that keep business and IT leaders closely connected.

The starting point is a business and technology strategy team that maintains a road map for the firm. “IT is focused on the business needs of the organization, along with the infrastructure and technology needed to support it,” Slevin says.

While the company has always had technology governance teams in place, this initiative, begun in 2007, has introduced greater discipline and broader team involvement. This, in turn, has allowed management to extend its planning from a two- to three-year window to a view of a decade or more.

Developing a road map required more than teams sitting down and flinging ideas against the wall, however. To peg a set of desired business capabilities and prioritize them, team members conducted interviews with senior-level business executives across various departments and functional domains.

The process initially identified 21 projects that New York Life deemed a top priority, and provided information about benefits and ROI. “We worked side by side with business leaders to ensure that we didn’t wind up with technology for technology’s sake,” Toffolo notes.

At the same time, the company has focused on the technical underpinnings of various projects. In 2007, IT developed a business reference architecture that maps processes across the entire organization and incorporates all technology systems and workflow needed to keep the enterprise running.

“The goal is to look at how enterprise processes are connected and how we can create greater alignment,” Slevin says, noting that the initiative extends upward all the way to the chairman’s office.

This approach is changing the way the insurance giant views technology investments. Using collaboration tools, including a wiki, the company has, for instance, dissected and documented all the steps involved in selling a policy.

The information is then used to design and build an IT architecture that’s optimized across various functions and systems. This process also helps the company identify missing needs and components, as well as conduct what-if scenarios. Whenever business or IT leaders consider a change, New York Life can study the potential outcome.

The same dedication to detail filters into financial planning. The IT department breaks potential projects into tactical and strategic components and works with finance to conduct a cost-benefit analysis. IT is tuned into budgets, spending, and the use of resources required to build and operate IT systems. A resulting scorecard guides decision making and adoption.

“It provides a gut check and allows us to understand what’s cost-effective and viable, and what we can support,” Slevin says. “It gives us a balanced perspective that spans the organization.”

Make no mistake, New York Life’s IT department drives strategic policy across the company. With an understanding of how separate but connected constituencies—customers, partners, agents and employees—interact, it’s able to devise solutions that best fit the needs of the business.

What’s more, the process is ongoing. The company is currently mapping out next-generation mobility solutions, social networking tools and expanded e-capabilities. “We’re looking to handle all forms, payments, self-service components and other transactions electronically,” Toffolo notes.

New York Life’s success is based, in large part, on IT’s ability to understand and deliver solutions that support business needs in the most efficient, cost-effective way possible. The IT department has adopted best practices in strategic governance, investment planning and system design. “The goal is to maximize results by making business data available and actionable 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Slevin says.


Company: New York Life Insurance Co.

Headquarters: New York

2008 Insurance Sales: $2.43 billion

2008 Investment Sales: $26.6 billion

Total Employees: 8,932 employees and more than 11,000 agents in the United States

IT Employees: 1,200

Business: Life insurance and financial products

Business Challenge: To build an IT framework that addresses governance, planning and strategic investments, as well as providing real-time data and information to partners, employees, agents and others

Key IT Projects: Web-based contact system launched in January 2009 that runs within a portal; Web-based new-business/underwriting system and a workflow management system

IT Infrastructure: Mainframes; Unix and Windows servers; proprietary applications; and enterprise systems from IBM, Navagate, Oracle and others

Read “Cisco: Collaboration Is Key to Business”.

This article was originally published on 2009-09-29
Samuel Greengard is a freelance writer for Baseline.
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