MassMutual Reinvents Its IT Organization

By Eileen Feretic  |  Posted 2013-03-21
reinventing IT organization

By Eileen Feretic

How can a large, established enterprise completely transform its IT organization? That was the challenge facing Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance , headquartered in Springfield, Mass., which has a 1,200-person IT department.

The solution? "We created a culture that values sharing ideas and making them better," says Bob Casale, executive vice president and CIO. "We began incenting people to share rather than hoard information. We told employees that feedback is a good thing, and we gave them permission to take risks and make mistakes—as long as they learned from those mistakes."

It all started five years ago, when Casale was charged with leading the company's IT modernization program. "We wanted to do a comprehensive reimagining of IT from end to end," he recalls.

"We decided to take a longer-term view that focused on growth, market agility, seizing opportunities and enabling innovation. To do that, we needed the right people, the right processes and the right technology—in that order."

With 60 years of legacy systems to deal with, this was clearly a huge challenge. "We wanted to use technology as a game-changer," the CIO explains. "That meant we had to deal with change management, education and communication."

To start, the IT organization conducted a comprehensive assessment of itself against peers in the insurance industry and against best-in-class organizations in other industries.

"We shared our findings with the whole company," Casale says. "This was a business initiative, and anything we did had to be good for the company, not just IT. We wanted our business partners to support these initiatives and be partners with us."

The organization hired PwC as consultants to facilitate collaboration and to work with IT on the assessment and implementation of the initiatives. "But we owned it," Casale stresses.

Redefining IT Jobs

As a result of the assessment, the company redefined every job in the IT organization and reduced more than 100 existing job descriptions to 35 industry-standard roles. It also created new career opportunities in IT.

 "We talked to everyone in the department and reclassified their roles, and some people opted to move into different roles," he explains. "This enabled us to right-size our workforce."

To facilitate the change management program, the organization brought in a Ph.D. in management sciences with a focus on cognitive science and intellectual capital management. Casale explains that the Ph.D. "built a knowledge management framework that positioned knowledge as a catalyst for continuous improvement and innovation at MassMutual."

Extensive training helped make the reclassification successful. The organization used virtual reality training, as well as off-site boot camps with interactive activities.

To make education an ongoing process, the organization developed a knowledge management system. The system is a collaborative effort, and employees continually add information to it.

"This enables us to capture intelligence and share ideas throughout the organization," Casale says. "Employees can make comments and write blogs."

In addition to the personnel changes, the IT organization put standard processes in place. "We continue to improve these processes, and we continue evolving," he reports.

As part of these initiatives, the organization created half a dozen IT "Communities of Practice."  These teams share stories and ideas; determine whether processes are working and, if they're not, come up with ways to improve them; and develop ways to institutionalize processes that do work.

"We picked people to lead the communities, and they gathered the rest of the team, including our line-of-business partners," Casale says. "The communities come up with suggestions and send them to our leadership. These communities are the sustaining force behind change management, and they ensure that we don't backslide into old behaviors."

Positive Outcomes

Though still in the final year of the program, the IT organization has made significant improvements. For one thing, it has achieved an 18 percent reduction in IT costs and a 9 percent improvement in the ability to deliver projects on time and on budget, while giving internal customers exactly what they are expecting.

These internal users now pay only for what they use: a consumption-based approach. "We are the front end," Casale says. "Users tell us what they need, and we find the best solutions to fit those needs."

IT also has achieved a 10 percent reduction in legacy applications. "We constantly prune the garden and replace legacy systems with new technologies," he explains. "It's part of an annual technology planning process. For each technology, we decide whether to buy, hold or sell."

For their core Universal Life Products, IT was able to reduce the product development life cycle by nine months, with an 84 percent reduction in costs.  The rules-based process has potential for use in other groups within MassMutual.

 "We created a scale that we didn't have before," Casale says, "and the process is standard and repeatable. The way we run IT now enables us to achieve that. It gives us the headroom for innovation, so we can implement emerging technologies like cloud, mobility and big data."