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Is it about IT?Never Ever

By Ralf Schneider, Chief Information Officer, Allianz Group

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Ralf Schneider, Chief Information Officer, Allianz Group

Digitalization, sure. It’s critical. All the financial services providers agree, especially in insurance, which is my focus. Insurance depends on the responsible handling and interpretation of data and how we manage the entire insurance process from the first customer interaction to the assessment of our aggregate risks and investments. Digitalization provides countless new ways to enhance that activity, improving both the customer experience and our ability to ensure our long-term stability. So far so academic, and as an obvious result the CIO plays a critical role in making it happen.

But what many overlook is that in my role as Chief Information Officer for the Allianz Group I focus as much on people as on developing and implementing IT architecture to give the flow of data a solid and secure backbone. The IT backbone also affects corporate culture and customer interaction. Insurance is, after all, a people business. It is all about maintaining and enabling human relationships. So if you focus only on the technology side, of course you risk losing sight of the people and their interactions that make the business work.

It should go without saying that no one is helped when the claims department has to explain to a policyholder that a claim isn’t going to be paid right away because of the technology. No one wants to hear “Sorry, there was a system migration, and your case needs to be re-entered manually.” Any sorry is one sorry to many. This is especially true when the sorry is about something that should be running invisibly in the back office.

But how do we get to that level of invisible operation? Moving past the policyholder experience, an organization has to understand internally how the IT works, how to use it properly and ultimately how the use of IT will underpin process and culture. At the end of the day, you really need to scale the skills around technology and make them an integral part of the business, a serious challenge for any organization. Imagine having to do this for a company like Allianz with operations in some 70countries and business entities that are active globally, regionally and locally. That part absolutely has to work. Only if it does can we have a solid basis to really ensure the policyholder side of things.

So that’s why I start with the people in my own division, the very first level where people play a crucial role in my world as CIO. I want my team to act in a collaborative, competent, fast and focused way. These key fundamentals ensure reliable delivery and a strong interaction with the rest of the Allianz world. It is one of my major objectives to create this mind-set as a solid foundation so that the people around me are better able to navigate a world becoming increasingly VUCA (volatile, uncertain, changing and ambiguous). In this way they can then better interact with the rest of the organization(s) at Allianz and outside Allianz to move its digitalization agenda forward.

Ultimately we need to understand people who are really affected by IT innovations, whether staffers in my team, colleagues in the broader Allianz world, or the policyholder whose customer experience will decide in the end whether we are doing the right job or not. It is so easy for a technical area of a business like IT to lose sight of that approach, and yet without it, the best IT system and all its experts are worth much less if not in fact worthless. 

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