When I joined ING in Japan, I had been recruited as a turnaround agent because I had a track record in large technology transformations. The morale of the IT organisation was at an all-time low, as was business confidence in IT.
My vision was to move the IT organisation beyond the role of modifying and enhancing what was already there to become an effective partner with the business. I immediately engaged the IT department, meeting with every member to get a sense of where the organisation was and how ready it was for a transformation. I also talked to my business peers to understand their agendas, their perception of IT and what they were expecting from the department.
As is typical of the siloed business culture in Japan, technology was scattered throughout the organisation. Application delivery and infrastructure were almost like two separate IT departments. There was some governance at a high level, but it was not consistently applied.
My top priority was establishing a new IT operating model that would enable us to continue delivering what we need today while also building the organisation we needed to be tomorrow. This meant moving to a more service-oriented delivery model that would help us align with where the business wanted to go.
To do this, we needed to clarify the key roles and responsibilities within IT, identify our core and non-core capabilities, and develop a vendor-management strategy. ING had performed a lot of its infrastructure work in-house and outsourced the requirements-management and business-analyst functions, but we have taken steps to reverse that.
Our new operating model went into effect in June, and we're using it for all our new application-development requests and projects. As we bring business partners to the table, we're starting to see how the communication has changed. After our monthly forum with key division managers, our head of sales said everyone was surprised - the only answer they ever got from the old IT organisation was, "No, we can't do it," and now we're saying, "No problem."
Another issue with insurance in Japan is the emphasis on in-house-developed, customised software. With shrinking profits and high costs, we need to look at packaged solutions to become more efficient. We apply the 80-20 rule, where we assume that 80% of what we do is standard and identify the 20% that requires customisation. This way, the business doesn't feel it is being force-fed a solution that doesn't fit its needs, and we've been able to improve our success rate in implementing those technologies.
A good example is our recent successful migration of ING field agencies to our existing Salesforce.com implementation. This proved that IT could be effective, leverage a solution already in place and create opportunities for future benefits. Our new focus is mobile computing and building applications that can run on any mobile device.
My job was to create the vision, framework and guidelines, then remove obstacles and be a cheerleader. There have been many adjustments as we evolve from the IT of the '90s to a service-oriented, partnering model. But we're getting there and building confidence so that when we try big things, we'll have a better chance of success.
Houston Ross is vice president and CIO at ING Life Insurance in Japan.