Hastings Direct, launched in 1997, is a UK company providing insurance policies and related products online and by phone.

IT leader: James Fairhurst, CIO.

In role since: Been with Hastings Direct since September 2008, CIO since September 2011. Previously in various head of IT/CTO roles within a mixture of SMEs and FTSE 100/250 organisations.

Reporting line: CEO and MDs of business units.

How often does the CIO meet with the CEO: We meet several times per week, more depending on business need, or specific challenges.

Board level seat: Part of the senior management committee for the business, also the Chair of the Information Security & Data Protection committee and a member of the Business Risk Committee (Formal committees which are part of the company governance structure).

IT budget: IT Operational Budget is £13.5 million for 2012, with additional capital spend on technology projects of circa £3 million.

IT estate and or number of log on accounts under the control of the IT leader: We have circa 1500 login accounts across four sites (Bexhill, Newmarket, London, and Gibraltar) for full time staff, and this covers 99% of the organisation’s workforce.

IT staff currently employed: 95 and growing permanent plus contractors as justified.

Split between in-house/outsourced staff: Currently the split is 92% permanent staff, 8% outsourced.

IT management team and reporting structure: Four direct reports, with a total of 95 permanent staff and eight contractors across the following functions:

  • Head of IT Operations – Covers Service Desk, Shift Operations, Infrastructure, data centres, Operational Database administration. The Head of IT Infrastructure reports into here also.
  • Head of IT Delivery – Covers Online Web Development/Trading Systems, Application Development e.g. our bespoke Antifraud platforms, iSeries (AS/400) Development, Application Support and System Testing. The Head of IT Development also reports in here too.
  • Head of Business Intelligence & Analytics – Covers business core report production / development, data projects and business analytical insight (turning data into information).
  • Head of Programmes & Business Change – Covers Programme Office, centralised Project Management, Business Analysis, Systems Analysis, User Acceptance Testing. The Head of Business Analysis also reports in here too.

Primary technology platforms at the organisation: Our two key platforms are our Insurance Broking Platform and out Insurer Claims and Policy Management System. The former is a specialist off the shelf system called CDL Classic, which runs on an HP Integrity hardware platform and the latter is an in-house maintained/developed solution from a former off the shelf application called IS2000. This runs on an IBM iSeries (AS/400) platform.

Primary technology suppliers: HP, IBM, Verizon, Opal Telecom, BT, Equifax, Experian, CDL.

Percentage of your applications/infrastructure run from the cloud: Circa 25% of our applications run from the cloud, with around 20% of our infrastructure in the cloud. These figures are growing and would estimate these would both increase by 10% in the next 12 months.

Major technology or transformation project recently completed and how did it transform operations, customer experience or the organisation: We have recently completed our initial two-year programme on anti-fraud, which has seen the delivery of not only specialist in-house customised and developed solutions, but has built industry leading processes, and teams.

The programme was initiated to reduce our increasing cost of fraud exposure which was costing the business over £7 million a year, through analysing over 70,000 data elements in real-time from previous claims including the Claims Underwriting Exchange (CUE), DVLA and credit reference agencies. We can run searches for patterns and links, such as mobile numbers or specific names.

As a result, in just 12 months, fraud detected has increased seven-fold from £1 million in 2009 to over £7.2 million in the last year. Along with this, over 3,500 potential frauds have been identified saving a further estimated £17.5 million.

The programme is so pioneering (and effective) it won this year’s FSTech Award and the Insurance Fraud Award in 2011, coupled with two other finalist positions for other awards.

Did the above project reach its cost, timing and transformation objective: We run the whole project using Agile (Scrum) methodology, not only for software development but for the programme management too. This has enabled 20% more functionality to be developed within timescales set and 15% under budget.

Business transformation programme – beyond technology – that the CIO owns or is a major contributor to: A key example is our Broker Anti-Fraud strategy. I was the initiator of this programme just over two years ago, when I took over a small group of just six people looking at how we could check for fraudulent business post sale. I soon realised that in order for this to provide real value to our honest customers, as well as commercially we would need to build a capability to automate bulk checking real-time, and to only pass exceptions back into skilled resources for further investigation. I lead the initial transformation to not only architect and build the technology platforms, but to put the people and processes in place. The people and the processes were then consolidated into a central team around 12 months ago when I transferred ownership of the anti-fraud function into our Insurer Anti-Fraud function. I am still accountable for all anti fraud technology development, and sit on our Group Anti-Fraud committee, which I formed and chaired for its first year.

As a result, Hastings has been able to achieve its ambitious growth ambitions, including doubling customer numbers, increasing gross written premiums by over 50% and enabling the insurer to reach its overriding business vision two years ahead of target.

We also operate six monthly staff surveys and since we started these several years ago the ISS (Information Systems & Services) function is one of only a few functions where the staff engagement score has increased survey on survey, and we are in the upper quartile against our peers for staff engagement.

Strategic aim of the CIO and IT operation for the next financial year: To ensure we maintain our impressive business growth and our strategic aim for the next financial year remains what is has been for the last financial year – to grow the business,  GWP and profitability. We have doubled in size since our MBO in 2009 and are aiming to have an additional three million customers by 2020.

To map out our systems replacement roadmap, in line with the company vision, and kick start the replacement of our core broking and claims platforms, along with several other programmes to deliver commercial projects, replacement contact centre solution for our Newmarket operation.

Strategy in the use by employees of their own technology, use of mobiles and how social networking is impacting operations, customer experiences or the organisation: We operate a tight policy on employees' own technology due to security and regulatory reasons. However we operate a robust presence in the social media space, engaging with our customers and actively encouraging our “Customer Experience Team” to take on resolving comments and complaints from our customers via social media technology. This has been so successful that in 12 months we have increased our star rating on Europe’s largest independent customer review and feedback site called “Review Centre” to over four stars from a previous low of 1.2 stars (most of the our financial services’ competitors sit around 1.5 to three stars) and with a customer recommendation factor of 86%. We also have our own dedicated social media marketing team and we believe are the only personal lines insurance broker to be across all social media platforms.

Strategy for dealing with shadow IT and BYOD including influence and engagement with executives, to place the right controls around employee choice: Due to increasing regulation within the financial services market, coupled with the risk; we are not actively keen on BYOD. We provide a flexible range of devices to our staff from call centre agent to executive for them to enact their jobs as seamlessly as possible, without being constrained by technology. We run active training sessions and briefing with the various staff groups on new technology that we introduce to the business as well as gaining feedback on what can be improved.

Technologies being considered to enable transformation: The use of varying external data sources such as Credit Bureau data to provide real-time enrichment and insight to how we price and underwrite business.

Transformational inspiration sources: Having a wide network of contacts in a variety of industry sectors, and often explore and use methods from these different sectors in my current sector of Retail Financial Services.

Doing regular “Back to the Floor” days and customer call listening, to understand first hand what the current challenges are for the business and our customers.

I also run bi-weekly coffee mornings for staff within my function, where everyone is encouraged to be proactive, creative and brainstorm ideas, issues and resolutions.

From the previously mentioned staff engagement surveys I actively engage in the feedback sessions with my department to understand their challenges, as well as viewing the free text comments from across the business survey responses to identify opportunities.