Mark Aikman team is heading towards the go-live of a major business transformation programme that streamline business processes and create a flexible solution to replace a 45-year-old Cobol system with a new Microsoft-based bespoke solution. The new .NET system will be integrated with third-party systems such as ERP finance, document management and CRM. The entire programme is centred on improving the customer experience (giving less emphasis to corporate efficiencies).
North of England P&I Association
How are you influencing the products, customer experience and services your organisation offers to its customers?
My team and I are heading towards the go-live of a major business transformation programme for global marine insurer, North Group. The programme will streamline business processes and create a flexible solution to replace a 45-year-old Cobol system with a new Microsoft-based bespoke solution. The new enterprise .NET system will be integrated with many third-party systems such as an ERP finance system, document management and a CRM system. These will run the marine insurance business, including underwriting, claims, reinsurance, finance and loss prevention.
The company holds superlative customer service as its key objective and sector USP. Therefore, the entire programme is centred on improving the customer experience (giving less emphasis to corporate efficiencies). Improved customer experience has been at the heart of the entire system throughout its development. Specific customer benefits of the solution are:
- Customers will experience improved service from a more efficient business. We have advised and supported the business in, for example, business process re-engineering and replacing manual actions with automated digital processes. Service will be quicker and smoother.
- Employees will have access to ‘a single source of truth’ – a single database and new data warehouse. This means there will be improved data accuracy, and therefore better-informed decisions through a new suite of business reporting. Extensive automation will mean cross-checking, and discrepancies will be minimised, reducing errors, speeding processes and enabling quicker decisions.
- The .NET system will remove the need for clunky paper approvals, with a significant effect on speed and efficiency in this global business. Again, this will also minimise the risk of errors and add to customer reassurance of quality.
- The system will include a new customer self-service portal, enabling customers to improve their maritime knowledge, provide extensive premiums and claims insights to aid their decision-making.
It has also been possible to introduce customer experience improvements before the new system goes live. My team plays an active role in setting and executing the company’s digital media strategy. Recently, we worked with colleagues in marketing to launch a members’ area (ie customer area) on North’s website. This enables members (customers) to:
- access exclusive information, such as signing up to our Horizon newsletter
- stay current with publications and guidelines, covering topics from cybersecurity to best practice in information security on maritime vessels
- attend webinars.
Define the key business outcomes that you have delivered over the last 12 months and their impact on your organisation’s performance
The real impact of most of our current work will be seen in 2017. Therefore, given the stage we are at in the development programme, only five business outcomes were appropriate for completion in the last 12 months. These are as follows:
The company merged and co-located with a significant business in marine insurance in 2014, with the aim of integrating services and product lines within 2016. My team and I achieved this by working closely with colleagues from the merged organisation to identify their customers’ needs and aspirations. We then mapped that against the plans for the new solution we are developing. This ensured we created robust processes and an IT operating model that would allow customer service to be delivered seamlessly from within North Group, while anticipating future developments as part of the new system. All target customers have been retained during the transition.
We have adopted a single target operating model to service the group. This has created efficiencies by integrating the support service with minimum addition of headcount while ensuring service level agreements were maintained and downtime minimised.
During the bedding-in period of the merger and co-location, organic staff attrition occurred for that business. The challenge set by the executive team was to improve the incumbent systems and processes without replacing those staff. We identified that the greatest opportunity was to focus on underwriting processes and collection of premium. My team therefore achieved the following:
- Electronic reporting and analysis for premium management was streamlined, which allowed the same activities to be carried out with a reduction of 50% of the team.
- Policy documentation production was completely digitised from source. This resulted in efficiency improvements of 50% within the team and removed the need to replace a team member. Approval of binding documents moved to an electronic process with 30-40% efficiency improvement, again aiding staff count reductions.
Expansion of overseas offices
My team and I have supported the business’s international growth objective.
- A pivotal development for 2016 was the opening of another Asia-Pacific office to help service the expanding Chinese market. The team provided the IT environment to support to a new office in Shanghai, which brought its own set of regulatory challenges!
- Assistance to a subsidiary in determining the strategy for its enterprise architecture to run a new business, which came into effect in December 2016. This included integrating, for example, email, document management and licensing into existing North systems.
In line with the company’s strategic objectives, my team and I were responsible for overseeing the IT elements of closure of redundant offices and businesses in America, Australia and Canada. This included decommissioning and redeploying equipment, data capture and storage, and integration of customer service activities into neighbouring offices.
What has been your involvement with innovation at your organisation – in particular, with products, business model and technology – over the last 12 months?
I believe firmly in innovation where it’s needed, and I take a cautious view of innovation for its own sake or because we can. Unnecessary innovation can alienate colleagues and erode essential relationships. However, by definition the current business transformation programme will affect and address every aspect of how the company engages with technology. Therefore, I have aimed to innovate:
- behind the scenes, asking the technical team to use the smartest technological developments to build efficiency and capacity into the new system
- where innovation to the user interface will be seen as a positive improvement, with readily recognisable benefits.
Specifically, innovation has been as follows:
I am currently leading on the single biggest investment the company will make this decade, the bespoke .NET system. It will transform how the organisation’s internal processes are delivered and will impact on every customer transaction and the group’s entire range of products and services.
Briefly, key features of my involvement in this initiative are:
- creating the business case, gaining executive and board approval, setting the governance and technology delivery approach
- leading with recommendations on the look and feel of the system (including hundreds of improvements to the user interface), moving to a workflow-driven system, and developing a much more intuitive interface to reduce the learning curve
- introducing agile development to replace problematic waterfall solutions that failed to keep pace with the planned timeframe
- introducing new near-shore development partners to maximise expertise within budget
- the .NET system will enhance the customer experience with faster and more accurate service; I have also facilitated the company’s thinking to ensure the system allows for future service and product development.
Business model innovation
North Group expects to grow organically in the coming decade. Consequently, my team and I have designed the new .NET system to be adaptable as the business grows, anticipating the company’s ambition to offer a full spectrum of marine insurance products. For example, it includes provision for smoothly accommodating any company acquisitions, based on knowledge and experience acquired during the integration exercise of 2014-16.
As part of the merger, an overhaul of the integrated business was taken in terms of all financial data spread across multiple systems, which took over six months to scope and develop. This was pivotal in supporting following business model initiatives:
- identification of core and non-core business activity, allowing the executive team to identify which parts of the business to focus most attention on
- identifying which global branches were profitable or non-profitable, enabling cost savings by closing less attractive branches
- transferring aspects of the business to a better-placed subsidiary.
Technology innovation: .NET
In developing the .NET system, we have moved the company away from its previous waterfall delivery methodology to agile delivery. Therefore, the introduction of a new suite of applications to replace the existing line of business applications was in itself a major transformation in the organisation’s approach to technology. I am extremely proud of the way my team is trusted by the business, which has enabled a complete reversal of the organisational mindset. North has embraced the value of changing technology through the introduction of agile delivery, and has been willing to delegate responsibility to the individual development teams. This has been a significant benefit to the innovation and delivery of the programme.
In this business transformation programme, my team introduced an entirely new Microsoft-based stack, which delivers a fully integrated platform that is extensible and adaptable to accommodate future change.
The fundamental adoption of the new technology stack is designed to deliver end-to-end business process workflows. It does so by implementing specific system behaviours around business events, using service bus technology to integrate all dependent components.
The .NET system development has used a unique combination of components, with the core technologies being:
- core infrastructure: Windows Server, Microsoft SQL Server 2016
- products: Dynamic CRM 2016 for client relationship management, NserviceBus, Aspose.NET for document generation
- single-page application (SPA) for each business service using: AngularJS, Microsoft.NET WebApi
- process management: Visual Studio Team Services, Azure Virtual Machines, Visual Studio Team Services release and package management, Confluence, Skype for Business for daily communication, Trello for retrospectives, Slack for team communications.
Technology innovation: business as usual
North Group wanted to deploy 23 secretarial and personal assistants more effectively, and remove the reliance on one-to-one relationships and silos, thus providing resilience in the service. The group was unsure what to look for, but definitely wanted to move away from email.
We sought a task management tool to assist in executing the process. A number of cloud offerings were considered and a helpdesk tool called Happy Fox was deployed and configured for their unique request management processes. An add-in for Internet Explorer was developed by the in-house development team to ensure pages refreshed at appropriate times to see new requests.
The outcome has been:
- The secretarial team is aligned to the new business structure.
- The teams are cross-skilled.
- The tool allows them to identify training and development needs.
- The business has obtained a more resilient and faster service.
- The departments are less vulnerable to staff attrition in the secretarial and personal assistant functions.
How have you delivered cultural and behavioural change as a CIO within the IT department and/or more broadly across the organisation?
I believe passionately that (IT) transformation can be harnessed as a positive driver of change to culture and behaviour. It can be used as a vehicle to discuss and explore culture/behaviour, and what business improvements would be desirable. Conversely, IT needs to be fully integrated into the culture and behaviour of the leadership of a business in order to be at its most effective.
Therefore, I have used the business transformation programme to achieve the following cultural and behavioural effects:
- Engendering the trust of the leadership team: I began by instigating robust governance for this business transformation programme. By using a comprehensive and agreed set of measures and methodologies, the leadership team were quickly able to trust me and my team to deliver as promised. They are genuinely reassured that we use a completely transparent style of operating – eg with no hidden problems or overspends. That trust has in turn made it easy for the leadership team to give us permission to innovate – for example, replacing waterfall delivery with agile delivery.
- Actively engaging the business in the transformation programme: I took the decision to adopt agile development in 2016, including nearshore working with a Polish software development company. Naturally, this has created a huge uplift in the business’s involvement in the programme, from driving requirements and identifying success criteria, to rolling testing and progress awareness. Key stakeholders now feel greater ownership of the programme, which will be extremely important for its continued success after launch.
- Embedding IT excellence across the business: As well as enhanced engagement with key stakeholders, I firmly believe it is essential to have sound engagement with all employees. Therefore, I have ensured that the .NET system and the programme have empowered everyone in the business to be accountable for their own learning: rather than imposing IT/system training on them. We have therefore: a) adopted the power user model, including a central train-the-trainer method of cascading knowledge, and b) agreed that there will be a company-wide performance objective for all employees to learn and adopt the new bespoke solution. The executive team were very supportive of this approach as it minimises business disruption and allows the business to gradually adopt the new solution over a period of 38 weeks rather than take large chunks of the user base out for extensive two to four weeks of dedicated training time.
How have you worked with your CEO and/or board to communicate whatever ‘digital’ and IT means to your organisation/sector and improve digital literacy at the highest levels of the organisation?
The North Group’s existing system uses business processes from the past – for example, many actions require manual checking, compiling and paper-based recording. For North, ‘digitising’ means both automating these processes and moving to electronic record-keeping as well as enabling its members (customers) to gain more insight from the new self-portal. Initially, it was necessary to communicate to all parts of the business:
- the benefits of automation (accuracy, time efficiency and reliability)
- that using the latest technologies will allow the business to build a system which is suitable for future extension and will keep pace with member (customer) requirements.
Once these underpinning benefits were assimilated by the leadership and wider team, it was necessary to communicate specific process enhancements and associated benefits as these were explored and developed. The methodology used for this was:
- weekly governance meetings with the joint MD and CFO on IT
- quarterly senior operations team updates on the business transformation programme
- quarterly board updates on the business transformation programme
- educating the entire business on the new business system via staff town halls.
In addition, it was necessary to undertake a complete review and overhaul of the company’s information security procedures and policies. It was necessary to reassure the leadership team about the security of a digital system, with new protocols, and hand over accountability for security to the board.
How have you worked with the technology and IT vendor market to achieve your business goals? How have you been able to influence IT suppliers and successfully manage your partnerships/relationships with large IT companies, SMEs and startups?
For the new system, my approach to selecting suppliers has been to cherrypick the services and products needed from a range of suppliers, rather than allying with a limited number of large-scale providers. In my experience, it is still perfectly possible to create productive long-term partnerships with a number of suppliers of different sizes.
Therefore, for this bespoke programme, I have selected various external consultancies for technical expertise and guidance, project management and governance. Examples of this include using a Polish company as our nearshore development supplier, using a large BI consultancy for data warehousing and business analytics, and using smaller disciplined-focused providers to help us develop single product lines, such as accountancy tools, etc.
Suppliers are chosen for their fit with the needs of the project, and their contractual terms vary. For example, we have providers on:
- draw-down of booked days
- fixed-term engagement, with defined outcome requirements
- daily billing for an agreed skillset, negotiated to reflect the scale of this project.
Also, I find that using a horses-for-courses range of suppliers allows us to gain leverage from a number of aspects of the programme to which the suppliers are contributing. We have negotiated good terms with suppliers by selling the benefits of engaging with our unique business transformation programme for their brands. Individual suppliers have been keen to engage on favourable rates in order to:
- gain experience in the marine insurance market
- work with the innovative technology combinations we are using in this programme
- experience the teamworking and nearshore-with-agile methodologies we are pioneering
- gain exposure to an innovative development model – an agile project with a go-live date.
Business as usual
For commodity IT, our approach is to engage with suppliers on strategic basis. We select suppliers who add value, whether that be in the form of higher discounts on products, free consultancy days or invitations to technology innovation days, as part of a long term strategic relationship.
In addition, the North Group is heavily regulated and as such this business transformation programme and BAU functions are subject to external, internal and technical audits by external bodies. My team conduct regular service and financial reviews with our strategic partners.
Any new suppliers are subject to a rigorous invitation to tender (ITT) process with an emphasis on security and service to support the North Group’s outsourcing policy.
How have you tried to develop the diversity of your team?
I am very interested in the research that shows that diverse teams take decisions with a greater chance of success. Naturally, therefore, I have sought to bring together a team which is as diverse as possible, while bringing highest-quality skills to the business transformation programme. Features of this team’s diversity include:
- Gender diversity: 10% of the team are female and we have had particular success with one developer-team which is female-led.
- Cultural diversity: Our nearshore development supplier means that we have 45 mainland Europeans in the team.
To maximise diversity and therefore improve our decision-making, we are working in small development teams, which will each typically include people from the nearshore team and in-house developers, people of any gender or orientation, and IT-focused and business-focused specialists.
Describe how you organise and operate IT and how this aligns effectively with business strategy and operations
Given the significance of the current business transformation programme, North Group completely understands how important IT is to both its business strategy and operations. Communication on these subjects is both transparent and very regular, with the following structure in place:
- The central information-exchange and decision-making forum for us is the weekly IT leadership team (ITLT) meeting, comprising myself (group CIO), the joint MD and the CFO. This meeting considers operations, projects, future strategy, risk, regulatory and governance matters. All the following subdivisions of my team report to this forum.
- The project management office is responsible for project pipeline and reconciling this with both the IT and business strategies.
- The onsite consultants report to the ITLT and are responsible for various workstreams and project teams.
- The nearshore development company responsible for coding and quality standards reports to a technical steering group chaired by the programme director.
- Business as usual (BAU) activities here include a 24x7 IT support function to cover the company’s global offices. BAU delivers established ITIL functions and is also responsible to the ITLT.
- In-house development currently delivers support and in future will be responsible for maintenance on legacy applications.
What strategic technology deals have you made in the last year and who are your main suppliers and IT partners?
I have chosen to select expertise from a range of suppliers. However, during 2016 we contracted with Future Processing as a leading strategic partner in delivering the .NET system. Future Processing is responsible for around 85% of the development work in this programme and the deal is worth seven figures.
The following are our other current strategic partners:
- Cisco for telephony and networking
- Veeam for monitoring
- Citrix for application deployment for remote working, which is integral to the group’s disaster recovery plan
- Microsoft enterprise agreement
- BT for communications
- Ultima is our main hardware and software reseller
- it provides specialist subject matter experts in project and technical areas
- Moore Stephens for business analytics and data warehouse support and development.
What are your key strategic aims for next year?
This is the easiest question to answer: in the coming year, we will go live with the new .NET business solution! Less flippantly, I would say our overarching aim is to help the North Group make a true transition to becoming a digital business. This action will support the company’s strategic aim of delivering the highest possible quality of customer service to its members.
Go-live has three component sets of aims:
- Business: The technology solution must be ready on schedule and in budget. We must also consider and agree a future sourcing strategy; perhaps radically, we are currently exploring options from in-house, to hybrid, to fully outsourced IT, the latter being a solution that the company might adopt for the first time in its history.
- Staff: End-users need to readily adopt the new technology solution. And staff need to be accountable for their own learning and engagement with relevant aspects of the new solution.
- Members (customers): We need to launch a sophisticated interactive customer portal, giving members access to a significant uplift in insight and interaction. This digital interface will enable members to partially self-serve, to the benefit of all parties.
How are you preparing for any impacts Brexit might have on your organisation?
As with all operators in the maritime sector, the North Group trades globally and in US dollars. Therefore, it tends to be more concerned with the White House than Brussels.
That said, like most other organisations located in the UK, we are waiting to understand the full extent of what a hard Brexit actually means from a trading, financial and legal perspective. With that in mind, North has established a steering committee formed of its senior business leaders to keep a watching brief.
The business transformation programme will be delivered before we see any real detail on the Brexit ramifications. However, the .NET system will include the flexibility to adopt new trading, transactional and even business models, should any of these become necessary.
When did you start your current role?
What is your reporting line?
Report directly to the joint MD and CFO.
Are you a member of the executive leadership?
Are you a member of the board of directors?
How often do you meet with your organisation’s CEO or equivalent?
How many people at your organisation does your function supply services to?
What is your annual IT budget, or your spend as a proportion of the organisation’s revenue?
Annual IT budget £1.6m or 0.1% of business entity revenue. Business transformation programme budget £15.35m.
What percentage of your budget is operational spend (ie keeping the lights on) and how much new development (ie innovation, R&D, exploratory IT)?
Opex costs broken down as a percentage of business entity revenue:
- 54% keeping the lights on
- 84% projects.
Rank the following sources of advice/information in order of importance:
- CIO peers
- Industry bodies
- Analyst houses
Has your organisation detected a cyber intrusion in the last 12 months?
Are you expecting an increase in budget specific to security in order to tackle the cyber threat?
Does your organisation have a designated security professional – CISO or otherwise – and what is their relationship to you?
I have a nominated security officer who is supported by an external security consultancy.
Are you finding it difficult to recruit the talent you need to drive transformation?
Has recruitment and retention risen up your agenda as a CIO?
Does your IT organisation operate an apprenticeship scheme?
How many employees are there in your IT team?
Are you increasing your headcount or planning to bring skills and the ability to react to needs in-house?
Which technologies or areas are you expecting to be investing in over the next year?
- data analytics/business intelligence
- enterprise applications
Which technologies or areas are you expecting to be investing in over the next one to three years?
- data analytics/business intelligence
- enterprise applications
- devices (mobile)
- devices (desktop)
What emerging technologies are you investigating or expect to have a big impact on your sector or organisation?
Certainly expect AR and VR to have a major impact to our loss prevention department for safety and education purposes. We also would like to explore further satellite tracking innovation for vessels and cargo purposes.
Does your organisation do a significant amount of trade with the EU?
Does your department include technology staff from the EU?
Are you or have you been looking to the EU to recruit key skills?