Irish Life is a large but very traditional pensions and insurance service provider. Its Corporate Business division completed the digitisation of the division through using business process management techniques, shifting a paper based organisation into the digital world. It was a major change in how Irish Life Corporate Business operated, Paul O'Neill, Head of IT & New Developments used constant engagement with the staff and ensured they felt they were part of the process to ensure the project was a success.
Here he explains how he did it and the importance of business process management to his IT leadership.
CIO: Tell us about your business
Irish Life: The Corporate Business division is a supplier of employer sponsored pension schemes. We are based in Dublin and the largest life assurance provider in Ireland ahead of the likes of Aviva and Zurich.
CIO: How big is the business?
Irish Life: There are 5000 in the Irish Life group and 300 in the Corporate Business division. We have pension arrangements with 3,900 employers in the country.
CIO: Who are your main clients?
Irish Life: Large pension consultants and independent brokers with some direct arrangements with employers.
CIO: Tell us about your IT team?
Irish Life: We have a team of 40, based here in Dublin.
CIO: What is the background to the major change management you have had to undertake?
Irish Life: In pensions it is the longevity of the relationship you have with a customer. We have 30+ year relationships with employers and that builds up a lot of paperwork.
CIO: So the mainstay of this project was to remove all that paper?
Irish Life: Initially yes as this was required before we could introduce automation etc. We have moved all the paper into the digital world and automated the capture and routing of work to the relevant administration teams. This is enabling us to offer a better service, which will be our differentiator in the market.
CIO: How big a project and deal was it to move away from paper?
Irish Life: Our approach to this project was to go right across the business, but to do it in a shallow manor, so that we were not trying to change one process too deep. We focussed on the capture, routing and reporting elements of the work once we had completed the removal of paper files.
CIO: Why did you have this approach?
Irish Life: People don't like change; we had to convince 300 people of this. There are a lot of people here, like me, who have been here for over 20 years. Many of them have been working in the same way for 10 or 12 years. So like everything involving change it required a measured approach and we had to communicate well.
CIO: Tell me about the process of getting people involved?
Irish Life: It was a case of communicate, communicate and get champions in to each area. Effort is the only way you get to do change.
CIO: How long was the project?
Irish Life: The project was three years in total from conception.
CIO: It sounds like you had a lot of documents to scan?
Irish Life: Scanning began in 2004 and went on throughout the two years. We scanned a total of seven million pages. But the biggest area that required effort was in cleaning up the files to prepare them for scanning.
CIO: Who were your partners in this?
Irish Life: We worked with Zarion, a local partner of Global 360 who are a provider of document management and workflow technology, we already had a commercial relationship with them.
CIO: What is the picture of the processes now?
Irish Life: We have simplified procedures through automation. Some processes took an entire year, now they take just three months.
CIO: What has made this automation work so well?
Irish Life: Scanning the documents and the introduction of bar codes to the documents and optical character recognition technology has made real, measurable changes.
CIO: Having used BPM methods to digitise your documents, is BPM part of all your processes?
Irish Life: The real magic of BPM is it has allowed us to integrate existing systems so that we can get the real information we have out of our systems. We are now using business intelligence (BI) tools. I am also using BI to analyse how long processes take as part of the BPM focus at Irish Life, this means we can put a real RoI on the use of BPM. The information we have on our business and its processes we could not have had before.
CIO: What would you say is one of the most significant highlights of the project?
Irish Life: The business was growing as we did this and we have improved efficiency, but didn't have to lose any people because they were able to be redeployed due to the growth of the organisation. Also we have seen an increase of productivity of 35 per cent.
CIO: It must have been well received by the senior management?
Irish Life: My CEO says it was the best thing IT ever did for the business.
CIO: What about the most important people, the staff, do they think it's a success?
Irish Life: The number of workers who've come back to work from maternity leave, for example, and say it's a much better place to work is astonishing.
Also everyone is very engaged with this, I have a suggestions box with six to nine months worth of process changes in it. So now we have a constant stream of change going on because there has been a mindset change, people talk about processes rather than work or tasks.
CIO: Should the CIO drive a BPM project through the organisation?
Irish Life: BPM can be pushed by the CIO, as IT have a unique cross functional view of the business and IT is process driven in its language and type of people.
CIO: Was your IT department well placed to make this BPM project a success?
Irish Life: The culture of IT here is than at it is seen as part of the business, rather than sitting on the side lines. At around the same time as we began the BPM project Irish Life began adopting Six Sigma for project management, which helped our project too.
Is BPM just hype?
Engineering an approach to BPM: CIO UK Debate part 4
BPM without busting the budget: CIO UK Debate part 3
Express your views on the role IT has in business process management and redefinitions around technology
To get involved, contact the CIO UK LinkedIn community.