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CIO interview: David Germain, CITO, RSA Insurance Group

Insurance giant’s chief information and technology officer wants to refresh the company’s user computing environment, make smart technology investments and take advantage of the latest innovations

It’s a busy time for the insurance industry as digital transformation is beginning to hit home. At RSA Insurance Group, that work is led by David Germain, the group’s chief information and technology officer (CITO), who has been in the role since 2017.

Part of his remit is to lead the global IT function across the entire group, with businesses operating across several continents. But trying to manage technology and information across such a vast collection of businesses and entities is no easy feat. 

“Collectively as a set of businesses, we kind of do all the same things,” says Germain. “We underwrite insurance, we manage risk, we have functions that are somewhat the same, but the actual customers and products and markets are somewhat different.

“My job is to understand the variability, understand how we invest, understand how we should govern that across the company, and understand, based on the products and markets we sell, what we should be moving to.” 

For Germain, this means being able to look at where the different parts of the group can be different, and where it makes sense to be similar and do the same thing. “It’s a very different challenge than just delivering a new claims platform,” he says.

“It’s about understanding how to deliver different solutions and how we can ensure that we mature across the organisation and leave no one behind.”

“We’re trying to put not just a customer spin on digital collaboration, but an internal spin too”

David Germain, RSA Insurance Group

The RSA Group does not mandate technology, so a claims platform can look completely different in Scandinavia than it does in Canada. 

“We tend to work with the regions on what is the right strategy they need to build to provide sustainable growth for our customers and improve our performance everywhere, and that is why the strategies are somewhat different,” says Germain. “But at the same time, we need to take a bottom-up view of the strategies.”

When there are consistencies and commonalities, it makes sense to bring those together, he says. From a procurement and efficiency perspective, working together is a lot smarter in order to get the best deal for the company. 

Investment in people 

Much of that work means focusing on people, and RSA is very much highlighting the importance of its people strategy, says Germain. The company currently has more than 2,000 technologists. 

As the firm starts to move away from heavy infrastructure and industrialised solutions and puts more into the cloud, there will be a big change in the type of skills it needs, he says. 

“We’re not going to need the guy in the corner doing the backup, we’re going to need individuals that understand consumption, that can spin up environments quickly for our business, that can configure business rules and workflows, that can really work as a business SME with an IT mindset,” he says. 

“I think we’re going to start seeing the tiered structure of IT subtly change, and that’s even down to things like model-driven architectures, how we look at what is developed in the organisation today compared to tomorrow.” 

But that doesn’t mean getting rid of lots of staff and hiring new people – the key is that the company already has those people today, says Germain. 

“We have those people in the business, we have those people in IT,” he says. “It’s about understanding how the landscape is changing, what their roles will become and how we retrain them in the tools and processes. We need to be able to provide those insights back to our commercial teams, to change our products and improve services.” 

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A big focus area for RSA is to refresh the user computing environment across the organisation.

“It’s been a number of years since we’ve done that,” says Germain, “so we’re trying to put not just a customer spin on digital collaboration, but an internal spin too.”

To that effect, RSA is working with service provider Avanade to upgrade to Microsoft Windows 10 and Office 365 across the entire group.

“That’s now being rolled out across the company,” he says. “We still have two regions to do, which are the UK and Canada, but effectively we are rolling out a new way of working for the group, and a new way of collaborating across the group – something we’ve not had before.”

Germain says the company has worked hard to go from understanding its legacy IT to understanding what needs to change in that legacy setup and realising how to tap into data analytics, looking at how to move from being reactive to being more proactive around products and how to manage servicing customers.

Outsourcing and new technologies 

Despite its large team of technologists, the RSA group has a “significant outsourcing shop”, says Germain. In 2016, it outsourced its UK IT infrastructure to Indian IT services supplier Wipro in a seven-year deal. The contract saw Wipro take charge of delivering infrastructure as a service (IaaS) for mainframe, mid-range, storage, cloud and user services, as well as a multilingual service desk.

At the same time as the Wipro deal, RSA signed a six-year business process outsourcing (BPO) deal with Accenture.

“We are still highly outsourced,” says Germain. “We are still working with top-tier organisations and consultancies to deliver solutions to us. We have some proprietary platforms, which is where our technologists in-house provide development and support.

“In terms of the whole digital environment of RSA, for me, digital is really about lean operations. That’s a big mantra for us.”

Lean operations also include site consolidation and taking advantage of new technologies, such as robotics, says Germain.

“Robotics to me is about doing more automation, it’s about making sure our customer service environment is working on one set of screens, not having to flick between two or three different target platforms,” he says.

The aim is to create a seamless environment that allows people to be more productive, which will, in turn, improve customer service, says Germain. 

“We are still sort of tackling the basics everywhere at the moment and ensuring we have got digital capability maps, digital maturity maps across the regions,” he says. “We have got assessments done on lean IT and lean operations, and utilising that to ensure we build roadmaps for the present and for the future.             

“We are very aware of how the market is changing and we are driving a technology strategy that is moving towards best in class for our organisation. This sees us moving away from some of our legacy and heritage issues and making the right level of investment for the future and sustainable growth for the organisation. 

“Sometimes it can seem like the freighter isn’t moving, but we are absolutely moving in the right direction.”

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