The IT head of Asia Pacific life insurance giant AIA has his hands full keeping up with the tech-savvy populations that the company serves.
AIA chief technology officer (CTO) Biswa Misra told Computer Weekly about his role and the particular challenges he faces in winning customers in the young, urban and tech-savvy Asean nations.
“The Asean region is home to a huge young, urban, tech-savvy population,” said Misra. “Enterprise IT standards will need to revolutionise to keep pace with this generation and the aspirations they have from platforms.”
Businesses’ need to know more about customer patterns, trends and likely behaviour – and demand for mobile gateways to access “anything that matters” – will force architectural disruption in enterprises, he said.
Enterprises now need to look at IT challenges in a different way, said Misra. “From my perspective, the real change for enterprise IT will be to move beyond the enterprise and look at IT through the prism of disruptive and niche technologies that are out in full force to make the customer experience simpler, faster and cheaper.
“Integrating these technologies into the enterprise will be the new normal for the Asean region.”
It is not just Asean countries that are driving change, but the rapidly growing Asia Pacific region as a whole, said Misra. “Changing demographics in the Asia Pacific region mean we are increasingly dealing with a younger customer base, which has come to expect service delivery standards congruent with millennial platforms,” he said.
AIA Group has a presence in 18 markets in Asia Pacific, with branches and subsidiaries in Hong Kong, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, China, Korea, the Philippines, Australia, Indonesia, Taiwan, Vietnam, New Zealand, Macau, Brunei, and a presence in Sri Lanka, India, Myanmar and Cambodia.
29 million policies
The business, which offers services such as life insurance, accident and health insurance and savings plans, was originally established in Shanghai about a century ago. Through a network of agents, partners and employees, AIA has more than 29 million individual policies and 16 million participating members of group insurance schemes.
Misra, who was educated as an electrical engineer, began his career as a software engineer and worked with insurance product companies. He then moved into technology consulting, working with life insurers in the Asia Pacific region. He later ran IT for Dutch bank ING’s Asia Pacific business.
His current role sees him drive the company’s technology strategy across applications, infrastructure, enterprise architecture, information security and supplier managed for the AIA Group. This global IT operation runs country-specific IT operations, with shared services teams looking after common technology across the group.
Part of his aim is not only to have the right technology facing customers, but also to ensure employees and agents have the same modern technology at their fingertips. “We are using the latest technologies to continuously improve the distributor experience, customer experience and employee experience,” he said.
For example, for AIA’s distribution network (agencies, bank partners) it has a mobile distribution platform that is used for illustrations and applications. “We have also transformed our back-office mainframe-based legacy platform to a nimbler policy administration platform to help with faster product launches,” said Misra.
A modern content management system has been implemented to improve the customer experience, said Misra. And for employees, AIA has invested in employee engagement and collaboration platforms, such as Office 365 and Yammer, to “ensure our colleagues across markets have a modern and contemporary experience in their day-to-day operations”.
Being located in a region dominated by young, tech-savvy people, the technologies collectively known as the SMAC stack (social, mobile, analytics and cloud) were always likely to feature strongly in its plans.
Misra said AIA’s mobile distribution platform is used for policy sales across most of its markets, with adoption upwards of 70% in some countries.
The company has also pioneered cloud in the enterprise. “On cloud, we are one of the first insurers in this region to move to Office 365,” said Misra. “We have implemented cloud-based solutions across the enterprise in many areas, including human resources, finance, IT service management, procurement and actuarial.”
The company is using social media internally with Yammer, and to deepen engagement with customers.
Complete the SMAC stack
To complete the SMAC stack, AIA is in the middle of a project to help it handle data as a strategic enterprise asset, said Misra.
Despite the importance of consumerised technologies to the business, Misra’s role is not just about the latest and greatest systems.
For example, his biggest pure IT project at the moment involves modernising the IT infrastructure across the entire business. This includes a refresh of datacentres, a significant upgrade of internal networks and a move to a new-generation managed infrastructure services platform. This will run for several years and is supported by external suppliers.
The role of IT leader is becoming increasingly important for big business and, over time, it will morph into a business partner role, said Misra.
The role will focus on industrialising innovation through all areas of the business, including distribution, customer servicing and employee engagement, he said.
“I think there will be opportunities for IT leaders to play a lead role in building next-generation platforms on disruptive technologies – a bit outside the core business to start with and then eventually helping to move the core business to the same and sunsetting the current platforms,” he added.
“The intrinsic value proposition around technology will become one of the key differentiators for large enterprise business deals and IT leaders will become pivotal in the success of these large deals.”