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We are into a five-year, multi-million dollar Extreme Makeover initiative

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DQI Bureau
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People, process and technology were relevant to Holly

Morris archaeological specialty long before computers were invented. While her

technology and business roots run deep, she sees her success as an outgrowth of

a liberal arts education crowned by a masters degree and PhD in anthropology.

And her anthropological insight is likely to be more relevant than ever as she

drives forward a technology transformation at Thrivent to support the membership

involvement and growth objectives of an organization that is not just a Fortune

400 company, but also a fraternal benefit society. Now having spearheaded a

major IT revamp at Thrivent, as CIO she talks to Dataquest about why the need

for the makeover was felt in the first place, the role of IT in insurance

industry in the US, the needs of a mid-sized company and much more.

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W hy did Thrivent Financial plan to go in for a

complete IT revamp?




Thrivent Financial is a Minneapolis based Fortune 400 insurance and financial
services company with a 2.3 mn customer base. While we are in many ways similar

to most other mutual life insurance companies in the US, a big differentiating

factor is that we are a non-profit organization with a unique social business

model. The company gives back to the society and its membership $300 mn and 2 mn

hours of volunteer time every year.

However, like other insurance companies in the US, we too are

struggling with growth as the industry has become quite mature with no major

growth in the last twenty years. To keep up we too are getting into new

channels, simplifying our products, and have become more innovative in our

underwriting. And in this entire process, we have realized that our IT

infrastructure has to be completely made over to be able to support futuristic

business processes and systems. This need for IT to support business change is

what sparked the revamp efforts within the company. We are in the process of

building a new IT infrastructure that will enable us to become multi-channelled

and much more customer centric. It is a five-year, multi-million dollar

initiative which I call the Extreme Makeover.

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What does the Extreme Makeover constitute?



A large part of the budget for the IT revamp has gone towards building a

customer centric model. As a first step we have converted all our policies onto

a new salesforce based strategic platform, which will reduce costs and make it

easier and quicker to get products online. Another area where IT has played a

key role is in helping us test many of our product concepts and ideas before

actually launching them.

We came up with a financial prototyping system which helped

us test and analyze our own products and come up with the final application

within five weeks and share it with business partners. In addition, we have been

able to put together a SaaS based IT platform which connects all touch points to

address the social nature of the business where different channels are tapped to

connect with the community. This serves our members who also serve as volunteers

and can access the budget that we give back to the community for various

charitable causes. So our multichannel distribution platform is seamless and

extremely customer centric.

In a nutshell, under the five-year makeover, the company is

in the process of rolling out twelve projects simultaneously. These include the

salesforce.com implementation, a data utility application, increased focus on

security, enterprise content management system, policy administration system,

new commission system, an online loyalty system, etc. We have also brought in an

architecture team and have prepared an SOA blueprint. Eventually all IT projects

and applications will be integrated on the underlying SOA layer.

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What is the outsourcing strategy that you have adopted as

a CIO at Thrivent?



The adopted an outsourcing model based on flexibility and the ability to

scale up or down as required. With the help of two of our key outsourcing

partnersNIIT Technologies and Cognizantwe have been able to leverage on the

domain knowledge and expertise gained by the partners.

Thrivent has gone for a combination of outsourcing as well

in-sourcing for its various IT needs. The components outsourced include complex

aspects of the IT infrastructure, managed security, application development and

maintenance, etc. Primarily, what we have done is shifted a lot of maintenance

related activities of legacy applications to India. This has helped in freeing a

lot of employees to work on new projects and focus on more critical business

processes. Large chunks of the IT infrastructure, such as data centers are

managed in-house. For instance, our Wisconsin data center is managed by a

skilled set of in-house staff. The in-house IT team also manages a traditional

large mainframe computer storing all insurance related records. Prior to the IT

overhaul, Thrivents IT infrastructure could be described as pretty basic and

in no way outstanding.

How has IT transformed insurance business in the US? What

are the IT priorities of companies?



Today IT forms the core of the insurance business and is no longer

considered a back office function. Technology has really helped the business

move up the curve. Getting rid of old IT systems is gaining priority with an

increasing focus on adopting SOA based and SaaS or cloud based models.

What is your biggest challenge as a CIO at present? Being

an NPO, what takes on more focus while undergoing the Extreme

Makeoverefficiency or cost savings?



My biggest challenge right now is how to keep my team motivated, celebrate

interim successes, and get offshore partners to bring in more value while

maintaining costs and timelines. Despite being an NPO, cost pressures will never

go away. So, all our efficiency models such as Six Sigma and CMMI are focused on

driving down costs. After our funding for the five year revamp is exhausted, the

need for constantly updating IT systems will continue. Hence, we have to

leverage on IT to make room in our operating budget for further IT investments.

Our operating cost is at 40% of overall IT spends which on an average is quite

good.

Priya Kekre



priyak@cybermedia.co.in

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