MetLife's CIO had to quickly mesh his and Travelers' systems

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

February 17, 2006

4 Min Read

Perhaps the greatest success was the establishment of a task life-cycle methodology, which MetLife's Barone says is vital to understanding the integration process. Run by Janis Egelberg, VP of IT enterprise technology, what became known as the phase-gated review process involved dividing major projects into phases punctuated by review "gates" where a team of core participants voted on whether the project was ready for the next phase.

Make sure everyone speaks the same language, VP Egelberg advises.

Make sure everyone speaks the same language, VP Egelberg advises.

Photo by Sacha Lecca

Key to that success was having teams made up of managers from multiple disciplines. "Having audit there right next to IT, right next to [project-integration management], right next to businesses, you never had to have multiple governance activities," Barone says.

Another critical factor was enforcement of common terminology. "Everyone submitted the same types of information," says Egelberg, who presided over more than 1,300 reviews. "Having everyone speaking the same language made processes go much quicker."

In a departure from common business practice, Benmosche determined that due diligence and time and value commitments would be carried out by the same people responsible for delivering them. That involved creating 14 integration teams headed by senior VPs and comprising about 200 individuals. "The folks coming up with the plan, commitments, and goals were the same people that then had to execute," Sheinheit notes. "There was no handoff."

Don't Breathe A Word

Having so many people involved in planning for the integration carried risk, Sheinheit says. Before completing any big acquisition, many people involved with integration planning have access to insider information that needs to be kept confidential. "We had to convince people that we could control the secrecy of the deal while including so many people in the process," he says. At the same time, MetLife leadership enforced a high degree of transparency in the post-announcement phase by mandating that weekly status reports circulate throughout the organization.

Speed was essential for avoiding pitfalls that can dissipate the anticipated value of a merger. "With speed, you get the attention of everyone on the same thing at the same time," Sheinheit says. "It's amazing how much efficiency and quality is driven by the fact that you're not in stop-and-start mode. What gave me confidence throughout [the integration] was that we had the details defined and we had all eyes on it at the same time. That's what gave us the ability to do this within the time frame."

One more guiding principle that applied to the integration work was "surface issues quickly." Early in the integration process, Sheinheit says, Benmosche asked him about an IT-related problem that had arisen. "Where have you escalated it to?" the chairman asked. Sheinheit replied that his team was working on it. "Don't sit on it," Benmosche admonished. A week later, the problem resurfaced. Benmosche added his weight to resolving the issue by calling the principals involved. "That's the level of escalation that we're talking about!" Sheinheit says.

Another lesson learned: Preparing for project planning was a bigger task than originally expected. "We didn't realize the level of work we would have to put into training the company on project planning and what it was going to take to get the tools in place to manage work of this magnitude," Sheinheit says.

The tasks of locking down IT requirements and system test capabilities also were of greater magnitude than anticipated. "Part of keeping to the critical path was locking down requirements from the business users and really holding their feet to the fire in order to get those requirements defined," Sheinheit says. "We had to build our test environments and lock down test scripts and capabilities. We got better at this than ever before because we knew that once we got into the testing period, we wouldn't have time to fool around."

Sheinheit and his operation have become victims of their own success. "By pulling this off, we've changed people's perspective of what's possible. Now, when we give people [IT project completion] estimates, they say, 'How can it take so long? You did Travelers in no time!'"

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