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New Leader, New Delivery Model

The Hartford's CIO is leading a technical and cultural change designed to move I.T. closer to the business
Michael Bernaski joined The Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. just last year. But in his role as senior VP and CIO, he's already making a big difference.

His major initiative at the company, called "the new delivery model," is designed to move IT closer to the business. The model involves increasing the capacity of the IT organization to deliver more capabilities required by the business more quickly at a lower cost and a higher quality.

VP and CIO Bernaski believes in following the best practices of proven leaders.

VP and CIO Bernaski believes in following the best practices of proven leaders.
That's quite an undertaking, but it's producing results. For instance, The Hartford is in the process of implementing additional embedded intelligence in systems to refocus underwriters' and claims-handling professionals' time on higher value-added activities where their judgment is more critical. The systems also will enable what's known as straight-through processing of other functions, so they require little to no human touch.

To provide these more sophisticated products, underpinned by a services-oriented architecture, the IT group under Bernaski has had to focus on a number of factors. They include breaking legacy applications into component services, integrating those services, and leveraging commercial rules engines for externalizing business rules, such as those related to insurance rates. Bernaski bases his philosophy on following the best practices of proven leaders such as Microsoft in software development, retailer Nordstrom in providing high service levels, and Google and eBay for delivering innovation. "I want people to think of our organization as a professional service and a professional software company," he says.

The work under way is as much a cultural change as it is a technical one, he says, because previously "the IT organization was too much of an order taker." That has to change if The Hartford is to be successful at its primary goals, which include helping agents interact more easily with the company to better serve their customers, simplify the claims experience, and enable increased product innovation, as well as simplifying and removing unnecessary costs in operations.

Bernaski is right on the money, says Guillermo Kopp, VP of cross-industry practice at research firm TowerGroup. Aligning IT with the business gives financial-services companies a competitive edge. "The key competency is for the technology people to speak the business language and to provide tools that bring the business users closer to the technology," Kopp says.

Before joining The Hartford, Bernaski worked as managing partner developing technology strategies for the insurance industry at management and consulting firm Accenture. He says part of the excitement that led him to move to The Hartford was that the company was ready to place big bets on technology. "We [CIOs] are the key party at the strategy table," he says. "A lot of other companies are failing to think about the enabling power of the technology and, instead, they're thinking of IT as an expense."

Bernaski and his colleagues are creating multiyear business-technology road maps to continue to drive forward the organization's goals. "I try to help the organization that I run to imagine what's possible. Not to dream, but to target an aggressive direction," says Bernaski, whose imagination spans beyond the walls of The Hartford. He's writing a novel. In order to fit that in along with his career and his roles as husband and father to an infant and a toddler, he's up at 4 a.m. every weekday, settling in front of the computer with a cup of coffee and writing for about 90 minutes.

"I find writing about something that really didn't happen to be cathartic," Bernaski says. "It's a relief and a way to balance the stress of the job."

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