Why IT governance is critical for modernization

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CIO Moving Up

Before I arrived at our company in late 2011, when it was still ING Life Insurance, two previous policy administration application modernization efforts had already gone by the wayside. Knowing that a lot of IT modernization projects in Western Europe and America were close to finishing, I was a bit daunted by the fact that our company had many physical servers spread over several data centers and that some of our business apps needed updates. Add to that a lot of legacy IT skills in house, the clear need for a transformational governance process, a slowing national economy, and the fact that I was an American working for a Dutch company in Japan, and you can empathize with the situation.

We started with IT governance, analyzing the current state of affairs and building a roadmap to implement. I believe this is a critical step and, in my opinion, without the correct IT governance, any application modernization initiative is doomed. One of my first discoveries was that total consumption across our servers was about 40 percent.  As we moved to execution, I looked for opportunities to scale down or stop some of the things that we were doing that weren’t adding a lot of value, and creating some room from a cost perspective. I was also lucky enough to leverage consulting help to deliver some of the transformative efforts while we focused on the governance, and slowly but surely brought the internal staff on board and moved on some hires we needed to make.

Our transformation strategy has five pillars:

  1. Consolidate and simplify our infrastructure
  2. Build innovative solutions
  3. IT delivery excellence
  4. Enterprise architecture
  5. Enterprise platform modernization

Meeting the objectives of our first pillar made it clear that we couldn’t simply replace our servers. The cost to refresh servers and the complexity that would bring to our data center would have been tremendous. At the same time, the threat landscape has expanded, so patching any issues with these servers would become a heavy burden on the workforce.  The only answer was to migrate to the cloud.

Today, midway through what is likely to be a five-year transformation, we have reduced the number of our data centers and physical servers and begun moving to cloud services. As we look at our applications, we are taking the same top-down perspective and asking: “Is there an opportunity to consolidate? Is there an opportunity to standardize, all starting with the principle that we’re going to be cloud first?” The good news is, we’ve already made some progress there and replaced the technology that ran our portal with a cloud service.

Here in Japan, at ING, now known as NN Group on the insurance side, I also have cultural issues to manage, with stakeholders in Europe, for instance. Another consideration is the employee-for-life mentality, which is slowly transitioning out in Japan but sometimes makes change quite hard. A third is stakeholders who have come in from other companies and want to pursue a different approach based on their last set of experiences. Add these three different sets of stakeholders together, and it took me some time to generate enough buy-in where I could start the execution phase and move forward.

But as I have discovered, as long as we communicate as a team and do so clearly and often, I know that our end state is going to be worth the effort we are putting into digital modernization.

Houston Ross is Vice President, Chief Operations Officer and Chief Information Officer at NN Life Insurance, Ltd of Japan. Houston brings more than a decade of experience in the financial services industry with senior-level roles in insurance operations, investment banking and securities sectors. He manages large and multicultural teams across multiple disciplines and locations, which include Japan, Asia-pacific, the United States, Australia and Europe. He manages 85 internal resources and an annual budget of $36 million. Houston’s efforts at NTT have helped to reduce application development costs by 30%.
Houston Ross is Chief Operations Officer and Board Member for Czech Republic and Slovakia (formerly of Japan) at NN pojišťovna a penzijní společnost at NN Life Insurance, Ltd. Houston brings more than a decade of experience in the financial services industry with senior-level roles in insurance operations, investment banking and securities sectors.

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