You make IT investments in any company, but within those investments, you’re typically doing one of two things: keeping the lights on or pursuing strategic initiatives. What we’ve focused on at Arbella over the past several years is making sure that we have strong business and IT alignment so we can look for ways to increase the amount of money available for strategic initiatives. In pursuing this goal we’ve done two things:
- We focus on operational and financial controls in IT, in vendor management, and in contract management.
- We leverage the cloud for things that are not core to our business. Compared to five years ago, we have gone from very little non-core capability in the cloud to HR, payroll, finance, talent management, budgeting and forecasting, identity access management, and many other areas in the cloud.
These efforts have not only freed up the budget, but they’ve also freed up human capacity, so we’re not spending as much time trying to maintain currency on all of the non-core applications. Of course, we’re not foolish enough to think that when you move something to the cloud, support goes from three people supporting a system to zero. But we have recognized some efficiencies, and that lets us better focus our IT investments on the things that are going to move the business forward and increase ease of doing business for our customers.
I think we’ve developed and matured as an organization to where we not only know what our IT investment level is, we also know what our throughput capacity is. Adding $5 million to the IT budget doesn’t necessarily guarantee you any more output than it did with the same funding levels, of course. You need business requirements, and you need the actual business involvement in projects.
That’s why another thing we’re looking at is increasing internal ease of doing business. That includes process optimization, workflow authorization, higher automation through the better use of technology, and better utilization of the people we have.
One project that we’re excited about in this regard is an updated version of our agent portal, which is the way our agents do business with us. We implemented it two years ago, and then we rolled it out to the second line of business a year ago. Now it is 14 months post-implementation, and we’re three weeks away from another upgrade.
This accelerated schedule is a reflection of the world we live in, where IT projects are more iterative and made up of shorter duration projects with quicker business impact. Each version has increased collaboration capabilities with our independent agents, who are in essence our sales force. They now have the ability to transact business easier and do it on any device that they want. And all of that capability, ultimately, is based on making IT investments in a smarter way.
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