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Aflac CIO seized a CEO imperative to create an agile IT organization

When Julia Davis was tapped by the Aflac Inc. CEO to speed up how quickly the company paid out insurance claims, she saw the project as an opportunity to reboot her IT department.

Davis, senior vice president and CIO at Aflac, seized the moment to transition IT from "order takers to consultative partners" and from a mainframe shop to an agile IT organization. And, as it turned out, the initiative, now known as One Day Pay, did a lot more than change how customers interacted with the company -- it really did change how the business regarded IT and how IT regarded itself.

SearchCIO caught up with Davis at the conference in Cambridge, Mass., where she talked about how she leveraged the One Day Pay initiative to transform IT's reputation and the technology investments she made to become an agile IT organization. Below are excerpts from the interview; click on the player to hear the interview in its entirety.

What has been your most exciting undertaking in the last year?

Julia Davis: One of the most exciting things we've done at Aflac is our introduction of the One Day Pay initiative. To be able to leverage existing technology in a way that allows us to use auto adjudication logic and faster processing, it's made a huge difference in how we market and how we sell our products and also how we service our customers. Having a role in a technology-driven initiative that now has a whole commercial advertising [campaign] around it has been very exciting for the IT organization.

Did the idea come out of IT?

Davis: Actually, no. The idea came from our CEO. Dan Amos was watching ads where people talked about how quickly they can get car insurance. ... And he came to the IT organization and asked us, 'What's it going to take to do that?' Part of the challenge for us is we've been going through a transformation in our organization. We've been in a situation where we're used to dealing with 20 number one priorities and trying to do them all simultaneously. When you try to do 20 things at once, you usually don't get anything done.

[One Day Pay] was a shift for us to say, 'We want to do this, but the only way we're going to be able to is if you take 19 of those number one priorities off the list and make this our number one priority.' Getting his backing and support is what enabled us to do that. ... We proved, with this one project alone, the need to move toward Agile. Since then it's been like a rapid-fire transition of our organization to an Agile approach.

What tech investments or process changes did you make to become a more agile IT organization?

Davis: Not only was it from a how do you manage and measure your performance, and buying the right tool sets to do that. But as we start to go into other areas beyond our claims platform, which is based on existing technology, we're looking at newer technologies: How can we get more things out there more frequently, instead of what used to be the big bang -- wait 18 months and then you get something. In 18 months, the whole world has passed you by, and what the business originally wanted bears no resemblance to what they need today.

That whole model has had to change for us and it's looking out there for new technologies and making investments in platforms; we went with Microsoft Dynamics CRM and Office 365 for our field sales organization. Getting that rolled out to them so that we now have more visibility into the pipeline, we have more opportunity to see how sales are doing, how they are able to deliver and meet their goals and objectives. We also have invested heavily in Pega as a tool for us to be able to use and develop a lot of our workflows around how we operate as a business and how we can automate a lot of those processes and facilitate, again, faster speed to the organization.

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