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CIO David Mann: Teambuilding a new Web tool

CIO David Mann built a new tool for customers of The Word and Brown Cos. Now he and his staff keep it tweaked.

David Mann, CIO at The Word & Brown Cos., has led his IT staff in building AgencyPro using .NET Framework 3.0 and SQL 2005. The goal: Giving health insurance brokers a new tool to track policies and business.

But then again, there is really no traditional "end" to this goal. Mann continues to lead his team in regular software updates, bringing the brokers Word & Brown serves new features on a regular basis.

After leading Word & Brown's IT for three years, Mann discussed AgencyPro with SearchCIO-Midmarket.com.

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Read the full transcript from this podcast below:

CIO David Mann: Teambuilding a new Web tool

Zach Church: Hi. This is Zach Church, news writer with SearchCIO-Midmarket.com. Today, we have on the phone one of our CIO Decisions Midmarket IT Leadership Award winners, David Mann, CIO of the Word & Brown Companies. David, how are you today?

David Mann: I'm doing great. Thank you so much, Zach.

Zach Church:Excellent. Congratulations on winning this leadership award.

David Mann:Thank you.

Zach Church:Could you tell me a little bit about the project that you conducted that you won the award for, and what your goals with the project were?

David Mann: Yes. The project in fact was a very, very interesting project. It was creating CRM, customer relationship management products, specialized for the small group insurance brokers. The first thing we really wanted to do is to create a product that is extremely simple, and yet extremely powerful. Since we wanted to be 100 percent available from anywhere from any device, then we definitely wanted to design it for web and also include other devices such as PDA. So that's a general description of the product that we had planned to develop.

Zach Church: The ultimate goal and accomplishments that you were aiming for at the end?

David Mann: Yes. The goal was to automate the book of business for our broker network. Because a Word & Brown general agency is all about brokers. We like to provide services and technology in order to make their job and their business much easier and more efficient and actually bring business value to our broker network. I believe that we have achieved that.

Zach Church: All right. The technology that you used was .NET and SQL?

David Mann: Yes. We utilize .NET and SQL to achieve that, and ASV .NET obviously.

Zach Church:Okay. As you went along was there anything else that you needed to include or adjustments that you needed to make in your project plans?

David Mann: Our adjustment and guidance really was driven by the brokers and our customers themselves. We utilize Agile methodology. As a part of Agile methodology we were in contact with our brokers and clients' network on a daily basis practically. Before we would even write one line of code we would actually verify and confirm that what we want to design is exactly what matches their business need.

So we would create mock ups and we would have a number of different focus groups. Once everything would be lined up and make sure that it is exactly what we intended for the brokers, then we would go out and design, architect, and code.

Zach Church: How long did the entire process take?

David Mann:About less than a year, a number of different releases. The first release took only approximately five months. But we have had a couple of releases since then. I believe that our next release also is very, very exciting because we just keep adding the features that the brokers need for their day-to-day business.

Zach Church: Can you give me an example of some of the features that you've added recently?

David Mann: For example, one of the features we had is the capability for our brokers to look at policy information in real-time. Word & Brown has an underwriting department that enters that information, and we want that information to be available to our broker networks. This way they could keep track of their book of business even in real-time.

Zach Church:Excellent. As you completed the first stages of the project, I understand it is a continuing project and it will be. But how did you calculate and then demonstrate the ROI to your business?

David Mann:Return on investment is what's calculated and in fact we've really had a very good exercise going through that. But the biggest thing is really start very simple, that what type of business value is going to bring to our clients and customers, which they really are brokers? Based on that, how is it going to enhance their business? What type of impact is it going to have for their bottom line? That eventually is going to affect ours.

We really did extensive surveys and work when it comes to a return on investment document, and it was clear that, "This is the way to do it," and we started on the project.

Zach Church: Can you tell me a little bit about working with your staff on this?

David Mann: Yes. I believe that software is really designed by people for people. So, the people that we've lined up to actually get this job done, we looked at them a number of different ways. Number one, obviously, it's not just a person would have the technical skill set. That's a given. We have to look at people that, they truly are competent in their area.

However, we selected a very strong team that they truly care about, the end customer because they're the ones that utilize this software. So, from the beginning, the people that were involved with this project, they really cared about to make this product extremely simple to use, available, and really prioritized the features that are important to the customer more so than anything else. So that's why I really believe that the set of people that put this project together, they're wonderful because of their looking at the end result and the end customers.

Zach Church: I know you mentioned that you have another release coming along. Where do you see the project going forward, and how long do you think you'll continue to put together releases?

David Mann:Well, we're going to continue putting releases as long as there is demand out there from our customer base that they need additional features. Exactly like Microsoft that periodically they come out with their new version of their software based on their market demand and their customer demand, we're going to continue to do that.

John and Rusty, the owners of the company, they're committed to provide service of unequaled excellence for their brokers’ network. That includes to maintain and actually adding enhancements to the product in order to bring the best value for the broker network.

Zach Church:Excellent. Well, stepping away from the project for just a second, a last question is where do you see the IT field going in the next few years? What do you think will be the important trends and technologies in your business?

David Mann: I believe IT is becoming more of a business every day. In fact, myself, I actually run my IT as a business. The best thing to do is really to look at IT as a business, therefore you immediately start thinking that IT should not be a call center. You have to start thinking that IT has to become a profit center. In order to be a profit center truly you have to not just resolve a simple solution. But you should really look at return on investment and you should really bring business value not only to your business, but also definitely to your end customers.

So IT is really becoming more practical for society and for customers rather than becoming as it was, a science center. So I really think that business and IT, they're blending more and more everyday and that's the way I see that the future of IT is going to be.

Zach Church: So it sounds like you think that the future of IT isn't necessarily new wave products or technologies, but really about the role of IT in the business and as a business. 

David Mann:Absolutely, because technology by itself is meaningless unless it truly brings some sort of value to the end customers. In order to do that you have to look at it as a business because business does not exist unless you truly take care of your customer and you really add value to your partners and the customers. So that's why IT, I believe, is getting closer and closer to be 100% a business.

Zach Church:Well, David, thank you for taking the time today and congratulations again on your work.

David Mann:Thank you so much.


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