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Automating business processes a top priority for BCBS of Mass. CIO

Creating a more efficient organization is a priority for the IT team at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts. That focus isn't going away anytime soon. Beth O'Rorke, CIO at the health insurance company, said operational efficiency is top of mind now -- and will continue to be for her IT department.

For O'Rorke, one of the roads to greater efficiency is automating business processes -- right up until human input or oversight is needed. At the recent MIT Sloan CIO Symposium, O'Rorke talked about how her IT department is automating business processes as a tactic to achieve operational efficiency, as well as what it takes to be a CIO today.

Editor's note: The following was edited for clarity and brevity.

Are you hiring data scientists and engineers?

Beth O'Rorke: Analytics is a big part of our strategy. We're actually putting a lot of focus on this now with a chief data and analytics officer in place partnering with the technology in a dedicated technology hub. We bring data engineers and data architects together in this group. We're using the cloud, as well as big data platforms to explore, investigate and expand on what we're doing. With the data scientists coming in, we end up looking at those algorithms and seeing how we're going to actually put them into production and industrialize them for the greater good of the company.

How do you go about attracting that talent?

O'Rorke: There's a war out there for getting the right skills, and I think it's a blend of internal and external [tactics] that we're using. We're trying to groom and build our own, but we're also trying to complement that with third parties. Whether it's recruiting outside the company, which is still a challenge, or it's partnering with the right partner to bring us to the next level and set of capabilities.

Switching gears, how important is operational efficiency to your company?

O'Rorke: Operational efficiency is core to our business. We have a lot of capabilities that we need to automate and streamline our operational processes. It's probably in our top five priorities, but it's always something that we're constantly looking at. Continuous improvement, looking at how do we automate, certainly we're using robotics now to make sure that we can push our processes forward as far as automating until you need human intervention. A lot of capabilities of end-to-end digitization of our business is coming into play. It's taking some time, but as our vendor partners and our operational units work together, we're automating a lot more.

When speaking about robotics, I'm talking about automating [business] processes through the human interaction. We can automate what they're doing, look at kind of the different tasks that have to be done and know what we have to do in order to make the processes more efficient and bring it to where human intervention needs to make a decision. If a decision can be automated, we're doing that as well.

What trait would you say is essential to being a top-notch CIO today?

O'Rorke: I think it is to be flexible and adaptive. The business is changing so much; technology is bringing new capabilities that were never thought of before. And working with my peers to help them understand some of the technology, help me understand the business problems, and bringing those together really makes a difference. Flexing your style with the C-suite, with the board, is an important aspect of your job but then also relating to your team. Your team is everything; they bring it every day, you've got to help them along and make sure they're positioned for success.

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