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Mercer's 'digital core' built on cloud, microservices, APIs, talent

As the chief digital officer at Mercer, Gail Evans is focused on what the HR giant needs to do to be successful in an economy driven by digital technologies. Utilizing AI is important, as Evans explains in this video on Mercer's initiative to tie AI deployments to business outcomes.

Here, in the second of three videos from the 2019 MIT Sloan CIO Symposium, Evans explains Mercer's efforts to build a digital core -- a term used to denote the technology platforms and applications that help organizations transform into digital businesses. The foundation of the digital core is the Mercer OS, a cloud-based platform that replaces legacy systems, drives efficiency and enables innovation. Evans said it also gives employees "who are starving for efficiency" and "starving for time" the right tools to do their jobs.

Editor's note: The following transcript has been edited for clarity.

How big a priority is operational efficiency at Mercer?

Gail Evans: Operational efficiency is definitely in the top three, top five priorities for the firm. Any company -- especially a company that has a big legacy footprint and is moving into modernization -- [is] looking for ways in which to become more efficient. It has a lot of manual processes that need to be automated, and that automation drives efficiency and drives a digital workforce.

There's also operational efficiency around productivity -- providing the right tools to a workforce that is starving for efficiency, starving for time, wanting to do more for the company but needing the right tools and applying the right technology to their problem space to help them become more productive and more efficient in their everyday jobs.

So, what we've been able to do is create a workforce transformation. We are looking at the opportunities across all our lines of business to really drive efficiency -- whether that is colleague [collaboration] efficiency or simplifying our technology footprint.

We created the Mercer OS as a platform to eliminate some of the legacy platforms and migrate to a modern platform to lower the operating costs.

How does the cloud figure into the Mercer OS?

Evans: The cloud is definitely a component. The Mercer OS is an open architecture -- the cloud is at its center. We want to utilize cloud's scalability and innovation.

We want to take full advantage of [technology], but it's not just [to solve] tech problems. We need to understand the business problem, our client problem, and apply the right technology to solve that problem.

We have a foundation for that in what we call the digital core -- our Mercer OS. And that digital core has a continuous integration and continuous delivery platform -- a CI/CD; we have the cloud, and we have microservices. So, we then wrap that with an API so that we can share services across our enterprise, which eliminates redundancy.

Are you building the Mercer OS with internal talent or outside help?

Evans: A combination. We have some strategic partners. I don't believe in having hundreds of partners. I believe in a critical few that can help me drive the agenda for Mercer. And those critical few learn the platform -- on their nickel, by the way. So, [they know] I have this platform called the Mercer OS, it's a digital core and I want my strategic partners to have people on the bench that understand that platform so I can scale up and scale down.

We also have the Mercer OS launchpad where we're training internal talent -- I think it was McKinsey that calls it the digital talent incubator. Hands-on is very important on this talent journey. What we've done is partner growing talent, growing engineers, with very talented experts to take them on the journey to learn the new tech, learn the CI/CD, so that now they're ready to go alone on a different project.

So, we are very much investing in our existing talent to help them grow new skills.

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