Gartner defines the chief technology officer as having overall responsibility for managing the physical and personnel technology infrastructure including technology deployment, network and system management, integration testing, and developing technical operations personnel.
CTOs also manage client relations to ensure that service objective expectations are developed and managed in the operations areas.
“Regardless of their persona, the most important takeaway is that CTOs and their organisations agree on what the role means in its unique context,” she added.
“Through this shared understanding, the CTO can work closely with business leaders to drive digital transformation efforts and meet business goals.”Samantha Searle
FutureCIO spoke to Biswa Prakash Misra, group chief technology and life operations officer at AIA for his view on how technology is facilitating an industry that is transforming. What follows is a candid discussion on some of the challenges and opportunities that AIA, and to a greater degree the insurance industry, faces throughout its modern history.
As a strategist and operations leader, Misra believes in the importance of being inquisitive and purposeful, “with a hunger to act for something you believe in.
“I had a lot of opportunities to join technology companies, but I chose insurance because I believe the insurance sector is there for the greater good of the society at large.”Biswa Prakash Misra
He suggests that it is important to assemble people with similar beliefs which is important because “there are lots of people who are smarter than us, but you need people with shared values. Then everything becomes around being inquisitive, purposeful, having aptitude, and intentional,” he added.
How long have you been in the insurance industry and how has the industry changed?
I have been in the insurance industry for more than 20 years now. During the pandemic, the insurance industry’s relevance has deepened. In the retail consumers’ market, the innate need to be protected during difficult times has gone through a step change.
Also, as consumers, we have seen waves of technology, and some have been more pervasive than others. We started to see digital players entering our lives on the phone and mind space. For consumers, the pandemic has put everything on mobile including insurance.
Could you describe what transformation is for your role and how does that translate to AIA?
For me, transformation is taking a piece of work and trying to make it better, with a foundation built on a distributed computing model. What we are trying to do from a transformation perspective is to move from a host-based or single, monolithic piece into a distributed computing model.
What this means is breaking up a big piece of work into a grid and making sure all parts are working together. The digital transformation of AIA is to make it simpler, faster, more connected, and most importantly, make sure the consumer knows you are there for them.
What’s the metric that AIA as a company (including its shareholders) use to measure or say we are going in the right direction?
Our Group CEO and President, Lee Yuan Siong, sees that technology is at the centre of this evolution in the industry. We have an exhaustive set of metrics for our Technology, Digital and Analytics (TDA) strategy.
A steering committee which meets Lee Yuan Siong and all the executives track the progress every two months so that there are enough checks and balances.
There is also a KPI around end-of-life, modern applications, automation, AI-enabled transactions etc. and all these metrics get checked every month at the highest level within the company’s market.
In your view, what are essential conditions by which people, processes and technology come together to achieve AIA’s aspirations as a business?
I believe technology is secondary to people and processes. People underestimate the impact of human interactions. There are some jobs a machine can do, like underwrite a claim or an insurance policy, but they cannot replicate the trust of a human being.
I am acutely aware of the role human beings will continue to play in the technologies that we provide to people for a long time to come.
Can you share your perspective on the following technologies?
Cloud computing: Depending on the architecture you build for your company, you can have two layers of protection. One is the public cloud provider themselves who run a very secure environment.
Instead of public versus private, the question should be about how you can better manage your data in the public cloud. One layer is the public cloud provider’s security, and the second layer should be your own security standards so that the overall security level s as good as running it hybrid or even private cloud.
Open source: For a company of our size to use certain open-source technologies, we will look at areas such as the criticality of the maintenance of that open-source software is not on the line of business resiliency.
If there is a performant application I need on the front end and I use an open source, we need to find teams who can provide Level 2 (L2) and Level 3 (L3) support, - a set of people who can provide the support to address any issues. I’d be reluctant to put in open-source software where there are questions of business resilience, especially in front-end applications.
Open platforms: Open platforms would be different in the sense that it’s moving from host-based to a distributed computing platform. While we provide our apps on both Android and iOS platforms, it’s the consumer that drives it.
Open platforms are becoming clearer and more persistent in terms of where you draw a distinction. But still, in the enterprise software category, we use platforms which are well-supported by the vendors who own the source code.
In some cases, we like to insource open-source platforms and build smaller teams to be able to manage them so that we can provide the L2 and L3 support.
With technology continuing to evolve, how do you find and retain people, especially for your legacy applications?
That’s the secret sauce of how we manage this transformation and running of the business at the same time. Firstly, we have a balanced mix of insourcing and outsourcing as a strategy.
For insourcing, we have a large, shared services team in Mainland China which is now expanding to Malaysia and the Philippines. So, it’s a multi-location shared-services strategy that we have. We are always looking to reskill and bring in new skills into the organisation continuously.
We’ve also got a good outsourcing strategy. So, in cases where we are looking for new skills or additional capacity to accelerate our transformation, we outsource.
How important is data-driven to the insurance industry?
The insurance industry is becoming more data-driven. One of the founding principles of TDA (Technology, Data, Analytics) is that we want to use data to drive all business decisions.
What we are doing is using historical data, parsing this data, putting it into models and making the model continuously teach you what is going on. What AIA is evolving into is to use more data for every business decision.
We are bringing in data technologies – big data predominantly to turbo-charge decisions making across the board, and that is the future of insurance. Everything else is visualisation.
Click on the PodChat player and hear the details of the conversation.
- You are both a strategist and an operations leader. What does it take to get to the position you are in today?
- How long have you been in the insurance industry and how has the industry changed?
- Could you describe what transformation is for your role and how does that translate to AIA?
- What’s the metric that AIA as a company (including its shareholders) use to measure or say we are going in the right direction?
- In your view, what are essential conditions by which people, processes and technology come together to achieve AIA’s aspirations as a business?
- Can you share your perspective on the following technologies: cloud computing, open-source, and open platforms?
- With technology continuing to evolve, how do you find and retain people, especially for your legacy applications?
- How important is data-driven to the insurance industry?