Technological progress is gaining speed. In companies, the demand for customer-specific, tailor-made IT solutions is increasing. As a result, IT organizations worldwide are evolving from purely service-oriented business units to drivers and pioneers of digital innovation. Tomasz Smaczny, Global CIO of the ERGO Group, finds: We live in exciting times in which digitalization is opening up more and more niche potential. Here is why.
20 years ago, around the millennium shift, companies were still using more or less similar IT infrastructure platforms for the comparatively few tasks that were performed virtually. Windows or Mac OS as operating systems; Word, Excel, Photoshop and Acrobat as standard tools; perhaps SAP ERP and a few specialist applications for business-specific digital processes. Technology – and innovation – was brought forward by a few, mostly American, tech giants.
But this era is long gone, as virtually all areas of work and life are gradually being filled with technology, and generalist tools are often insufficient. We are living in exciting times in which digitalization is unlocking more and more niche potential. And industry specialists – car developers, accounting experts as well as insurance companies – have to become leaders in digitalization and innovation: Volkswagen and Mercedes have both announced that they will be developing their own integrated car operating systems. Prudential launched a direct-to-consumer insurance and investing service platform. GE has rolled out their own IoT platform to connect digital industrial applications, and so has Bosch for the technology and machinery they produce.
Also, we at ERGO are continuing to develop and release digital solutions for a multitude of custom-fit platforms: ‘Alexa’; the transfer of ergo.de to the cloud environment; the new PhoneBot which shortens call center waiting times; the Mobile Claim Adjuster app for executing claims processes on smartphones; the Digital Ecosystem – a platform integrating innovative tools for insurance business technology; and the new broker extension which enables contracts with ERGO to be signed completely digitally, to name a few, along with numerous websites, interactive forms and apps.
For corporate IT organizations, this rapidly accelerating transformation means a major change in both business models and workflows. In the face of constantly changing environments and increasing technology demand, IT is no longer just about the smooth provision of technology and the successful handling of projects, but rather about understanding the business and becoming innovation enablers and strategists.
In-house IT professionals are now assuming a double function in that, on the one hand, they have to implement innovative ideas that business units define, based on the demands and practical requirements encountered in client contact. On the other hand, developers themselves have to come up with their own innovative ideas based on their knowledge of the technological environment, using their experience in business processes to assess what these may mean for the future of their industry.
In the light of this, corporations worldwide are currently transforming their IT units into powerhouses of innovation and efficient organizations which can shorten time-to-market for new solutions. It’s not exactly an easy task: for one thing, IT professionals have to be in much closer dialogue with the business units in order to gain the necessary insights into business processes. But simultaneously, with the customers’ demands and technological possibilities changing continuously, modern technology and IT units have to become more agile, faster and more specialized than ever before. No less importantly, they must have a vast pool of talents with diverse skill sets available, which in all likelihood they will only be able to build up on a global level.
Thus, optimally leveraging competencies and capabilities now also requires a reorganization and bundling of talent. Line organizations of separate IT departments are turned into large, global, multi-campus networks, enabling agile team line-ups to effectively meet rapidly changing demands. Integrated but agile organizations need to be built, breaking down siloes that may have existed previously and ensuring that the company’s technology professionals have access to the relevant tools and environment, are provided with resources, and have the agility needed to fulfil their upgraded role.
In a global, integrated network organization it is much easier than it is in traditional line organizations to bring together business employees with technology experts and talents who can quickly and effectively develop special tools and applications, based on the latest UX design trends or cloud technology, in order to define, create and implement new software. Using self-organized teams and agile methods, global organizations move forward much faster and more smoothly; processes become more agile and, in many aspects, self-directed. Outcomes are achieved in discrete steps (called MVPs), based on constant feedback and improvement loops.
All this is happening at ERGO. Almost two years ago, ERGO Technology & Services Management was founded to build a global, integrated IT organization. We aim to empower our employees – both in business units and IT – to think in the new way about digitalization: not only using it to reach customers in a more efficient way but conceiving and creating market trends and innovation. After all, IT is here to be the most future oriented core part of the business and to deliver digital solutions swiftly and straightforwardly. Our global, integrated organization allows us to predict the upcoming changes in the insurance market, we are able to efficiently and effectively steer IT outcomes, to deliver value to the entire Group and to collaborate in a local, regional or global context. We still have a long way to go and for us, as well as for many other companies and IT experts, the next years and even decade will indeed be a dynamic, exciting phase of new IT – and nothing less than a new spirit of innovation.