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In conversation with ING Japan: Delivering complete processing at point of sale

Source: Asia Insurance Review | Feb 2015

CSC recently met with Mr Houston Ross, CIO and COO of ING Japan, to talk about an Insurance CIO’s challenges, ING’s IT strategy and its outlook for the Insurance market in Japan. Here are some excerpts.

CSC: Mr Ross, please tell us about your role at ING and how it supports ING’s business in Japan.
My role has evolved over the past year due to the fact that I also became the COO in January 2014. I was given an additional remit overlooking and transforming the operations but I see both roles as one and the same. 
 
As COO and CIO, I oversee both IT and core Operations (Underwriting, Claims, Call Centers, etc) As CIO, my role is to ensure that the underlying technology and processes support and enable our business objectives in a secure and consistent manner. As COO my role is to execute the day to day business processes, deliver excellent service to our customers, manage our risks and ensure we are leveraging technology to be as efficient and effective as possible.
 
Underlying all of that and in my roles, I have to be a bit of a technologist, process expert, change agent, and dreamer to define, build and execute our strategy, which is to deliver an excellent customer experience based on great services and long term relationships. 
 
The group IT and Operations strategy is “Digital First” and in order to accomplish that, we are defining what success looks like, challenges we expect to face and our roadmap to achieve it. Our business model in Japan is somewhat different from our group peer companies and therefore requires us to make adjustments that are very specific and relevant only to Japan.
 
CSC: What is ING’s outlook for the insurance market in Japan?
While we share similar challenges in terms of regulatory environments changing and low interest rates, etc, we are positioned well, with its market leadership in the corporate-owned life insurance segment and its strong local solvency. 
 
We have increased our agency productivity and diversified our distribution channels by substantially expanding its bancassurance channel. Together with the more positive sentiment created by the steady economic recovery in Japan, this resulted in substantially higher new sales in Q3 2014with a year-to-date increase of 21.2%, excluding currency effects. We will be rebranded to NN as of April 2015, and we will continue to help SMEs and SME owners secure their financial future, which includes protection, savings and retirement planning, 
 
CSC: What are the main challenges that you face as a CIO in supporting ING’s strategic goals?
The main challenge moving forward is to challenge our business heads and units to think beyond the “box”; the box being a particular piece of software or technology. 
 
The purpose is to provide more efficient and effective operations and that starts with business processes, not technology. Therefore within IT, we have to make sure we are building the right complimentary skills to our business peers to help them better articulate success in terms of processes and outcomes and that is a mind shift on both sides. 
 
True innovation is the combination of a defined business outcome, process mastery and technology enablement and that can only happen when both business leaders and staff are playing their parts. One of the things that I have found working in Japan in the insurance industry is that, as a whole, we struggle with legacy technology but also with the fact that we are not truly business process driven. As we have invested in moving to the cloud in 2014, my focus will be working with our business users to leverage the technology for business enablement.
 
Another area of challenge is IT Security. As technology has become more commoditized and with the proliferation of AAS, IAAS, SAAS etc, it means we have to look at IT Security in different ways and focus equally on prevention and quick response and damage minimization. 
 
This requires a holistic layered approach encompassing business processes, application layer, database layer and network layer. Final challenge related to both is finding and developing the right skills and workforce to execute and deliver.
 
CSC: In today’s digital era, the marketplace is constantly changing and, along with it, the expectations of the customers are also changing. What is ING’s strategy to drive a more intimate customer engagement?
ING business in Japan is more B2B than B2C and that recognition helps us as we look at firstly who is our customer and secondly what does digital mean to them. Our IT and Operations strategy is to recognise both internal and external parties as our customers and define a strategy that is both holistic yet flexible enough to engage the internal and external customers appropriately. 
 
For example, this past year we rolled out iPads to our Marketing Representatives (MR) to provide more flexibility and mobility. We have taken a cloud first approach and are steadily working to provide all applications and services that are required to be delivered and consumed through the iPad. 
 
Another example is we have just recently moved from physical servers to the cloud. We are one of the first players in Japan to be running the VCE V-Blocks and have achieved within 12 months something very special: over 90% of all our applications are running in the cloud! This means that we can provide less down town, enhanced business continuity, greater security and lower total costs of ownership. 
 
In summary these are but a few ways we are moving to position ourselves in the digital era. Ultimately success will be defined by who can deliver complete processing at the point of sale and these steps we are taking will position us in the long run to be that player.
 
CSC: We see that increasingly more and more businesses are looking to adapt technology innovation from outside their organisation for business transformation and growth. What is your view on this approach?
It only makes sense. In the insurance industry, I believe there was and still is this belief that at the root, it is a people business and technology only plays a role in keeping costs down and managing risks. 
 
I look at how the Telecoms industry uses technology to manage dynamic commissioning or in the banking industry how complete solutions can be delivered and deployed online as examples. I really believe that the innovation that we can immediately take advantage of is in play in other industries. In order to take advantage of those innovations we really have to be business process driven because only then can we fully see the potential for the technology innovation in our business.
 
CSC: What has been the impact achieved by partnering CSC?
I spoke about this previously but working with CSC, we have achieved what almost all players in our market are striving for: We have successfully migrated from physical servers to V-Block cloud technology. 
 
This has allowed us to improve our security profile, increased monitoring capabilities, and increased speed of deployment of infrastructure and major costs avoidance as it relates to depreciation and refreshing hardware. This is allowing us to move away from talking about infrastructure and focus on relooking at our business processes and application landscape and think, “how can we deliver true business value without the ‘box’ being the problem!”
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