“There are few successful examples of Cloud-based business systems”

Vinayak Khadye, Head- Project Management and IT Excellence, IndiaFirst Life Insurance, talked to Pupul Dutta about the company’s IT milestones and more

What is the role of IT in your organization?
IT is a key component of the overall business strategy and planning. An elaborate governance structure has been established in order to monitor and review strategic IT initiatives. Being a late entrant in the insurance sector and operating in a highly competitive market, we needed to clearly differentiate ourselves when it came to products and processes. IT has played a key role in this area as well as in enabling the business to achieve the required growth. It has enabled the automation of pre-sales, sales and customer service processes for our field force as well as that of our distribution partners. By March, 2012 we were ranked tenth in terms of new business premium income amongst the private insurance companies.

Can you recall any major IT deployment where you have been a part of and have brought to conclusion in your organization?
I am a founding member of the company. In my opinion, the most important phase or project that I was part of that had a lasting impact on the business was the initial phase wherein we defined the IT strategy, architecture and roadmap and implemented systems and infrastructure to launch the company’s business operations. Within a span of five months, the IT set-up was built from scratch and we successfully launched business operations on time. We are extremely proud of our achievement, not only because we created the necessary foundation that enabled the business to start operations on time but also, subsequently, managed the growth with the same infrastructure that we had envisaged when we set up the company. Our efforts were recognized by Celent in 2010, when we were awarded the Model Insurer Award (Asia region) for infrastructure and architecture.

What IT projects are you spearheading today?
We are working on our mobility initiative, which is the logical extension of our “simplicity, transparency and efficiency” philosophy. In addition, we are working on integrating business processes and systems of IndiaFirst with our promoter banks, who are also our distribution channel partners. On infrastructure front, we are targeting to achieve ISO 27001 for our data center operations.

Will BYOD have an impact on your company and the sector in general?
According to a recent survey in USA, it was found that two-thirds of the CIOs or CTOs said that they did not have any BYOD strategy in place. In India too, it’s early days for BYOD. Firstly, penetration amongst employees to get their computing devices to work in India is much lower. Employees still prefer and are comfortable using desktop computing devices that are typically provided by the employers. At IndiaFirst, we encourage the sales employees to bring in their laptops at work, however, it is to minimize administrative hassles in managing laptops considering that we have hardly any physical brick and mortar branches from where we could manage and support the laptops of the sales staff. Being field staff, they access work-related systems using the employee portal over the Internet.

Are you using the Cloud?
We use the Cloud in a limited way. We are using solutions such as e-mail (for our distribution channel members), Web applications uptime and availability monitoring and conducting vulnerability scanning for Web-based applications. As part of our managed services engagement for IT infrastructure and operations management, we are also using the Enterprise Resources Management solution offered by TCS on a Cloud model. There is a lot of hype about the Cloud. It means different things to different customers and vendors. A lot of Cloud offerings are in the infrastructure domain and there are few successful examples of Cloud-based business systems. Moreover, I have not heard of any leading Indian or international bank or insurance company moving their core banking or core insurance system on to the Cloud, not only in terms of the underlying computing and storage infrastructure but also with regards to the software system. Benefits from the Cloud will only accrue if organizations define their strategy clearly, both in terms of IT as well as operations. Present-day Cloud offerings, especially on the business systems front and in the Indian context, are yet to make commercial sense in large organizations that have a long term view of systems.

How do you handle the huge volumes of information or Big Data that you have to deal with?
Data volumes do present a major challenge. There are three elements that organizations have to deal with while managing Big Data: volume, velocity and variety. In my opinion the biggest challenge is dealing with variety. Most organizations are hardly aware of the variety of data and then managing and making sense out of it.

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