A Fo­cus on Chem­istry

Digital Insurance - - COVER STORY - By Chris McMa­hon

Cilsy Har­ris lives and breathes the sci­enti c method. As a young woman in Mas­sachusetts, her neigh­bor, an MIT pro­fes­sor, in­vited her to work in his in­dus­trial bi­oloy lab at the univer­sity.

“That’s how I was taught to think and solve prob­lems, and I use it ev­ery day in my lead­er­ship phi­los­o­phy,” says Har­ris, who went on to study chem­istry at Bos­ton Col­lege. But af­ter al­most seven years, the al­lure of the lab be­gan to fade — she laugh­ingly blames the smell — and she de­vel­oped an in­ter­est in busi­ness.

“The Dean told me that one of the most pow­er­ful things I could do was com­bine a tech­ni­cal de­gree with a busi­ness de­gree,” says Har­ris, who is VP of per­sonal lines de­liv­ery for The Hanover.

To get the busi­ness ex­pe­ri­ence nec­es­sary to be ac­cepted into the busi­ness de­gree pro­gram, Har­ris ap­plied to be­come a busi­ness an­a­lyst for life and health at Sun Life Canada.

While at Sun Life, Har­ris worked with busi­ness rep­re­sen­ta­tives, IT sta and ven­dors on a new den­tal claims sys­tem. In an e ort to com­mu­ni­cate more e ec­tively with her team, she learned how to code and her tra­jec­tory was set.

“I just loved that dynamic” of work­ing with so many di er­ent stake­hold­ers, Har­ris says of the project.

When she ar­rived at The Hanover, the in­surer rec­og­nized her abil­ity and de­sire to lead com­plex projects early on, Har­ris says. Be­fore long, she was se­lected by the CEO to lead an ini­tia­tive to de­velop and launch new auto in­sur­ance prod­ucts in new states. Har­ris was also tasked with im­ple­ment­ing a mul­ti­vari­ate rat­ing al­go­rithm — all on le­gacy sys­tems.

“It was a de ning mo­ment for the com­pany, and one of my most di cult and proud­est mo­ments,” Har­ris says. “That es­tab­lished me as a se­nior mem­ber of IT, but also as a se­nior mem­ber of the busi­ness com­mu­nity. I’m re­ally lucky that I am at both ta­bles.”

More re­cently, Har­ris was tapped to cre­ate a ve-year tech­nolo y roadmap for the com­pany. In no time, she says, peo­ple across the com­pany vol­un­teered to be­come part of her work­ing group.

“It mat­ters to them that I lis­ten,” she says. “Col­lec­tively, we came up with a se­ries of in­vest­ments we needed to make.”

As part of that plan, her team is build­ing a new point-of-sale plat­form: a por­tal with real-time rat­ing, un­der­writ­ing, quote and is­suance ca­pa­bil­ity for the in­de­pen­dent agency chan­nel.

Har­ris says that by em­brac­ing Ag­ile de­vel­op­ment tech­niques, she has been able to ad­vance the di­a­logue be­tween IT and the busi­ness part­ners.

“There’s a much greater ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the com­plex­ity of the busi­ness de­ci­sions that need to be made and, on the busi­ness side, for the com­plex­ity of the tech­nolo y to be de­vel­oped,” she says.

In ad­di­tion to her dis­ci­plined ap­proach to prob­lem solv­ing, Har­ris at­tributes her suc­cess to a fo­cus on build­ing win­ning teams and break­ing down the bar­ri­ers that some­times ex­ist be­tween busi­ness and tech­ni­cal peo­ple.

“I want peo­ple to un­der­stand that they are part of this com­pany — I am ev­ery bit a per­son in per­sonal lines as I am in IT — and what we are about is achiev­ing re­sults,” she says.

Har­ris, who started a Women in IT net­work­ing group at The Hanover, also was cho­sen as one of 20 top emerg­ing lead­ers at the com­pany for its Lead­er­ship In Ac­tion in­au­gu­ral ex­ec­u­tive lead­er­ship fo­rum.

She also earned her pro­fes­sional coach and lead­er­ship de­vel­op­ment certi cations this year from the In­sti­tute for Pro­fes­sional Ex­cel­lence in Coach­ing. Har­ris be­lieves women are on their way to a greater role in shap­ing in­sur­ance, as more women en­ter the in­dus­try with ad­vanced de­grees.

“Women are highly ed­u­cated and ca­pa­ble, and have a lot to con­trib­ute at the ex­ec­u­tive ta­ble,” she says. “We be­lieve tal­ent wins the game ev­ery time.”

Cilsy Har­ris, Vice Pres­i­dent, Per­sonal Lines De­liv­ery, The Hanover In­sur­ance Group

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