Build­ing the dig­i­tal back­bone

Digital Insurance - - CONTENTS - By Nathan Go­lia

In her role as one of three SVPs of State Farm's IT ca­pa­bil­ity de­part­ments, Ash­ley Pet­tit pre­sides over the plat­forms that power dig­i­tal in­no­va­tions and ad­vance­ments for the largest P&C in­surer in the coun­try. With over­sight of ar­chi­tec­ture, en­gi­neer­ing, data and an­a­lyt­ics, IT op­er­a­tions and in­fra­struc­ture, her job may seem back-of­fice-fo­cused. But, Pet­tit says, her ap­proach to her po­si­tion is driven, like so much else in in­sur­ance, around pro­vid­ing a top-notch cus­tomer ex­pe­ri­ence. “One of the things we spend a lot of time do­ing at State Farm is fo­cus­ing on the cus­tomer, es­pe­cially how ex­pe­ri­ences out­side the in­sur­ance in­dus­try in­flu­ence what you ex­pect from us,” she says. “There def­i­nitely are a lot of changes from just the un­der­ly­ing tech­nol­ogy, and we're think­ing about how we pro­vi­sion and de­liver tech­nol­ogy ser­vices.” For ex­am­ple, Pet­tit was in­stru­men­tal in the de­vel­op­ment of uni­fied per­sonal auto ex­pe­ri­ence — an end to end prod­uct that ex­panded the com­pany's quote and ap­pli­ca­tion ca­pa­bil­i­ties into a more uni­fied sys­tem that gave all stake­hold­ers vis­i­bil­ity into the cus­tomer jour­ney. For the cus­tomer them­selves, the ex­pe­ri­ence was made con­sis­tent across de­vices. “The vis­i­bil­ity this sys­tem of­fered was we knew at any given time where a cus­tomer was in the process — there was more con­sis­tent flow across all chan­nels,” Pet­tit ex­plains. She also is cred­ited with lead­ing ef­forts that have in­creased op­er­a­tional ef­fi­cien­cies, re­duced ex­penses and en­hanced prod­ucts. Pet­tit as­sisted in an ef­fort to change the IT op­er­at­ing model in a way that de­liv­ered faster, sim­pler ex­pe­ri­ences in­ter­nally and ex­ter­nally. As a re­sult, State Farm and its agents and as­so­ciates have been able to nav­i­gate a rapidly chang­ing in­sur­ance mar­ket eas­ily. The story of that tran­si­tion touches all ar­eas of the IT depart­ment. State Farm had three sep­a­rate IT groups that Pet­tit helped con­sol­i­date into the sin­gle en­ter­prise tech­nol­ogy area. The com­pany re­aligned where its IT tal­ent lived within the com­pany, mov­ing em­ploy­ees to var­i­ous lo­ca­tions around the com­pany – not just at its Bloom­ing­ton, Ill. Head­quar­ters — in or­der to make sure that busi­ness and IT units were co-lo­cated and able to it­er­ate quickly. The com­pany re­aligned where its IT tal­ent lived within the com­pany, mov­ing em­ploy­ees to var­i­ous lo­ca­tions around the com­pany – not just at its Bloom­ing­ton, Ill. head­quar­ters — in or­der to make sure that busi­ness and IT units were co-lo­cated and able to it­er­ate quickly. There are now have IT teams work­ing in Bloom­ing­ton, Atlanta, Dal­las and Phoenix; the lat­ter three are State Farm's “hubs.” “Gaps that maybe in the past ex­isted be­tween busi­ness and IT teams have gone away,” she says. “It's eas­ier for the busi­ness teams to more eas­ily pro­vide feed­back, and bet­ter for the IT teams to see and ob­serve how the busi­ness uses a ca­pa­bil­ity.” The changes to the struc­ture have also helped State Farm in re­cruit­ing tech staff, Pet­tit says. At a time when in­sur­ance com­pa­nies are com­pet­ing with com­pa­nies of all kinds for lead­ing dig­i­tal tal­ent, hav­ing a dis­trib­uted pres­ence gives State Farm more ac­cess to more young em­ploy­ees and show them the ben­e­fits of a ca­reer in in­sur­ance. “A lot of my fo­cus on STEM has been through com­mu­nity out­reach, part­ner­ships with lo­cal ed­u­ca­tion sys­tems, K-12 through uni­ver­si­ties,” she says. “It's in­ter­est­ing, as we have ven­tured into these mar­kets, we show up at job fairs and tech mee­tups. A lot of the feed­back we get is ‘I wouldn't ex­pect to see [State Farm] here.'” Pet­tit is work­ing hard to change that view of the in­dus­try as tech­no­log­i­cally lag­ging, and is es­pe­cially fo­cused on en­cour­ag­ing women and girls to get in­volved in tech­nol­ogy. She spon­sored a seven-week Girls Who Code sum­mer im­mer­sion pro­gram at the State Farm lo­ca­tion in Atlanta for 20 high school stu­dents, and spon­sored a one-day Mil­len­nium Girls tech camp for 2,000 girls be­tween fifth and eighth grade. She notes that some women in the com­pany have been ret­i­cent to par­tic­i­pate in “hack days,” and leads an em­ployee re­source group for women in tech to en­cour­age them to raise their voices. “As a fe­male ex­ec­u­tive in a tech field, I've been suc­cess­ful, and had the ben­e­fit of a lot of op­por­tu­ni­ties to help me get where I am,” she says. “I feel that re­spon­si­bil­ity to reach back and help men­tor and guide some of our newer and younger em­ploy­ees, how to en­gage and look for op­por­tu­ni­ties.”

Ash­ley Pet­tit SVP, En­ter­prise Tech­nol­ogy, State Farm

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