Scott Terrell, senior vice president and chief information officer of HealthMarkets, one of the largest independent health insurance agencies in the US that distributes health, Medicare, life and supplemental insurance products from more than 200 companies, talks about his experience and opinions surrounding digital transformation. Scott’s more than 20 years of experience in IT gives him a well-rounded perspective on the topic.
What’s been your experience with digital transformation and working with different initiatives?
HealthMarkets’ digital transformation started approximately five years ago and was primarily driven by changes within the health insurance marketplace – namely, the Affordable Care Act (ACA). We knew we needed to make significant changes around our operating model and our brand. We needed to ensure people knew, trusted and wanted to do business with our brand. As part of this transformation, we adjusted our online presence and how our agents work with their customers, and we made changes to ensure we could respond to the needs of those customers however they wanted to work with us. Since then, we’ve continued down the digital transformation path.
Do you think the term digital transformation has lost its meaning through overuse and that it’s now just normal business practice? What’s your take on that?
I agree it is overused, but I also think it is necessary – it is important to have a term that people can rally around. And at this point, it is normal practice – it has to be in order for a business to survive. The needs of consumers have changed significantly in recent years, and we have to be ready to change with them.
When companies are considering digital transformation, what do you see as the starting point?
First, I believe it is imperative to have excellent relationships with your leadership team or C-suite colleagues. Digital transformation is led by the entire leadership team, and each leader has a role to play.
I also believe it is important to be prepared to improve your personal leadership style and abilities. Digital transformation depends on excellent leadership because it will significantly change the way your IT department functions. You have to prepare your team to be agile and pivot quickly when needed. This isn’t necessarily how IT teams have worked historically, so it requires strong leadership to implement the culture change.
With that culture change comes the necessity of ensuring your staff is ready and able to move quickly and empowered to make business decisions without always running it up the chain of command. As a result, you need to expect that you’re not always going to get something 100% right all of the time – there will be times you fail. But you must know how to adjust and manage through those setbacks.
How would you counsel IT leaders to track progress and what are the signs that things aren’t working?
Historically, I think IT leaders have a tendency to go in a room, build something, deploy it, and have everyone be astonished at what was created. However, that’s not how businesses operate anymore. You have to ensure your team is agile and ready to make changes quickly – not just within a development environment but also with what you have in production. We have to work in smaller “chunks” now and engage leadership to ensure we are on the right track, and everyone is in agreement with how things are progressing.
I also think it is crucial to track utilization and productivity. In my role, I deploy technology to two groups – consumers in general, and our HealthMarkets agents. It is important that my team is engaged with changes needed by both of those audiences so we ensure we are creating value for them.
If there are significant issues and the plan is going off the rails, how would you advise a CIO to react? Should they reboot or shut down?
I don’t think you should have to shut down because hopefully, your team is agile enough to make changes quickly – you have to ensure you’re paying attention the whole time so that a shut down isn’t necessary. Instead, you can react and improve – in other words, a “reboot” – and prepare to manage through that mishap so you can pivot as needed.
What has been the most challenging digital transformation effort you’ve undertaken?
I think the leadership style and overall IT culture change has been the most challenging because, as I mentioned above, it is completely different from the way IT teams have worked in the past. It is important that my team and the larger leadership team at the company understands our vision for the digital transformation and are committed to supporting us to make it work.
How do you monitor progress, prevent backsliding, assure expenses stay in line with projections, and all those things that keep enterprises healthy and profitable?
By staying alert and paying attention to what’s happening with the changes that have been produced. My team has systems in place whereby we can monitor the utilization of the technology, and if we see it is not performing as expected, we make adjustments as needed. We have to stay in close contact with our agents and our customers to make sure what we have put in place is working to their satisfaction.
I also advise continually researching trends in the industry and consumer behavior, so you can stay engaged with and ahead of what consumers are expecting.
What are your personal plans for pursuing technology? Do you see changes in the technology and/or in your career path?
I think digital transformation has really changed the role of the CIO. We are no longer an “order taker” or just an expense – the CIO must be at the forefront of driving change throughout the organization. Personally, it has enabled me to be even more engaged with my colleagues on changes we see in the industry and trends. I see myself more as a business leader who happens to be focused on technology.
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