Dean Del Vecchio sat down with me to talk about transformation with AWS
Dean Del Vecchio sat down with me to talk about transformation with AWS

The Customer-Centric CIO: How Dean Del Vecchio Created Culture of Innovation

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Born in 1860, Guardian Life has begun championing such new-fangled notions as companywide innovation challenges, office designs in the style of Google’s and Amazon’s, and the compelling notion that Guardian’s primary competitor is not another insurer but rather a consumer’s latest digital experience.

Without question, executive VP, chief of operations and CIO Dean Del Vecchio and team have been aggressively overhauling Guardian’s legacy infrastructure and software, as outlined in our recent Why Customers Love AWS: Enabling Major Transformation at Guardian Life.

But Del Vecchio has also been deeply focused on creating a “culture of innovation” centered around fabulous customer experiences, startup ideas and approaches, and a future limited only by the imaginations of Guardian’s 9,500 employees.

Creating a Culture of Innovation: In Dean’s Own Words
Dean Del Vecchio

“When I first came onboard [five years ago], one of the things I wanted to do was shift the focus of the technology organization away from the legacy infrastructure with managers managing, racking and stacking, and worrying about the legacy infrastructure of the data center,” Del Vecchio said in a recent video interview (you can watch the Cloud Wars Live episode here).

“Because if you think about managing data centers, there’s a lot of time spent around the environmentals associated with that: disaster-recovery planning and all of those things.

“And I just didn’t see how that was going to be valuable for a company that wanted to do a digital transformation. Instead, I knew we had to be much more customer- and consumer-focused,” Del Vecchio said.

“I knew I’d much rather have the technology organization focusing on new-product development, and consumer experiences, and AI and automation, and how do we leverage data and analytics.”

That all makes perfect sense. But anybody who’s been around this business has learned that as challenging as it can be to change enterprise technology, it is far more difficult to change human behavior.

So Del Vecchio rolled out a series of programs designed to create a sense of market-oriented urgency. Building on digital innovation, his unwavering objective was to get everyone within Guardian more focused on customers and opportunities than on internal operations.

Creating a Culture of Innovation: Dean’s Idea Hub

“We’ve been creating a culture of innovation. What I mean by that is we’ve allowed our employees to participate at all levels, and we’ve created innovation challenges across the company. And while it could be anything, one of the key challenges we did was, ‘How can we improve overall customer experience?’ said Del Vecchio, who before joining Guardian was chief of administration and CIO at Dow Jones & Co.

That particular challenge inspired about 5,000 employees from every part of the company to contribute ideas and become engaged in the process—formally called “Idea Hub”—of turning those ideas into results.

“It allows people to submit an idea, and others who like the idea can add to it. They can participate, they can comment, and then we actually go through a whole kind of voting process. Then we actually do ‘shark tanks,’” he said.

From there, his team develops a prototype and then a minimum viable product (MVP). Some of those MVPs become actual products or processes within Guardian.

Del Vecchio has instituted similar innovation contests among tech vendors and partners. He said that “thousands of new ideas” have emerged in the past few years from employees, vendors and partners.

Creating a Culture of Innovation: The Ultimate Goal

The ultimate goal, he emphasized on a few occasions, is generating an outcome that most of us would not normally associate with interactions with life-insurance providers: experiences that are simply delightful.

“Take the underwriting process. That could happen a lot faster than it does today, when you have to draw fluids and blood and send them out, and it can take weeks if not months for that process,” Del Vecchio said.

“I think with additional data points and additional data sources, we can do that much quicker. So we can make it much more of a seamless process with a lot less touch points.

“And I think that the whole experience is going to get easier and more pleasurable, and more delightful than it is today. And I think the next three to five years are really going to be exciting for the insurance industry.”


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