The CEO wants the CIO to keep it simple

Ditch 50-page documents in favor of one-pagers, says Satish Bapat, CEO of ING Life Japan

How is technology changing ING Life Japan as a business? IT drives our business along three points of a triangle: the backbone, user experience and information. At the center is innovation.

How are you using information for business impact? We have several products that mature over a 10-year period, and policyholders keep an eye on the market to decide whether to keep their policy until it matures or surrender early. We now have historical data on how market changes impact policyholder activity; we are better able to predict customer behavior and support our clients' decisions.

How do you ensure business leaders are using information effectively? It is all about simplicity. Some managers, inside of IT and out, pride themselves on their 50-page documents and 100-page slide decks. But to really be effective, they will bring only the right information to the attention of senior leaders.

How do you coach your IT leaders to do that? I emphasize three things: Make it a one-pager, make it visual, and include three points to act on.

How are you improving user experience? We've developed an online video training platform, ING Tube, which provides high-quality information on products, compliance issues and other business-related topics to our distribution partners, with the aim of improving the quality of advice they deliver without having agents travel miles to attend the training. We are also arming our salesforce with iPads. Our salesforce now has mobile applications that allow them to access information and be more effective when meeting with distribution partners and clients.

What makes a successful, influential IT team? Successful CIOs have direct access to the CEO, think less about technology and more about business, and understand the importance of communication. I go back to simplicity. Sometimes with IT, we try to build something to get us to the moon, when we really just need to go from Tokyo to Osaka. It's all about incremental innovation. I want to see the long-term strategy, but I also want to see real deliverables every three months. We shouldn't have to wait a decade before we see IT value.

How do you create an innovative culture? Rather than have one group dedicated to innovation, we put small teams together and ask them to think about improving our underwriting process, for example. It could be as simple as reducing a 15-page application form to a one-pager. These groups meet several times a year to brainstorm ideas. They can be crazy ideas, small ideas--it doesn't matter. Just come up with ideas.

What in the world of technology is exciting to you? When I worked on my master's degree many years ago, I needed information on a group of companies, so I visited multiple libraries and sifted through piles of microfilms; it took me three months. Now I can get that information in five minutes. The speed of information is truly mind-blowing. The key is to avoid getting buried in data and focus on real information.

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