by Mark Chillingworth

Richard Norris CIO interview – New mutual reliance

Jun 01, 20159 mins
Financial Services IndustryIT Leadership

“We’ve gone from a sleepy business to agile,” says Richard Norris, the head of business change at IT financial services provider Reliance Mutual. The latest in a series of new senior leaders at the Kent-based organisation, he is putting in place the business and technology processes Reliance Mutual needs to adapt to new regulations and changing customer behaviour.

Norris started his role in May 2014 having previously been at insurance intermediary Cullum Capital Ventures (CCV). At Reliance Mutual, he has been involved in the launch of new Reliance Mutual brand ‘There’, which the Head of IT describes as a startup. An approach to projects and delivery that “will form the basis of an Agile delivery methodology, which is being embedded into the society” enabled the launch.

Reliance Mutual, like the town that is its home – Royal Tunbridge Wells – is quiet and unassuming, getting on with its business and steeped in heritage. The business is over 100 years old and provides life and pensions services, specialising in cover for people too ill to work or smokers. That was until last year when Reliance Mutual embraced the digital revolution we’ve talked of regularly in this title and launched a new business line and brand name. was soft-launched in late 2014. This new business is a stark comparison with 15 years before.

“In 1999, Reliance Mutual effectively closed the door on new business, and went back to servicing the existing policies,” Norris explains at the company’s headquarters. “But as the population ages so your fund declines, and two-and-a-half years ago it began to develop a new brand.”

In launching, Reliance Mutual has been one of the first insurance providers to offer an online tool to provide customers an instant view of the cost of life and too ill to work cover.

“That was a massive programme of work after 15 years of no change,” Norris says, explaining that direct to customer is also a new era for Reliance Mutual, and the focus of the new leadership team to find niche areas where Reliance Mutual can seize market share.

“Effectively, we’ve taken the business to the digital. We worked with Gartner to form the strategy with the digital layer over the top, and we’ve landed there rapidly,” he reveals.

To land quickly, the organisation had to change its culture and the IT team had to reshape itself to match the demands of a new digital focus, which led to Norris joining in May 2014. Since then, he has had to change the culture, the architecture and totally modernise the technology estate to ensure his team delivers on the new demands.

“The programme included changes to every part of the organisation, as well as efficiently building a startup,” Norris says. He split the programme and delivery into tech readiness. This included a new local area network (LAN), wireless local area network (WLAN), wide area network (WAN), telephony, migration of the desktop estate from Sun SGD and Unix to Windows, and the building of a new Windows Active Director.

“We’ve gone into a bi-modal IT, with a legacy layer of policy administration and then a new layer on the top for the direct to customer offers we have created,” he says of his initial strategy. “That is a change of massive scale as the IT was very old school using coding languages such as Cobol and Perl, making it difficult to change and meet the ever increasing business demands.

“A new Policy Administration System (PAS) vendor was selected that could meet the needs of the new product and direct to customer requirements, and coupled to a new web portal to meet the new product requirements in conjunction with web developers who developed the new brand look and feel.

“To facilitate the rate of change in the business and the servicing of our customers, the IT and Business Change functions underwent a Target Operating Model (TOM) review, which ultimately saw the department being restructured. Managers have been hired to lead the functional areas of Business Change, Solution Design, Development, Quality Assurance and Operations, the alterations have produced a step change in quality, with a significant amount of process re?engineering work being undertaken.

Culture change

“In IT everyone was behind a blue panel and I could hear a pin drop. We have taken down all the separation so that people talk,” he says looking across a clearly vibrant team. Norris finds the culture change piece interesting, and it comes across in his voice and enthusiasm.

“We did a lot of engagement with the employees and brought in an organisation, Leading Resolutions to guide the project and programme management. Also, we realised that the change rate was going to be a strain on people,” explains the CIO.

Norris opted for the dynamic systems development method (DSDM) Agile methodology for project workload and management. “A new call centre was developed and staffed. The team uses a number of tools to service the customers, including the ability to mirror the customer’s web portal journey,” he says of a new relationship with CSC Team.

“The IT services and change functions have now aligned with the BI-Modal IT model, and we will continue to develop this as our strategy for legacy and new world systems,” Norris reveals.

“The transformation is having a significant impact on the society, having been working in a low change state for many years the transformation forms the basis for the relaunch of the society and taking new products to market. Culturally, the project has made a significant impact to the society and its approach to projects and delivery, which will form the basis of the agile delivery methodology that is being embedded into the society.

“The new product and brand sales will form the basis of all new business for the society for the foreseeable future. The business is set to grow and now we have a view of how many policies we are selling,” he says of the joined-up processes enabled by moving away some legacy platforms has enabled. But Norris believes it wasn’t just the technology that enabled this.

“We now have a view of the business and we have enabled it to work more effectively and collaboratively, and we are going to continue to do that. The result of all the change is that we have a better view of our portfolio and the change programmes,” he says.

“I have been involved in the steering group for the overall programme, as well as the individual projects. Vendor selection and engagement is a new skill that has been lacking from the society, and one that is now being embedded. Some of the technology ready projects had to be modified following reviews of the deliverables against the business requirements. Overall, I have been working to develop the department and society to be more market focused, with a buy not build strategy, as well as a pragmatic view on supplier and budget management,” he explains.

As part of the culture change programme, Norris immediately improved the technology in meeting rooms to enable projection and collaboration and improved remote access.

Pillars of strength

Norris now operates an IT team that is structured into five pillars of business change, solutions design, develop, testing and operations, with the latter two using contractors to get over humps of demand as Norris focuses on developing the project management and business analysis skills in his team. The use of contractors, he explains, enables his team to provide an extended hours of support to the business for its new There digital business through services such as web chat.

“Our policy now is to buy not build,” he says of an organisation that didn’t have a matrix of its suppliers and know what services it had available to it when he joined. “In 2016, I will move my virtualised infrastructure on to the cloud when the assets are off the balance sheet. That will also cover off my disaster recovery plans as well. At present, we have our own disaster recovery.

“We are reviewing all our services and looking to migrate them to the cloud, and I’d really like to get desktop as a service as well, and I have been looking at Microsoft Office 365 as it represents fantastic value. Office 365 is a better culture change here,” he says.

“Shadow IT is encouraged in part, certainly from a business perspective, if it is innovating around tools to enhance business processes, after which IT would be engaged to facilitate vendor selection and project delivery,” he says.

Just as There begins to be marketed hard, Reliance Mutual will also need to ensure its fully compliant with Solvency II, which has a June 2015 deadline.

Norris has invested in the team he inherited with ITIL and project management training, as well as bringing in talent. “It’s an employee’s market,” he says of the recruitment difficulties he and his peers are having. The CIO is using his network, having been with insurance firm CCV earlier in his career.

Norris had led IT at CCV for five years until June 2013, having been with sister company Towergate Insurance for six years in roles such as IT Support Manager, head of service delivery, infrastructure and projects manager and finally head of operations and change.

Away from the insurance sector, Norris led IT for law firm Birkett Long and like many business technology leaders has completed a couple of stints vendor side. He also spent two years of his early career working as a broker and underwriter, giving him some real insight into the role he now delivers IT to.

Today, he reports to the COO of Reliance Mutual.

Following Norris’ career at CCV he took a year out, which evidently has benefited the IT leader. “I went to the USA and to Everest base camp, and even spent some time as a cycle mechanic,” he says of his passions away from business technology leadership. Norris rides for a leading club in Essex on the velodrome and road. He doesn’t just pedal, he is also an accomplished motor bike racer, but admits he spends more free time on the slower two-wheeler of late. His year out was revitalising: “It was diametrically opposed to being a CIO and it was nice and refreshing, but it flew by.”