Aviva CIO Monique Shivanandan interview - A modern union

Tracing its history back over 300 years, Aviva has witnessed plenty of change since its forerunner, Hand in Hand, began offering fire insurance to Londoners from Tom's Coffee House in St Martin's Lane. Adopting its current moniker in 2002 after the merger of CGU and Norwich Union, it has evolved its business through numerous acquisitions to reach 31 million customers globally across its general, health and life insurance products.

Fast forward to today, and Monique Shivanandan, global CIO for the UK's biggest insurer, is helping modernise Aviva to compete in an era where many sectors – from retail to media – have already been disrupted by digital technologies.

"The insurance industry is one of the few left which hasn't yet been disintermediated via technology. It is still a very traditional person-to-person and broker-to-person relationship," says Shivanandan, discussing the company's IT strategy at its central London offices. "It will be a completely different model in a few years."

Having previously worked as chief technology officer at Capital One, the largest digital direct bank in the US, and as CIO of the BT Retail division, Shivanandan has already witnessed how quickly an industry can be turned on its head. She is looking forward to the prospect of driving the turning change agenda at Aviva, and meeting potential disruptors head on.

"We have a Google-like approach for where we are taking Aviva's IT organisation," she explains. "We are going to build both the teams and the capabilities to help us get there. We are using modern technology, we are using open source, we are using Agile delivery, we are building J2EE, Java mobile front-ends – we are doing all of the cool stuff."

Investing in change

Shivanandan joined Aviva at the start of 2014, with responsibilities for IT delivery, operations, portfolio, planning and strategy to 11 properties across the 16 countries that the company operates in.

"Our strategic priority is to continue to simplify our IT, to rationalise systems down and make sure we have the most streamlined estate that we can," she says. "We also want to create a digital first strategy and global environment for a digital ecosystem. That is pretty important – we are going to share our digital assets across the globe."

Shivanandan arrived in the midst of some significant changes within the company. As well as the £5.6 billion merger with Friends Life (potentially a major IT project in itself), in the past 12 months there has been a reshuffle and expansion of senior executive roles, with a focus on technology as CEO Mark Wilson targets investment in digital, data and automation to support business transformation plans.

Alongside Shivanandan, new hires have included the appointment of a chief analytics officer, Adam Kornick, and, most recently, Bryan Littlefair, who joins from Vodafone as chief information security officer. Another major hire has been chief digital officer, Andrew Brem, who led the development of connected home initiatives at British Gas, now known as Hive. Shivanandan will work closely with Brem – who will also report directly to the CEO – with the chief digital officer focusing more on the business and pricing side of the digital offerings in what she describes as a "symbiotic relationship".

"He is going to put together a digital proposition for consumers across all of our products and service areas globally, and I am going to build the technology that supports that," Shivanandan explains. "Together, we will be able to drive better propositions."

Aviva is already encouraging digital relationships with its customers across its numerous business lines. This has involved developing a series of smartphone and tablet apps to add to its existing online services.

"We have a very good start. We have a single view of the customer; you can see all your products and services online and access them through single sign-on," she says. "What we now need to do is take that offering and dramatically leverage new capabilities and extend those capabilities. But it is a pretty solid, elegant user interface."

For instance, its popular MyAviva app provides an overview of policies in one place. It gives access to quotes and loyalty offers, and lets customers renew their car and home insurance from a mobile device.

At the start of 2015 Aviva created a health records service that allows medical insurance customers to store and access medical records, offering emergency information through a smartphone app.

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