Aflac US CIO Shelia Anderson on fueling innovation via ‘AI at scale’


Shelia Anderson, US CIO at Aflac, joins host Maryfran Johnson for this CIO Leadership Live interview. They discuss digital-first customer strategy, fueling innovation via 'AI at scale', accelerating 'intelligent automation', the CIO as a change agent, and more.

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Hello, good afternoon and welcome to CIO Leadership Live. I'm your host, Maryfran Johnson, CEO of Maryfran Johnson Media. Twice a month we produce this video show and podcast. With the generous support of my good friends at CIO.COM and the CIO Executive Council, we're streaming live to you right now on both LinkedIn and our CIO channel on YouTube.
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And because we are live, we encourage any of our alert watching audience and viewers to join in today's conversation if you have any direct questions of your own. For my guest, our editors are watching the feed and the chat on both LinkedIn and YouTube, and we'll pass along those questions. And I'm very pleased today to welcome Shelia Anderson, who is a senior vice president and CIO of AFLAC.
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Shelia joined AFLAC in July of 2022, overseeing all the applications and technologies that are enabling this Fortune 200 companies, U.S. business, and helping to accelerate the maturity of its digital driven enterprise. Now, in the U.S., AFLAC underwrites a wide range of insurance policies, but is perhaps best known for its payroll deduction, supplemental or gap insurance coverage. With annual revenues of $18.9 billion, African employs more than 12,000 people worldwide and is headquartered in both Columbus, Georgia, and Tokyo, Japan.
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Now, you may be thinking Aflac. Don't they have that duck? Loves the Aflac duck. The Aflac duck made its TV commercial debut in January of 2000 and the idea then was to teach consumers how to pronounce AFLAC. It has become one of the most familiar and beloved advertising icons in the world and has appeared in countless commercials and print ads in both the U.S. and Japan.
00:02:05:04 - 00:02:32:13
So essentially, along with Shelia, we have an international advertising icon with us today. Now, before she joined AFLAC last year, Shelia served as the EVP and CIO at Liberty Mutual, where she led the tech organization responsible for Liberty's growing global business in more than 29 countries. Before Liberty Mutual, she was a vice president and CIO of Property and Casualty Insurance at USAA.
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And then earlier in her career, she's held executive roles with major Fortune 500 companies and their global tech organizations, including Hewlett-Packard and Electronic Data Systems. Among the many topics we'll be exploring today are Shelia's views on the CIO role as a change agent and the future of AI and intelligent automation and the role it's playing in driving more innovative digital first customer experiences.
00:03:02:20 - 00:03:32:04
Shelia, welcome. It's great to have you here. Thank you. It's good to be here. Now let's start up The insurance. The financial services and insurance industry is such a vast and complicated business and one that you've experienced in recent CIO roles. Tell us about how Affleck's business today, how that differs from the property and casualty worlds of liberty Mutual and USAA and MetLife and some of those other companies.
00:03:32:06 - 00:04:03:17
Zachary Of course, so many, many people, when you think of insurance, typically think of the property and casualty space, which is the primary focus for companies like USAA and Liberty Mutual. There are also other lines of business there as well as like actually focuses in on supplemental insurance. And so it is that gap insurance, the types of policies that we sell are things like accident insurance, dental, vision and short term disability cancer, which is our.
00:04:03:19 - 00:04:26:18
Think of that as our capstone primary focus. The company was founded as a cancer insurance company. Our critical illness policies, hospital, life insurance. So all of these are focuses for AFLAC. One of the big differences that I that I see as far as how we go to market the AFLAC insurance is, as we like to say, it's sold and not bought because it is a gap insurance.
00:04:26:18 - 00:04:49:00
It's a bit of a different focus. You don't have to buy insurance for GAP, whereas you are required to buy other types of insurance to cover, for example, your home or your automobile. Okay. So that does give it just kind of a different well, a different slant in how it has to approach its customers and the consumers. Absolutely, it does.
00:04:49:02 - 00:05:31:02
We have very much a focus on serving that that customer. We sell through agents and brokers as well as direct sales channel. So if you think about the digital enablement and how you rate your distribution channels, it's all of those. Okay. Well, now I know Affleck is a 68 year old company founded in 1955. And when we were talking about your challenges and the kind of programs and initiatives you have going as CIO, you would mentioned that the level of maturity is a bit different there at Affleck from some of the previous Fortune 102 hundred companies you've worked at, that being about more strategic investment, more scrutiny.
00:05:31:04 - 00:05:52:04
Flesh that out for me a little bit. Explain what you meant by that. Absolutely. As I like to say, we have everything from the 50 year old mainframe to the latest AI innovations in play here in production environment, delivering value for our customers. So if you think about that, there's everything in between and you have to have a strategy to manage all of that technical debt.
00:05:52:04 - 00:06:21:23
The aging technology, while also innovating for the future and adopting the newer technologies like AI and machine learning. So given that we absolutely have had very much a focus on what I like to call framing the foundation, which is focusing on those core legacy platforms and having strategies to move those to the future, as well as adopting some of the more greenfield approaches to leveraging newer technologies like AI and machine learning, for example, in adjudication during our claims process.
00:06:22:01 - 00:06:53:02
Okay, good. And I know we're going to talk in more detail about all of those. But before we get to that, let's talk about you came to us like a year and four or five months ago. What were the expectations coming in of the CEO and your C-suite business colleagues when you arrived at AFLAC? They did. They give you a list of Shelia, we need to get these things done right away, or were you brought in to kind of strategize about how to enable more of a digital enterprise?
00:06:53:02 - 00:07:22:17
What was that? What were those conversations like? Very interesting conversations like is is very much a company that is focused on I like to say, two very, very primary focuses, one around relationships and then the other on results. The relationship side, when I came in, one of the first things that I was asked to focus on was truly understanding individuals in roles in the business, building those relationships, understanding the business.
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So there wasn't a specific list of, I need you to accomplish these five things or to go transform this business immediately. So they were really looking for me to come in and understand the current state of the business. And of course, over time build a strategy or build on an existing strategy. There was a digital strategy that was already in slide.
00:07:43:05 - 00:08:05:07
So I really started being able to do that about the six month mark, working with my team to identify a future state strategy and future state operating model that we would start moving toward in coordination with our business. And that's one of the things that has been most unique to me is really that relationship side of as is very unique for a company this large to have that type of a focus.
00:08:05:15 - 00:08:26:22
interesting. How did that so how did that help you approach the job? What were the sort of when you talk about getting to know the organization, how did you do that? I saw an article recently where somebody said the first 90 days don't exist anymore. It's like the first two weeks and you're supposed to hit the ground running.
00:08:27:00 - 00:08:51:15
So you are. I did. I did spend time understanding. But very quickly, when you come in and you've been a CIO in and out of multiple organizations, you very quickly are able to assess and see areas of opportunity. So within the first 90 days, I absolutely was able to identify some of those opportunities as it relates to how we delivering services, how we're prioritizing our work with the business, what our four focus areas are.
00:08:51:16 - 00:09:14:15
Frankly, I think some of the focus was a little bit more distributed than it should be. So we've absolutely focused on what I like to call first things first and really understanding what's most important to the business and getting the value out of our investments with our business that way through focus and prioritization. Okay. What can you tell us about some of those areas that you chose to focus or refocus the business on?
00:09:14:17 - 00:09:44:20
Absolutely. We first of all, started with some business planning sessions with our business. We have identified about 4 to 5 key initiatives across the organization. One of the biggest initiatives and goals for us has been to focus on customer persistency. So really focusing on developing and retaining that very important customer base that we have here at AFLAC. And it's pretty easy then to start aligning some of your key investments around that primary goal.
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For example, of course we have other goals in support of our business to growth, our sales growth in our sales channels and driving more revenue and benefit to our customers ultimately is key for us as well. And of course, coming into this role, for me, I saw huge opportunities also to optimize our investment so that we're spending time on the right things that are going to drive the highest value for our business.
00:10:11:11 - 00:10:37:01
And that's been a huge shift to really have the team laser focused on working on those things that matter first. Yes, one of the questions I often ask CIOs is what has risen up or fallen a little further down on their priority list? That was especially a question that made sense during the depths of the pandemic, when a lot of things were changing at businesses and a lot of priorities had to be scrambled.
00:10:37:03 - 00:11:00:20
When you talk about your priority list now, tell us something about the what rose to the top of it. And in kind of an example sort of sense. Yes. What rose to the top of it for us is we have we have grown through acquisitions, our dental and vision and our plants business, our disability and management business. We're both acquisitions in the last five years for Aflac.
00:11:00:20 - 00:11:37:06
So those are maturing businesses. We absolutely have raised expectations around how we serve our customers and how we go to market as an integrated experience for those customers. Okay. We'll continue to be a focus for us this year going into 24. The thing that's a challenge to balance when you're focused on true transformation of your digital experience are things like how do I continue investing in the run, the business side of business of technology, as I like to say, How do you mature your journey to the cloud?
00:11:37:08 - 00:11:53:18
How do you mature and make sure that you're managing the lights on side of your business as well? So because that is always a tradeoff. So we have pushed some of those things further down. We'll have to get to those next year. So you can't push those off more than a year or two because they are required for your business.
00:11:53:18 - 00:12:14:10
And certainly that's been something that has been a bit of a challenge for us to manage well. And you had mentioned when we talked earlier that the journey to the cloud has started a little later at AFLAC than at some other companies. Where are you with that now and what will that journey to the cloud look like in terms of your tech organization?
00:12:14:11 - 00:12:41:23
Yes, we actually started the journey to the cloud. The year that I joined. The prior leadership had already defined the digital strategy and really focused on one of our largest and toughest application areas, our enrollment platform. It's called Ever. Well, for our individual business, the original goal was not so much focused on cost, but was more focused on the the quality of that product.
00:12:42:01 - 00:13:01:18
And we were able to achieve those quality goals with that migration to the cloud. The teams learned a lot. We worked that with a partner, of course, of course. And then we also moved into a model where we started also observing and watching the investment in that and managing to expectations around investment as well. So that's been hugely successful for us.
00:13:01:18 - 00:13:26:15
That was the first. It was very large. What we're working on now is taking an approach, a two pronged approach. One is looking at our distributed platforms with a two year plan to migrate most of those to the cloud. Some of those applications will be sunset or decommissioned. Some will go to the cloud as is without without major refactoring, and some will be fully transformed.
00:13:26:15 - 00:13:45:23
And we we're really thinking about that relative to importance to our business, what we call our Tier one or most significant differentiating application. We will look to have those more cloud native as soon as we can. Compared to our commodity services. We may not be so concerned about those and let those run a little bit more as is.
00:13:46:01 - 00:14:13:04
Yeah, well I often wonder how the whole Amazon factor is impacting the plans that companies are making because the and by that I mean the way consumers expect certain features that turn up all the time now on Amazon and using the Google search engine and that sort of thing by is and it impacts it hugely and it's because consumer expectations are changing that is their their expectation and their experience in everyday life.
00:14:13:04 - 00:14:47:15
So that transposes into the business experience as well. And so absolutely is one of those drivers to get to the cloud so that you can experience, have those experience. It's a little bit tougher if you're running on legacy technologies. You are limited by especially on that user interface side, some of the things that you can do. Is there anything you want to highlight that has happened under under your guidance in the last year, year and a half, that consumers are really noticing in the market what is standing out to them these days from from a consumer expectation?
00:14:47:15 - 00:15:15:15
One of the applications that we've worked on is absolutely focusing on our my app like experience, and that is that consumer view of how you interface with Flag and how you consume the products and services that we have. So in the past year to two years, that has been a huge focus for us. We will have continued focus on integrating more experiences into that platform or to other platforms similar to that experience.
00:15:15:17 - 00:15:42:18
Okay, good. I want to pivot over now to talk more specifically about the CIO 100 Award for Innovation that your technology team won this year in 2023. And it was it doesn't have a very glamorous name, the name of it was code based processing. And it's it's a part of your transformation journey, the commitment to using digital solutions to make life easier for customers and so forth.
00:15:43:00 - 00:16:17:00
What tell us about that project and why it was such a winner for AFLAC? First, listening to that journey started prior to my joining Aflac, and it actually started as a challenge to reduce some of the error rates that we were seeing in our claims processing. So it more from actually meeting, meeting that expectation, addressing the gaps in the error rates to actually also driving efficiencies and being able to drive that more accurate experience.
00:16:17:05 - 00:16:44:19
We have about 46% of our claims today that are auto processed. We like to call that through our cloud based processing. And basically that means for the most part, it does not require human touch. It gives us the opportunity to free up, for example, our customer service reps from working on some of them more lower, I would say lower impactful claims and freeing up their time so they can spend time when we may have a claimant who actually needs someone on the end of the phone to talk to.
00:16:44:19 - 00:17:05:05
That would be a much more serious situation, whether it be an accident or health issue. So all around it's been hugely successful for us. We've continued that rollout. We're on a multiyear journey for that. We're rolling it out across other lines of business as well. And it's also a core platform that we're looking to share across other lines of business and also with our team in Japan.
00:17:05:07 - 00:17:34:03
Yes, Well, and I've I've been involved when I was editor in chief at CIO magazine, I was very involved with the CIO 100 Innovation Awards. And I have stayed involved through leadership live over the years. And when I looked at what you had, what you had one and why you had one here, what I found really interesting, I was not surprised to see that AI and machine learning were a big part of it, but it was back office operations that were being improved.
00:17:34:05 - 00:18:03:16
And what I think probably put you into the winning category just from my own experience, was that this has been deployed across three lines of business already. Your accident, your hospital, your short term disability and the numbers, the results were very impressive. More than 25,000 claims a month are being processed through AI and machine learning, and those are those are just very those are very interesting and big numbers.
00:18:03:18 - 00:18:31:03
They are and they are. And there's huge opportunity to further leverage that, not only domestically, but in our Japan business as well. I just had the opportunity last week to have some discussions with our Japan CIO about the potential to leverage that in Japan as well. Are now when we're talking about AI and machine learning in this context, we're talking about the more traditional and established artificial intelligence and machine learning, not generative AI.
00:18:31:03 - 00:18:55:10
So let's, let's switch courses here and talk a little bit about what your views are if you're doing any kind of work in general. AI That is just something that every CIO I've talked to recently seems to be interested in and there's a lot of poking around going on that. So tell us about that part of the AI experience at AFLAC.
00:18:55:12 - 00:19:25:11
Yeah, so I always like to say that we are proceeding with both innovation and caution at the same time. So what are we doing when, when that first popped and it literally did pop pretty quickly overnight almost. It was one of those things that had a hockey stick curve as far as interest. And one of the first things that we did is is pulls a across organizational team together to look at how we would respond to that.
00:19:25:13 - 00:19:53:08
Things like ensuring that our global data usage and protection policies were accommodating of these recent advancements in AI, also looking how we would manage it. We did things like refreshing our global risk management policies as it relates to AI with AFLAC, also looking at our global security information policy. So all of these things were some of those things that you have to think about.
00:19:53:08 - 00:20:17:18
So what are the guardrails that I want to put around that? How open do I want to be with general AI in my ecosystem? Because for us, it's most important first and foremost, that we are absolutely protecting the confidentiality of our customer data. That trust is one piece that's that's key for us. So we've also done some awareness campaigns across the company, things like company wide awareness campaigns.
00:20:18:00 - 00:20:39:21
We have restricted some use of how we use Gen AI across the company. So we are managing and tracking that. We have a bit of an oversight function there and we've also developed what we like to call our Gen AI principles of use in both the US and Japan. So that's the foundational. good, good, good is yes.
00:20:39:21 - 00:21:11:23
And we've also we've also recently spent some time educating our senior leadership team and our board as well. So we have put together education sessions around Gen I and I so that our board and our leadership team can understand some of what we are managing too and where we see opportunities for Aflac. We also have to come up with a number of different use cases that we're piloting things internally, focus for employees, things like of course using it for code generation and employee productivity.
00:21:12:01 - 00:21:35:13
So that's, that's one aspect. And then on the more business facing side, we're looking at, of course, the customer service area. Would there be opportunities to leverage and drive some efficiencies there? We have some very specific use cases that we have in our Hach laboratory that's within my team. We have an innovation lab called Hach. We're looking at how we can leverage it there as well.
00:21:35:13 - 00:21:56:07
For example, for incoming disparate enrollment in files that we're processing, how could we start to manage that difference differently through leveraging the large language models and strategy? So there's a lot of opportunity. We're testing. I think we will throw that out with caution first to make sure that we have that data protected that we need to have protected.
00:21:56:07 - 00:22:14:11
But I do think it's going to be important for all companies to look at how do you how do you leverage leverage this don't don't get caught up in the hype cycle of it. But really think about, is there an opportunity for it to drive value for your business? Where do you do that? And then test, learn and then manage it and manage it to your expectations as well?
00:22:14:17 - 00:22:46:15
So we're in the test and pilot mode, I think in production with GPC, right? Well, and as you pointed out when we talked previously, there's also a lot of legislation out there that's starting to turn up in different states, like some of the disclosure regulations kick in if you're generating any AI based response to customers. So I with with all your experience as a technology leader, is this an unusual amount of hype and attention around a technology?
00:22:46:15 - 00:23:09:05
I mean, it seems so early in the game that we're having to actually start thinking and watching legislation out there. It just now maybe this is a factor of the Internet age, but it seems to me like it's moving so fast across so many different sectors of society. I mean, even legislation starts getting involved early. I agree. I think I think that is early.
00:23:09:05 - 00:23:42:14
And for me, this really gets down to at the underpinnings of all of this is the data, the data around your company, the aggregation of data externally. How do you think about that? How do you protect it? How available do you want it to be? And of course, one of those those are several risks with Gen AI, as we all know, the hallucinations, making sure that there's a way to ensure that your data is being put out there in an accurate fashion and managing what's being sent externally, those are all key things.
00:23:42:14 - 00:24:08:05
So we're really looking more for apps like at some of those more controlled models where we can take advantage of some of the Gen I large language model capabilities while also protecting our data that needs to sit inside the walls of like, okay, yes. Actually I think everyone I have talked with over about this in the last six months, the first thing that everyone talks about is the security and the trust around the information and the data.
00:24:08:07 - 00:24:31:00
And we and it almost always is the case that as soon as I started talking about AI and Gen I, we start getting questions in the audience. But these questions are actually around your journey to the cloud. So we can we can switch horses again here. The this one of our alert audience members points out that a journey to the cloud implies that there's a destination.
00:24:31:02 - 00:24:52:07
Do you expect a point of completion migrating to the cloud or will it always be an ongoing effort and priority? From where we sit, it will be an ongoing effort in priority, almost anything that you do in technology. From my perspective, is continuous evolution that you have to iterate through. There's new technologies and new advancements that come out.
00:24:52:09 - 00:25:12:21
Why I say Journey to the Cloud is I do think at a point when you have had legacy technologies, you have to take that leap and actually move to newer technologies to be able to adopt the incoming technologies right? So you have limitations without taking that move. So that's why I say journey. It is a journey we haven't hadn't started that previously.
00:25:12:21 - 00:25:38:10
We have a couple of applications and a very large application in the cloud, but this journey is truly to focus and to focus on moving a full suite of distributed applications to the cloud rather than taking it through a prolonged lifecycle and to do the beginnings in the early stages of the journey. Do they necessitate CIOs to pick one major provider or to experiment with any of the couple?
00:25:38:10 - 00:26:05:11
There's probably three or four major leading cloud platforms out there. How did you approach that? I think it's a matter of of choice for us here at APP, We have chosen a primary provider. We're largely a us today that really centralized also around making the conscious choice around how do we have a focus around investment, not just the investment in technology and leverage of that, but investment in people.
00:26:05:17 - 00:26:39:05
A big part of the journey to the cloud or any new technologies chat app, for example, all of those require investment in people. And so a part of that has also been putting together a revised approach to ongoing training, upskilling our organization, transitioning talent. A big part of my transformation plan in the future is truly around what we call building the talent in the workforce right of the future, transforming talent from the inside, and giving our teams the opportunity to learn these new skills are very excited about it.
00:26:39:07 - 00:27:02:07
But that's going to be a key, a key part, and we've invested so much in our in our teams here, in our people. We want them to feel confident that there's a path for them at Slack and that we're growing and investing them and giving them the opportunities to learn with these new technologies. Well, that's a wonderful pivot point to my next question, which is about the size and scope of your technology team today.
00:27:02:07 - 00:27:25:12
How have you structured or perhaps tinkered with or even restructured how I.T is working to deliver the most value to the business? Talk about talk about those people in the way you have it all set up here. I'll talk about our people. We actually are in a transformation toward a product aligned model, so that's very much our future state.
00:27:25:12 - 00:28:07:05
We're just starting that journey. We're structured today in we have locations around the world. I have a delivery center in Northern Ireland. They're actually part of my team. I have a team based here in Columbus, Georgia. I have individuals based in Tampa, Florida, and in the Carolinas, in Charlotte and Columbia. And then, of course, we leverage third party partners from around the globe, a very large contingency in India that the total size of the team today with third party and my direct staff is about 1800 individuals supporting the full suite of applications for us for the most part.
00:28:07:07 - 00:28:36:01
So that's that's the team size quite large. The way that we're structured today and where we're going to are a little bit different. I'll talk, I'll talk through some of that. We actually are focused very much line of business today. We have a seeing a leader that focuses on our individual line of business, one that focuses on leading our group business, one that focuses on leading our plans, which is our lead management business, and then one that focuses on leading our dental and vision.
00:28:36:01 - 00:29:23:19
So those are business aligned organic, and we also have enabling teams and capabilities inside of my team that help to deliver services, partnering with those teams. I have a shared services team and if you think about that, we have centralized a lot of our platforms. So think about our Pega workflow system, for example. Anything that shared services around middleware, our integration layers, our APIs, our data space is a centralized function, and that really gives us the opportunity to get better leverage out of those technology to consolidate where we can and to manage the architectural direction to a more targeted state future, helping to reduce some of that redundancy across organization.
00:29:23:21 - 00:29:49:04
I also have a team of architects architecture, enterprise architecture team that works as a shared service across the whole ecosystem, and we have a support team that does things like our I.T, financial management, our IT and vendor management, right? I do portfolio think of it as a small, very lean portfolio function that helps to prioritize across all of our lines of business.
00:29:49:06 - 00:30:18:18
And their goal is to look at common themes also across where we see synergies that we can drive across our business and pull cross-functional teams together to work together toward more consolidated solution. I also have a infrastructure core and cloud organization and that team, just as it is, it's all of your traditional infrastructure. I have my new cloud office there as well is all of our new dev ops functions.
00:30:18:18 - 00:30:42:02
So as part of that transformation, you're eliminating or reducing roles of the past and you're building capabilities like your cloud office, like your fam ops capabilities for the cloud, all of these newer technologies and our dev ops. So we've got a huge focus on DevOps and enabling a pipeline approach to enabling our developers to promote to the cloud.
00:30:42:02 - 00:30:59:21
So there's been a tremendous amount of work that goes into that. It's really a fun journey. The teams are super excited to have the opportunity to move toward the future and gain these new skills while they're working toward a new target state. Yeah, because it's not so much that there's an enormous amount of change going on, although there is.
00:31:00:02 - 00:31:24:10
But along with the changes coming, all this opportunity to do different things. Exactly. And I do have other teams too. It sounds quite large entity anyway, and it is. Yeah, we have pulled our user centered design. We have a separate thing that focuses on user centered design and that is everything that you would expect. Everything from the research to the experience design to the user interface design.
00:31:24:10 - 00:32:03:06
So we have all of that that shared across that ecosystem. And then I have a very small team. I do have a leader that I have focusing on leading my transformation because it is so big and there's a tremendous amount of detail and technology. You know, it's all in the details. So my leader is running that transformation. She runs actually my transformation and my innovation, my Hatch lab team, the only place well, and I I've been running into more CIOs and technology leaders who end up establishing a transformation office, which is just an end.
00:32:03:06 - 00:32:32:13
It's always structured a little bit differently, but it is one it's almost a governance structure to have some kind of idea, somebody who's, I guess, watching all the trains coming in and out of the different stations. Exactly. And for us, we're actually just starting the move to a product aligned model that's very different than where we've been. So that's going to require the muscle of having a change agent leader to come in and help to lead the transformation through that operating model as well.
00:32:32:13 - 00:32:58:14
Yes. Well, and that was one of the things I mentioned in our introduction, that we were going to talk about the role of the CIO as change agent. I know over the years that CIO magazine, we always had stories about what CIO really meant. Chief Innovation Officer, Chief Integration officer, chiefs, various CIO designations. But the idea of the CIO is change agent.
00:32:58:16 - 00:33:22:06
Tell me how you see that. Has that role itself has changed over the last decade? Absolutely. Into all of those things that you said? I would say yes. Yes. And yes, all of those. And it's almost difficult to put I just say the role is a role of many hands. You have to put on a different hat depending upon where your organization is and what the expectation is and what's needed.
00:33:22:06 - 00:33:44:11
Frankly, I think a big part of our role is really understanding where is the organization organization at in the maturity, what do you do to be and then what core strands do you need to to flex and build upon and build a team that has those to get the organization to where they need to be. So to me, you can't think of yourself as just a technologist anymore.
00:33:44:11 - 00:34:15:00
I do have that technology background. I think that helps me to be very effective in this role given where this company is. It's very needed. Yes, there absolutely is a focus on the execution side. You have to be able to have the business strategy discussion as well at the highest level. For example, this morning, I walked out of a meeting with our CFO where I was taking and translating what we're doing into that high level discussion that tied into our budget and why things are the way they are and where we want to go all the way down to driving execution with the team and driving results.
00:34:15:02 - 00:34:34:19
So you have to have strategy put the plans and the actions and the team. The team is very important to drive the results and the expectations in the organization and the measures are important. It's very important, especially with CFOs. I was thinking one of the most things, things that you can do to be successful, be a partner with your CFO, right.
00:34:34:19 - 00:35:00:19
And and help your CFO and your leadership team to understand what your plans are. Make sure you're aligned on the key expectations. You can partner together and be change agents together. And I think that's one of the most powerful powerful things when you can work with your CFO and your peer, change your business leaders and really partner on being very aligned in your strategy together, where you're all addressing and shooting towards the same goals.
00:35:01:00 - 00:35:20:18
My measures of success at AFLAC are equal to the success of each of my business partners, so if they do not achieve their goals, I do not achieve my goal. So if I deliver a system and it's exactly what they need it and what they said they needed as business fell short because it actually missed the mark, we all missed the mark.
00:35:20:20 - 00:35:43:03
It's definitely a team team effort, but the change part of it is huge. I find that oftentimes as a CIO, you do need to be the one bringing in sometimes a bit of an opposing or challenging view of thinking outside and thinking, as I like to say, around different ways to think about even running your business of the future.
00:35:43:05 - 00:36:16:01
Well, I know one of the ways you have characterized your style of leadership is that you're an encourager and a challenger. Yes, but that's it's that's an interesting almost it's almost a bipolar approach to managing this, because encourager implies that you're supportive and, you know, everybody needs to win. But then Challenger is also the change agent. Part of it is how do you deal with the conflicts when you run into them between those two roles, encouraging and challenging?
00:36:16:03 - 00:36:39:05
I in dealing with my team, they will tell you I'm I usually will just be very transparent with the team and what we're doing right now. Of course, budget season is always one of those times where you do that and clearly lay out the goals and the expectations. There's different ways to get there. And so for me, it's really about here is the goal, here is the expectation that part isn't changing.
00:36:39:07 - 00:37:07:10
What I'm very open to talking about, discussing, hearing different views on is how we arrive there. The past is what you have. There's different approaches and different ways that we can arrive at a solution. So the more that you can engage your team and guide your leadership team in those discussions, be transparent about what the what it is and is not and how you're going to arrive at that and stick together or bringing people along with the changes.
00:37:07:10 - 00:37:32:19
Okay. And being transparent. Yes. Okay. I want to also I want to circle back and talk a little bit more. The Hatch Labs, that that is your essentially that's the innovation ecosystem or one of the pieces of it at AFLAC. But it's been there for a while. Right. And that was existing when you got there. What, if anything, have you done to change or broaden its mission?
00:37:32:20 - 00:37:51:00
Broaden the mission of it? We don't have more investment. So first of all, say innovation happens everywhere in the company. So you can't really at a lab or we call it hatch. We do have a specific purpose for it. But if anything, I'm going to this year focus on broadening, gathering innovative ideas from across the company, not just through.
00:37:51:00 - 00:38:33:03
Had a hatch hatch started as a laboratory to basically enable us to have an avenue for our business to test out our idea around potential problems or opportunities and solutions. Doing a proof of concept how we've changed that this year. We also have the front end of that that started with our ARPANET flight Northern Ireland team, where we actually have a rotational program as well, where we bring individuals in from our business and our technology teams out of their day jobs for, say, eight weeks, 8 to 12 weeks at a time, so that they can actually learn a different role through the innovative process and take on that role and do the ideation following our
00:38:33:03 - 00:38:52:07
innovation process from front to back that is partner and then with our Hatch laboratory to actually bring it to life through a proof of concept in hatch. So we are partnering that together. We're actually bringing that together across the US and Northern Ireland. So it's the strength of both of those approaches pull together that delivers value for our business.
00:38:52:09 - 00:39:19:09
We've delivered this last year, for example, Some of the things that we put through our Hatch laboratory was an approach to do new accounts set up in an expedited fashion with things like what we like to call claims nudging. So is there a way that we could incent our policyholders to file claims So all of those types of things come through our Hatch lab, but maybe it's something that we're not quite ready to fund or we're not quite how we want to approach solving for it.
00:39:19:15 - 00:39:38:21
There really are debate and to think out of the box and to bring in a new approach to solutions. And then from there we bring it. What if it's approved? We bring it in and then we make it a scalable solution. Production environment. I love that idea of claims nudging. It sounds so much better than claims, say nagging.
00:39:38:22 - 00:39:58:07
So nudge it is very much about. And what is a nudge? This is when a major life event happens, but your customers forget to tell you so. Yes, if you because normally if you have an event, you would go and say, I need to go file that claim. And if you're like me, I often forget. So this would be picking up that signal, right?
00:39:58:09 - 00:40:26:23
And then sending either a text, email or whatever communication to your your claimant and encouraging them to file a claim. Very simple is for encouragement, not over-the-top, but just encouraging. Right. And is this one of the areas where you're using some sort of AI as part of the process in that one? Not today, but in our work, in our Hatch lab, we will have AI solutions coming through there.
00:40:27:00 - 00:41:02:01
A lot of chat teams, chat GDP in the future I would see coming through our hatch. Okay. Well, I just I have to say, I love the name of the laboratory and I guess that's fairly common at our flex culture because of that adorable duck. Yeah. Yes. We had also talked about and I believe you're in the process of building an internal tech university curriculum where it be for upskilling in certain job categories, but it may also have a more general education function for the business as well.
00:41:02:03 - 00:41:26:12
Tell us about that. Yes, we're just in the early stages of actually leverage that at both of my prior companies as well. We're building out educational curriculum to really bridge the gap between our business and technology. So the original focus will be on, as I like to say, a core curriculum around how do you educate your business on technology, things like what is technical?
00:41:26:12 - 00:41:50:12
Dad We have a session now on all things data analytics and chat gap. Of course, that would probably come pretty early because everyone's interested. Having sessions on security and the things that you need to know about as an employee and as a business partner. It really opens up the gap between business and technology and helps your business leaders to understand so that it is no longer a black box to them.
00:41:50:12 - 00:42:12:02
And when you say maybe this isn't an area that we should invest in or not now, and focusing on priorities helps to it helps to bridge that gap and it brings a little bit of a different conversation because there's a better level of understanding beyond that. I would love to also be able to extend it so that we have the same in the reverse coming from our business to technology as well.
00:42:12:04 - 00:42:37:18
First things first, which will be the ticket or, you know, one of the things we have mentioned a few times but really haven't taken a deep dive in at all is your data strategy, is the data strategy a separate a separate area from the AI work, or are we assuming that anything to do with artificial intelligence is going to be database anyway?
00:42:37:18 - 00:42:56:22
So tell me how you are approaching enterprise data. Is there are there new structures you set up for it, for instance? So the way that we have a structure today, we're looking at that to ensure that it's our go forward model. We we have most our data and our analytics and our teams are in a shared service team together.
00:42:56:23 - 00:43:17:17
So it's really tough to separate. Data underpins everything that we do and so today those are delivered together out of one one team. There may be different teams, but it's in the same, same organization. We actually do have an analytics team on the front end and data scientists that we work with in our business of course as well.
00:43:17:19 - 00:43:43:13
Well, and I always have to ask CIOs what sort of talent are you looking for today? I know you have a large percentage of your current workforce is third party providers, and that you're probably bringing that number down somewhat, but you have to hire people in. So what are you looking at? So we are just getting ready to launch our talent transformation strategy as a whole.
00:43:43:15 - 00:44:14:09
The whole goal is truly to focus on building engineering skills and engineering competencies in the organization, whether it be data, data analytics, data science, core engineering skills in, whether it be with technologies, cloud technology or any of the cloud native languages. Those are all of the skills that we're looking. We're going to do both invest in internal and then also invest in bringing some internal talent in as well.
00:44:14:11 - 00:44:34:23
What is that landscape looking at looking like for you today? I know that this has always been a big topic of conversation, probably at USAA and at Liberty Mutual and some of your previous roles. How is it different today? What does it look like today to you? It's different today. I do think the post-COVID era looks very different.
00:44:34:23 - 00:45:03:05
Companies previously would always expect, at least for some percentage of the time, for their workforce to be in their core office. That's not really an expectation that I have today. I think to attract the talent that we need, you have to be open and be flexible with where you hire that talent from and the other pieces. It also drives a certain expectation around compensation and salaries, regardless of where your company says, that's not the determining factor anymore, it's really where the talent sits.
00:45:03:07 - 00:45:32:18
Okay? And I think that I think the compensation across the US and even the globe, for example, it's pushed that all to a much more level playing field and is still pretty competitive. From my perspective. Are the technical skill sets. Yeah. And when you are and you probably don't get to do this individually yourself, but when you're hiring, managers are trying to convince top notch engineers in data or software to join the company, what is the pitch?
00:45:32:18 - 00:46:11:20
What is the culture at Affleck that makes this insurance company more worthy of joining than any other? Yes, Affleck is a company that's very much focused on care, on purpose, caring for our employees, creating a great place to work that being able to drive innovative solutions. We're at a point of change transformation. And most technologists should be excited to be a part of a team like that because there's essentially a lot of moving parts, sort of moving parts and a lot of opportunity to think creatively about how do you problem solve, how do you how do you bring this technical debt into the future?
00:46:11:22 - 00:46:34:20
So it's really not a business as usual environment. That's what attracted me to Affleck as well as just the focus on this very unique culture here around relationship. It's a little bit of a familial style in the company focused on results. So it's a very unique blend. I'm excited to be a part of this team and happy to see where we are able to take things in the future for the organization.
00:46:34:22 - 00:47:00:20
Huge, huge opportunity. Are there any changing or expanding priorities with your CEO or the board in some of the areas that have gotten a lot more of attention a lot more attention lately, like diversity and equity and inclusion? I know you've had you've been interviewed on this many times and other positions, other CIO positions, and this has always been something very near and dear to your heart.
00:47:01:01 - 00:47:26:23
What do you what do you see of that at Affleck, the DNI, especially? DNI? Yes, the I we focused I would say a lot of the focus is on the diversity and the inclusion peace. It's a huge focus for us working everything from our direct employee base to our third party suppliers and our channels for third parties. So we're looking at all of that.
00:47:26:23 - 00:47:46:23
One of the things that is most important to me is making sure that we have all of the unique thoughts coming into the organization in the way that you do that is making sure that you have a diverse pipeline. So it starts there. If you don't start with a diverse pipeline, you certainly are not going to end up with wonderful, diverse individuals contributing in your organization.
00:47:47:00 - 00:48:15:14
And for me, being a female in technology, of course, that's still a passion for me. We're still pretty stagnant. The number of women going in the technical fields is remaining pretty, pretty low. Still is down far below 30% in that 20% plus range. So for us, that's also a huge focus. We have to keep making the workplace a great place to be so we can retain all these great minds through their careers and even through life changing in the middle of career.
00:48:15:14 - 00:48:33:11
So that they come out on the other side and they grow into leaders and helping to drive our companies forward. Very important. Very important. Well, it is. And I can remember there there was a turning point, and I'm not sure why or when. It was probably after the dot com boom and bust, but we were in the late nineties.
00:48:33:11 - 00:49:00:01
I was I was with Computerworld at that point and we were reaching a point where 34% of the IT workforce was women. It was a different story at the leadership levels. Of course, but it still was a third and growing. And today now we've lost. It feels like we've lost so much ground. Tell me about some of the things you're doing at AFLAC to be making up for some of that ground.
00:49:00:01 - 00:49:18:10
Like I think you relaunched, for instance, the Women in Tech program now. So having it having a focus group where you can actually have those conversations help women to be supported, also to help allies in the organization to understand what it means to to lift your your partner up and your peer in the organization to be a good ally.
00:49:18:10 - 00:49:46:05
That's very important. Of course, focusing on our recruiting practices is key for us as well. And then our overall benefits packages to making sure that we have an environment that's supportive of all of our employees. With women being a big a big of that as well. So all of those are key. Having the the flexible work options is important, as well as just having those basic benefits that are much needed throughout your your life and your life changes.
00:49:46:07 - 00:50:09:06
Well, in the span of your career over the last ten years, what have you seen happening with its internship program? I feel like they are back in vogue again. I know you have Larry and Vogue and I. Right. That's been one of the key things that I am expanding in here. And most companies that I've been a part of have seen that is a huge part of their pipeline.
00:50:09:08 - 00:50:28:04
To me, it's an exceptional way to get individuals in the door, to get them exposed to your company. They can see the culture, they can see the opportunity inside and see where they fit inside of your organization and where they can enjoy a career and and drive value for the company at the same time. So that is absolutely a key part of our talent strategy.
00:50:28:09 - 00:50:53:11
Growing our internship programs for the future. Yeah. How many interns do you host right now and how large do you want that to get in the future? We don't have a huge program right now. I think at AFLAC, it's probably less than less than 50, 30 to 50. So I would like to see that for technology probably double for our our pipeline of talent coming in 30 to 50 isn't so bad.
00:50:53:13 - 00:51:26:02
I you know, I've talked to CEOs that are lucky if they can get funding for three or so. So that's that's not too bad. That's not a bad start. Tell me about when what you have learned about your leadership style in especially in these last few years as you've gone through all of the disturbing and the dramatic changes of managing and leading during a pandemic and now post-pandemic and just all the changes we're all dealing with, it feels like at a much faster rate these days.
00:51:26:04 - 00:51:52:12
What have you learned about yourself? What has changed in the way you lead people? Well, absolutely. I as well as I think many people have learned how very resilient they are. Taking a good surprise, right, for the positive in that I think you learned through some of those challenging situations and things that you just wake up in the morning and your day turns out very differently than you expect.
00:51:52:14 - 00:52:15:19
So that's been a big thing for me is how do I turn some of those challenges and opportunities and really seeking out ways to do that. That's certainly been something flexibility comes with that as well. Learning to be flexible. Your plans can't be as rock solid as they used to be. Things are changing so quickly, not only the pandemic, just technology in general.
00:52:15:21 - 00:52:34:15
And for me, I've always been a transparent leader, but I am just such a believer in lead from the front. Be who you are, show up as the person that you are, and that's going to shine through and with your team. I think the trust is key to transparency plays right into that. So show up, be who you are.
00:52:34:15 - 00:52:54:20
I've learned that throughout my career. Don't try to lead from a position that's just not your personality. Yeah, or a lofty position above it all. Absolutely. I am one who I will. I will work in the sessions with the CFO. In the very next meeting I'll be in a room. Slaves rolled up working with architects on the next solution.
00:52:55:01 - 00:53:20:15
And I do think you have to pivot between all of those many, many, many thinking hats as a CIO are important. Yes, well, that's actually fun that you get to still do that. Very few CIOs get to put their hands on anything that work, work, product related. I got to make time to do that. And one of an organization I do we do technology reviews with our architecture team.
00:53:20:15 - 00:53:43:11
It's a way for me to also stay close to and see the direction and make sure that we're heading in the right direction as well. So there's ways that you can implement processes in your organization so that you can stay pretty well connected. Good, good. And I know that outside of our flight, for a number of years, you've been involved on the board of the Technology Business Management Forum.
00:53:43:13 - 00:54:08:23
Yes. Talk a little bit about that. What is that about and what has that done for you in the way or how has it helped you manage all the enormous expenses and responsibilities of a multimillion dollar tech budget? Absolutely. Well, first of all, just being on the board has been great to be among peers in the industry. We're all solving similar challenges.
00:54:08:23 - 00:54:30:16
So if one of the benefits is absolutely connecting into that peer network, there's always something that someone that you can reach out to depending upon the situation that you're in. I guarantee you someone else is dealing with the same thing or has already been through that. So there's a lot of information sharing just there. And then from a practice of technology, business management in general have implemented that at two companies.
00:54:30:16 - 00:54:57:23
This is now my third where I'm having the opportunity to implement it. The rigor around financials, transparency of financials, how that ties into the services, the technical services and technology solutions that you're providing to to the business are key. That rigor around mapping your financials to whether it be your applications, mapping your labor is important to understand. How do you think about those things strategically in the future?
00:54:57:23 - 00:55:17:08
How do you make decisions? Where am I spending too much? And maybe where do I need to shift dollars and start spending less and divert those dollars to other areas? So for me, that's been a key tool that I've been able to use to help me to drive strategy of the future in the organization. It's key, especially when working with your CFO.
00:55:17:08 - 00:55:43:10
The more of that information that you have, you're able to help them to understand your strategy and your decisions much better because it ties in your strategy with the financials. Excellent. Okay. Final wrap up question. The for the people that are watching this video, maybe listening to it live or will be listening to the podcast and so forth, and aspire to be CEOs in the future or that's where their career path is heading.
00:55:43:12 - 00:56:07:20
What are some of your biggest lessons learned over the years as a CIO that you what things you wish you knew sooner? Probably The one I will say is sometimes the biggest know in your career will turn out to be the best. Yes. You ever got some of the roles that I was told Not now you're not ready, man.
00:56:07:22 - 00:56:32:16
That time that I had to stay in another role or take a different role, I gained skills that I'm leveraging today. So be resilient, focus on where you want to be. But but don't be afraid of taking on parallel roles where you're going to be skill building earlier in your career, the more focus on skill building as much as you can, don't focus on climbing the ladder of focus on being known for something.
00:56:32:16 - 00:56:50:09
Be that person that becomes a go to person, or people see you as an expert. How I always like to tell my team and they would tell you, yes, Shelia will always ask me, What's your major and what's your minor? What's the one thing that people come for? And then what's your minor? Right. So those those things are key.
00:56:50:11 - 00:57:10:19
And some of those relationships that you'll build through those journeys are ones that you'll carry with you in your career, and they'll be there to help you out and help coach and mentor you and cheer for you when you start landing those next positions as well. Yes. And I think that is the huge benefit of the the very broad and rich and deep CIO networks that exist out there.
00:57:10:21 - 00:57:35:07
I know you've been you've been awarded a number of those organizations yourself, and I'm always very encouraged when I see CEOs that are actively taking part in those networks and showing up at conferences and doing that sort of thing as well. And also showing up on shows like this. So thank you so much for joining me today. It has been absolutely great having a chance to talk with you in such depth.
00:57:35:07 - 00:58:04:16
Thank you, Shelia. Thank you. All right. If you joined us late today, do not despair. You can watch the full episode later today here on LinkedIn, but also on and on Kaios YouTube channel. CIO Leadership Live is also available as an audio podcast wherever you find your podcasts. I hope you enjoyed and learned from today's conversation with Shelia Anderson, the CIO of AFLAC, as much as I did.
00:58:04:18 - 00:58:30:23
We'll be back again in two weeks on Wednesday, November 8th at noon Eastern with Marc Younger, who is the CIO and head of I.T. for Survey Pharmaceuticals. Thanks for tuning in today. Thanks. Especially for our audience members who sent in some questions and do take a moment to subscribe to CIO's YouTube channel. You can find all 116 previous episodes of CIO leadership.
00:58:30:23 - 00:58:44:09
Live there. Take care out there. And thanks for joining us. We'll see you here next time.