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"Investing in a new technology requires a business case" - Sriram Krishnan, executive VP, information technology, ING Life

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VoicenData Bureau
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The insurance industry has been growing in leaps and bounds. All the bigwigs of the business world have made their presence felt in this sector. The insurance industry, like many others, has been in this business for quite some time. Ten-year old ING Life Insurance is a joint venture between ING Insurance International BV and Exide Industries. Today the company is present in over 200 cities and serves over 1 mn policy holders in India. The company distributes its products through 2 channels-tied agency and alternate channel. ING operates through 3 businesses in India: ING Vysya Life Insurance, ING Vysya Bank, and ING Investment Management. VOICE&DATA spoke to Sriram Krishnan, executive vice president, information technology, ING Life Insurance to get a rundown on the company's ICT infrastructure and its plans for the future. Excerpts-

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-Sriram Krishnan, executive VP, information technology, ING Life

What are the top ICT challenges faced by the insurance sector? And the key tech trends?

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We use ICT to engage our distribution channels and customers. We use SMS and email as the means of communication. Insurance being a transaction and an event based business, it's important to connect with the stakeholders at the right time. With the advent of social media, it is very important to understand the needs of our customers and employees and take proactive steps. Mobile technology is another area of interest. Also, not all customers and field staff are tech savvy. Investing in a new technology requires a business case which is not very easy to build. Without proper implementation, failures would increase and this tends to thwart further investments. Therefore, more often than not, insurers prefer to be followers than early adopters.

What are the trends in the insurance sector as far as ICT deployment is concerned?

There are diverse trends in the insurance sector, some are moving from decentralized to centralized and vice versa. However there is surely one drive to optimize on the investment and leverage technology-related portals, mobile, remote availability, offline, etc. It is also time to look internally, ie, optimize the processes and delivery management, which would ensure that in the long run we are more cost and performance oriented. Outsourcing is another trend which needs to be constantly kept under observation, wherein non-core activities may get outsourced.

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Have you opted for outsourcing with respect to ICT-related works. How is it working for you?

We have only outsourced bulk emails and SMSes, which is working well for us. We follow a well-defined process in evaluating our vendors.

There is a lot of pressure on a CIO to reduce costs. What strategies have you planned for your company?

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We adopt a long-term view, ie, for over 3-5 years, and continue to invest in technologies that meet business needs. We avoid putting the technology ahead of the business, realizing that this is a sure recipe for failure. We also ensure that there is a strong business case for each project that is conceptualized.

Are you looking at deploying big data?

We have not deployed big data in our organization as of now and don't intend to in the next fiscal. However looking at the huge acceptance of big data in the current market dynamics, I believe that this can be certainly thought of.

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Are you looking at 3G applications for your internal or external working?

We have not used 3G applications for our internal and external use as of now, but we will use this to engage actively with our distributors.

One of the biggest limitations faced by the network today is bandwidth. New technologies such as 3G will break that barrier making data available in more ways than we can think of today. Some of the advantages we see of implementing 3G are increased usage of multimedia and reaching out to offices in remote locations. 3G is making IT accessible to even remote locations, which is helping insurers to reach out to a larger population and penetrate into currently untapped markets.

What challenges do you face while sourcing ICT products and tools from the Indian market?

India is a vast country and there are just too many locations. So, whenever there is an expansion it is a challenge to provide better tools and technology to our employees. However there is none in particular that is a matter of concern for us. IT in insurance, unlike the banking sector, is still evolving and there is a lot of opportunity waiting to be tapped. While in the current context there will be a temporary cut in the IT spend, but investment in IT will continue. As such there is no major barrier, but we should adopt technology to enable business, and that should be the key driver.

How do you see the role of an IT head changing over time?

IT is very critical to business as IT is a business-enabler. It helps in coming out with new business models. Today, CIOs are playing a major role in the decision-making of the organization. A business today can flourish only with a good IT framework in place.

What is the investment planned for ICT in FY12 and the forecast for FY13?

The IT spend depends on a combination of factors, including the market scenario. As an IT head, it becomes important to make the right investments in accordance with business requirements, while keeping in mind the fast-paced IT innovations.

The business has not clearly specified its needs, but we would be looking at exploring applications for customer acquisition and service. Meanwhile, we continue our investments in web portals by adopting the latest technologies.

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