Bringing Decentralized IT Together at AIG

Q: What is your view on the implementation of new technologies and bleeding edge versus a more conservative approach?

MP: One of the policies we try to follow is we will look to do leading technologies but not necessarily bleeding edge. We look for the first patch release before we do an implementation because we have to guarantee implementation on the infrastructure. When you look at the business by business groupings, we’ll look at different risk factors to stay competitive within the marketplace. Certain businesses have a higher tolerance for risk. On average we will use leading edge and not use bleeding edge. We will test bleeding edge in our environment and do an 18-month analysis in our labs and not let it out. We’re firm believers in following engineering principles: testing, proving it, quality assuring it and then letting it out to the mainstream. We’ve done that with architectural patterns, Web services, WIFI (mobile or wireless computing).

PR: There are about 30 to 40 emerging technologies we’re following and we have a grid that maps them to the business applicability and that will drive us into the lab to prove them out to prepare them for readiness for leading edge for the business value but not bleeding edge.

MP: I meet with the presidents of each company and we look at their major hot buttons. Perry’s organization works with the CTO and we lay out the strategies for each technology so it allows the companies to spend money very focused. So we track a lot of different horizons.

PR: A good example there in terms of readiness is not just that that technology is ready to be implemented in a business solution, we have to be able to support it in our infrastructure with our system administrative staff.

MP: And we look at cost implementation as well. Is it affordable?

Q: What steps have you implemented in your organization to ensure good relationships with your vendors?

PR: We’ve implemented a strategic framework to manage our top vendors. So we went through and basically the top dozen we work with, we’ve laid out this strategic framework we use to understand the product roadmap with the vendors and set up meetings and briefings for the technology staff, myself and Mark and get [the vendors’] technology into our lap so we have a full complement of their technology. Basically through the sessions we address any issues we have and what we can do. What we do with roadmaps is fit them into our own architectural frameworks. We don’t use all technology from a particular vendor but with our more strategic [ones] we see where their products and their roadmaps fit in to our own plans as we move forward. We’ve done that with our major vendors to ensure pretty good relationships.

MP: I sit down with their senior leadership and identify what their roadmaps are and who is their competition so we can lay out the right strategies and apply the technologies appropriately. So we determine if it’s a good strategy — long term or the flavor of the month. So we work closely with preferred vendors.

Q: Is more money being spent on network security this year?

MP: In general, security is always a priority. Security is a risk assessment. AIG sells many products that revolve around security due to our analysis and we do focus on security quite heavily. We also focus on wireless communication, mobile workforce, as well as infrastructure upgrades. When you look at wireless you have to have the right infrastructure to support it. IT telephony is also key, as well as a concentration on CRM and call center technology to focus on our customer base and being able to support their needs.

Q: Which of your skills has served you best in managing IT?

PR: I think creativity is one that clearly has helped me. The issues and challenges we face at AIG are unique. There are not a lot of firms that have the size, scale and global reach AIG has so some of the challenges we face day to day are brand new. We’re pushing out new ground so we constantly have to come up with creative solutions to manage it.

MP: We’re in the process of reinventing organizational management and understanding how to optimize the workforce is a key attribute of this group. We have a lot of personalities. We’re very good at listening and communicating. One of the strengths that has been to my advantage has been to build a workforce and develop organizations.

Q: What advice would you give someone looking to advance his or her career the same way you have?

MP: There are two challenges you’re always going to have if you want to advance yourself. You have to be willing to understand you don’t always have the answers and that you’re able to find them. And you have to know when to capitalize on the ideas. I think if you’re going to advance yourself in any career you have to be a very, very good listener and you have to have a clear vision statement of where you want to be and manage by objectives and follow that course and be willing to modify it depending on the situation in front of you. So you have to be flexible.

PR: You have to be flexible and be able to listen to people and be able to take a stand and gather the facts and find the answers and make a decision, which is really a key thing people have to do. You can’t be afraid and always do the safe thing. You won’t always have all the information. You have to learn when you have enough information and make a call.

Q: What keeps you awake at night?

MP: Ensuring I’m providing the value that this company needs. We are part of the business value chain and what keeps me up at night is coming up with new creative methods to ensure we are providing the value the business seeks.

PR: For me, it’s coming up with the next set of technologies that we’ll be able to implement in our infrastructure that will carry us forward. You don’t know today what tomorrow will bring and what technology challenges you’ll have, so I’m living in a world of a lot of ambiguity, so continuing to sort through that ambiguity and come up with what’s next for AIG’s infrastructure. That’s what I constantly think about.

If you know of a CIO or CTO who would like to be profiled, please contact Esther Shein at [email protected].