The Hartford CIO Deepa Soni on transforming at scale

Deepa Soni’s CIO story is one of sacrifice, breaking through comfort zones, and building confidence in redefining the art of the possible. In a career spanning such companies as IBM, KeyCorp, M&T Bank, and BMO, she has “answered the call” many times, most recently as CIO of The Hartford, where she is responsible for the overall strategy, vision, and execution of business technology, cyber, data analytics, and data science.

On a recent episode of the Tech Whisperers podcast, Soni and I unpacked her leadership philosophies and business-centric approach to technology. She also shared some of the lessons she’s learned about taking risks, navigating complexity, fostering an innovative culture, and creating significant impact across the business.

Afterwards we spent some more time focused specifically on Soni’s perspectives around the power of what she calls “the 4 EAs @scale, @pace”: enterprise agility, enterprise AI, extreme automation, and employee (skill) advancement. What follows is that conversation, edited for length and clarity.

Dan Roberts: The imperative to drive growth, improve operational efficiencies, and enhance customer experiences has become even more heightened of late. What role does the power of enterprise agility play in your efforts to achieve these imperatives?

Deepa Soni: We strongly believe that enterprise agility and speed-to-market are key competitive advantages, and they’re a key tenant of our objectives. We are focused on being agile, not ‘doing Agile.’ The second aspect of our agility is that we strongly believe in enterprise agility — the business, the technology, finance, HR, all functions came together to really change our ways of working to deliver technology. That has been a key foundation of how we work, and it’s given us the foundation to actually take the next step change, the next EA, which is the power of enterprise AI.

As part of your enterprise AI pillar, you use the phrase ‘information advantage’ to signify a strategy of leveraging data, advanced analytics, and machine learning to unlock value for your business and customers. Can you expand on that?

As we think about our next step change in driving business outcomes and competitive advantage for The Hartford, it is really our AI-led transformation. As an insurance company, we are quite data rich, so how do we take that rich data and convert it into valuable insights at scale, at speed, at the fingertips of our decision-makers? We call this whole phenomenon information advantage.

The opportunity in front of us is bringing the power of advanced analytics and artificial intelligence to the front line — to our claim adjusters, to our service professionals, to our salespeople, to our underwriters — giving them the information they need to make their jobs easier, faster, so they can respond to the customer in a frictionless experience. It’s all about taking raw data and converting that into insights powered by AI and delivering it to the front line.

That’s what we call our information advantage. It’s a simple, powerful concept, but hard to do. But we believe we have all the ingredients to make this happen and deliver a competitive advantage for The Hartford.

As part of your extreme automation pillar, you’re on a journey to simplify and modernize applications and data assets to drive speed, agility, and innovation. How is this approach impacting the IT organization itself?

As we think about competing in the marketplace and creating competitive advantage, speed of delivery is critical. The IT organization has a lot of processes today that could have a big advantage by being automated. So while we talk about the digitization of the business processes, the story of extreme automation is digitizing and extremely automating our processes within IT so we can accelerate our speed-to-market.

This is something that is going to change the face of IT in terms of how we work, who works on what things, and where we focus our energy. This is really streamlining developer experience and streamlining our engineers’ experience so they can focus on delivering business functionality and not toil on technical stuff.

That naturally leads us to the power of employee skill advancement. In the context of these other pillars, it becomes clear that talent is really the pillar that underpins everything.

Exactly. As we take on these key pillars of transformation, employee advancement is the one that is really critical. This pillar is about investing in our employees and investing with our vendors and our vendor resources, and really preparing them for the next generation of skill sets. This will ensure that, as we do extreme automation and leverage the power of AI and data and analytics more, our employees will be ready to take on that challenge and be a core partner in working with the business. This is why maximizing talent is a major element of The Hartford’s strategy.

Can you talk about what EA @scale, @pace, means and how that’s a differentiator for The Hartford?

Everybody’s doing all of these things, but I think what’s an important differentiator for us is we’re doing it enterprise wide, which is @scale. And we’re doing it @pace, meaning the speed at which we’re moving is probably the fastest that I’ve ever seen in my career. We have internal and external benchmarks to show that the transformation — the way we’re moving from where we started to where we are and where we’re going — is fast paced.

As you look to the future, what does this look like when you get to the other side? What’s the vision, and what does EA @scale, @pace enable the organization to do differently?

As we look at the future of insurance, new risks are emerging. These changes, along with technological disruptions, are combining to radically change the risk landscape. Customers are demanding and expecting a more digital approach to the insurance. Simplification and digitization of processes will continue to be at forefront for us. The vision is to have a technology organization that is not embroiled in the non-business-centric work but is largely focused on business centricity. The power of EA @scale, @pace supports that vision by giving us a state-of-the art technology organization that can drive innovation, agility, and growth for the business.

For more insights from Soni’s leadership journey and playbook, tune in to the Tech Whisperers podcast.

Digital Transformation, Insurance Industry, IT Leadership