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New England Financial provides comprehensive insurance and investment products to about 2.5 million customers through a national field force of dedicated and independent agents and financial advisors. Headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts, and numbering several thousand employees, NEF is one of MetLife's flagship product lines. Like its parent company, NEF supports a large number of complex, proprietary information systems that enable its diverse product offerings. Primarily a user of mainframe-based information technologies, NEF has moved with the industry over the last decade into client-server and Web-enabled systems for customer servicing and product management. As a result, almost any flavor of desktop, middle-tier, or back-end technology may be found within NEF's data centers, home office, or branch agencies.
For NEF's IT organization (NEF/IS), managing the complexity and diversity associated with this embedded base of IT is a formidable task. Tracking the location and versions of hardware and software presents its own special challenges, as does finding the owners and technology thought leaders associated with particular IT products or services. When the author joined NEF/IS in 1997, there was no master plan for the migration of existing IT or the introduction of emerging technologies. Furthermore, there was no systematic process for the assessment of IT options and the creation of a long-term IT strategy. Last but not least, there was no road map to identify internal experts with the systems over which they held responsibility. Finding out where to turn required multiple phone calls, e-mail messages, and a lot of unproductive time.
This is not to suggest that NEF/IS was poorly managed. It merely suffered the fate of any large IT organization growing in response to the various internal and external forces driving the parent enterprise's IT investments. In fact, the chief executive officer at the time, Robert Shafto, had formerly served as the first CIO of NEF, and his successor as CIO, Greg Ross (now retired), was one of the finest IT executives under whom I have served. These enterprise business leaders had a clear sense of what IT could do for them and had developed a cogent picture of IT's future within NEF. For its part, the IT organization was very much aligned with the business side of the house. Generally speaking, NEF/IS also enjoyed a solid record in terms of IT service and project delivery. Nevertheless, high-level architectural discussions were not informed by a detailed picture of the current state of NEF/IS investments, nor did the rank and file of the IT organization know where to turn for expertise on particular technologies. With the MetLife merger, it became increasingly important to coordinate and standardize IT purchases. As part of my role within NEF/IS, I was asked to address this gap in the IT organization's planning capabilities and corporate knowledge.
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