Gaining the trust of business partners is key to IT success. In a
corporate environment, it can take years. Building this kind of
trust— and doing so at an ambitious pace—was the challenge
that faced Erie Insurance Group’s IT leadership in 2012.
At the time, IT was not as closely connected with its business partners and with the agents in Erie’s distribution system
as it needed to be. A concerted effort has resulted in renewed
connections with every group that depends on Erie’s technology
force for its day-to-day needs and its long-term success.
Re-establishing that kind of alignment within Erie was once
an aspiration for IT leaders; now it’s central to Erie’s operating
“Working as one team across the
company is a big part of what we’ve
endeavored to create,” says senior
vice president Ruben Fechner. “Ef-
fective teamwork existed organically
in various areas, but our leadership
team has spent a lot of time with
our partners in the business and key
vendors to make collaboration part
of our work patterns.”
Before that could happen,
though, Fechner, CIO Bob Ingram
and others had to focus on the
IT workforce and system quality. They spent a full year laying
the foundation for trust among the team. Restoring quality
renewed IT’s credibility with business partners and agents. With
this foundation in place, Ingram tapped Fechner to strengthen
alignment with other stakeholders.
One of the key challenges, Fechner said, had to do with the
current IT structure. When he arrived at Erie in 2013, Fechner
faced an organizational structure built around centers of excellence,
technologies, and applications. “There were a lot of silos,” he says.
Following a partial IT reorganization, one of Fechner’s first
moves was to engage others in designing a structure that would put
the IT organization in direct alignment with business units. That’s
when Erie’s IT function went from many small teams with loose
alignment to business portfolios to dedicated, self-contained teams
that support primary business partners, explains Fechner. Designated IT leaders were established to provide accountability, end-to-end delivery, and application support. These aligned business and
IT teams now sit side-by-side in shared office space, supporting
both collaboration and communication.
While some IT functions, such as operations and architecture, remain centrally organized, Fechner explains all teams
Who Do You Trust?
Work on alignment at Erie Insurance Group has business and IT on the same track.
have a clear alignment to IT and business priorities.
“The alignment has made it easier for business partners to
connect with us because we are connected with them,” he says.
Another key to improving alignment was simplifying the IT
job structure. This challenge involved replacing a large number of
specialized job-descriptions with fewer titles and broader roles.
It took well over a year to implement both the structural
and job family changes as Fechner and his IT peers collaborated
with the business and the entire IT team on solutions.
The breadth of the impact also contributed to the thoughtful
approach. For instance, within IT, the changes literally impacted
the entire IT workforce. For many, it meant reporting to a new
manager and establishing connections with unfamiliar peers in
the new structure. For all, it meant stepping into broader roles.
How successful has it been? A year following adoption, IT
employees were surveyed to gauge their support. Ninety-four
percent reported personal motivation to grow and diversify their
skills to be successful in their new, broader roles. And 87 percent
reported having taken on a special project, new assignment or
other development to grow their skills and contributions.
“The consistency in structure and end-to-end orientation
within business portfolios is improving our ability to plan at the
organizational level,” says Fechner. “We’re in a much better posi-
tion to adjust the timing, scope, and priority of technology work
across Erie and therefore collectively achieve better results.”
Trust and collaboration between IT and its agents is also
strong. In fact, the enthusiasm IT employees have for their new
roles and team structure extends to regular visits to agencies
across the company’s footprint.
“That creates a real connection,” Fechner says. “It’s the
beginning of a change that can be sustained. When you expose
everyone to a bigger world, they find it hard to go back.” ITA
Ruben Fechner of Erie Insurance Group will be
one of the presenters at the ITA LIVE conference
from April 20-22, at the Fort Lauderdale (Fla.)
Marriott Harbor Beach Resort and spa. The session, which will be hosted by Don MacFarland of
CastleBay Consulting, is titled: If the Boat Sinks,
We All Get Wet.