Olivier Schemberg, Head of IT (CIO) at AXA Poland, discusses the people-led strategy that is defining its digital transformation success...
As an insurance provider with global reach, the digital transformation of AXA Group positively benefits its customers at every stage of their lives. The company’s decentralised model for particular countries and territories has enabled it to maximise its relevance and competitivity wherever it hangs its cap. AXA Poland is no exception and, as part of AXA’s International and New Markets (INM) group, comprised of over 25 countries in emerging and high growth markets, it benefits from shared best practices that serve as accelerators in greenfield projects. In tandem with the augmentation of tried and true practices from elsewhere in the group, and strategically applied Agile and Scrum methodologies, AXA Poland’s digital transformation has been influenced significantly by a focus on catering to the Polish market. “Since the 1990s, there has been an acceleration of the economy in Poland, and so it’s quite an active adopter of digitalisation,” says Olivier Schemberg, Head of IT (CIO) at AXA Poland, highlighting the prevalence of mobile first as a leading digital option for the company’s customers. “We have observed that, as its banking industry is already quite digitalised, Poland is one of Europe’s faster adopters of new payment methods, such as contactless credit cards and phone-based payments. In fact, whatever the age category, mobile is first in Poland.”
While this focus on the market and customers is crucial for defining the appropriate strategy for AXA Poland’s digital transformation, Schemberg places pivotal importance on both methodology and change management. Without establishing a potent and efficient basis of operations, he says, the transformation’s potential success is limited. “A few years back, we were moving forward with technology – there was clear progress also from methodologies like Agile – but we were missing one big element: how to reskill at the same time and pace our people. In fact, with technology accelerating, we had to question why we were not changing how our people operate,” says Schemberg. “One of our key challenges now is reinvesting in our people, IT education and skilling people differently.” In recognising the importance of doing so, AXA Poland is reaping the benefits of a transformation where its staff can take full advantage of the new solutions. “Because of these changes there is much more empowerment on the business side, and this is where many companies today are lagging behind.”
Schemberg notes that this is not solely a strategic issue: the global shortfall in data specialists and associated experts is no less apparent in Poland. “If you look at the Polish market, we’re lacking between 50,000 and 85,000 IT specialists, and the universities cannot produce this volume at the rate that is needed.” In addition to addressing this challenge by providing specialised training, AXA Poland has begun training non-IT people in Java programming. AXA Poland has also partnered with Indian IT outsourcing specialist Hexaware. “Looking at the big lack of IT professionals in Poland, Hexaware decided to create a new model of nearshoring in Warsaw, blending the Indian team and Polish team to fit local customer needs,” says Schemberg. “One model doesn’t fit all, so it is important to partner with a company that has the capacity to adapt its model of execution, such as with Hexaware reinventing the near shoring concept.”
With strong, people-oriented foundations laid, AXA Poland can maximise the value of its digitalisation projects. One such example that Schemberg highlights is the application of robotic process automation (RPA) to many of its back-end processes. “RPA offers a mix between added productivity, efficiency and quality,” he says, adding that it also enables the firm to leapfrog development of some legacy systems by simply infusing them with automated capabilities. “It’s been quite successful,” says Schemberg. “We already have two operational RPA solutions, and we have between 10 and 15 that are still in development.”
This cutting-edge technology is joining Tia Technology’s solutions on the back-end of AXA Poland’s operations. The Danish company has accrued a significant share of the market, with its solutions found across all major insurance players in Poland. “Tia’s platform is our key asset for the Policy Insurance system for P&C Retail and Commercial Lines,” explains Schemberg. “Tia has a very solid architecture with a strong back-end platform, and it is developing additional capabilities to offer front-end, process design and Business Intelligence solutions. This will be very interesting for the greenfield operations and for consideration in the upgrade strategy. We held the Tia Polish User Group in June, allowing us to have very candid discussions about how the firm will support the upgrades of its local installations, as well as managing cloud strategy evolution in the Polish market whilst taking all requirements defined by our local Authority of Control. Understanding local challenges is a clear advantage for shaping the role of core back-end operations’ evolution to a very open architecture model.” Schemberg notes that Poland’s cloud infrastructure is highly regulated, with requirements including backup capacity in case of service disruption necessitating on-premise resources. That being said, the Polish government is taking steps to strengthen cloud environments for enterprises undergoing digital transformation. “The Polish government is building the ‘Polish National Cloud’, a new environment located in Poland that will offer the capacity for services to move to the cloud whilst simultaneously answering key requirements defined by the local Authority of Control.”
In terms of leveraging digital transformation for the benefit of its partners, Schemberg says AXA Poland has taken a similarly conscientious approach. “We can see that the evolution of the digitalisation is not only for the benefit of the customer, but also for the partners. For Property and Life businesses, partners expect a digital integration with their system,” explains Schemberg. “Paper processes between partners are going to disappear. We are increasingly connecting through our APIs, a toolbox to plug in with the partner, and we’re connected to all of our partnered banks in this way. We have a strategic partnership with mBank; the fourth largest bank in Poland and a digital-focused player. It’s very interesting to work closely with such an organisation, because on one hand you have traditional resistances to moving to digital, and on the other you have digital solutions being used to get back to some human interaction where there is added value. This is a fascinating balance.”
Looking forward, Schemberg says the company is looking to incorporate data and analytics enabled insights to a significantly higher degree. “I think the leveraging of data at the company will accelerate and, as part of our step-by-step environment development, we are investing in improving data quality, control and governance,” he says, adding that consistently tying these developments into identifiable business use cases is vital to success. This mantra of strategically implementing the most beneficial solutions ultimately links back to AXA Poland’s commitment to its customers. “In a digital transformation, you need to deliver what will be adopted by the customer. “In a digital transformation, you need to deliver what will be adopted by the customer. If you are still using this old style of thinking – undergoing a digital transformation but not thinking from the customers’ point of view, that the process should not last more than one minute, or things to that effect – you are probably out of the game.”