Aflac CIO Julia Davis talks about her four-year push to modernize IT- Valutrics

A daunting responsibility for any CIO in the midst of a digital transformation is figuring out how to modernize IT to meet the demands of the business. At Aflac Inc., Julia Davis, who became senior vice president and CIO in June 2013, has faced the job of upgrading the supplemental insurance company’s legacy technology head on.

Modernizing Aflac’s IT infrastructure doesn’t always mean getting rid of systems outright. Instead, it can often mean adapting older, but still-crucial technology to the modern-day business and then training her staff to work more nimbly. “Surprisingly enough, I actually found some of the most successful Agile teams were working in support of our mainframe environment, which is contrary to what you would expect,” she said during a panel discussion at the recent MIT Sloan CIO Symposium.

SearchCIO caught up with Davis at the conference in Cambridge, Mass., where she provided an update on her efforts to modernize IT and why pilot projects are key. To hear more about Davis’ Agile approach to IT, watch this companion video.

How far along is Aflac in its efforts to modernize IT?

Julia Davis: Modernization for us is a long-range, multiyear plan. It obviously is dealing with a company that’s had an investment in the same technology for over 30 years. There’s a lot we need to do, it’s not as simple as a rip and replace. It’s an opportunity to try things out in a small pilot environment and see how we can leverage that across the organization and grow and build upon that.

We’re trying to chunk things off in smaller bites because I think that the big bang is going to be very difficult to do, particularly when you’ve had a platform operating for over 30 years with all the investment that has gone around that.

One of the areas that we are innovating and delivering on modernization is the product line. We have our group business in Columbia, S.C. We are in the process of putting in a new platform for them for policy, admin, billing and claims. We’re using a product called Mphasis Wyde Wynsure. And so, that’s a project that we’ve been undergoing for about two years because it is a rip and replace. So it is a big bang, but it’s for a smaller business. And we’re trying it out there first as an opportunity to really help improve our efficiency and our operations for our broker business.

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