(Editor's note: This feature on Judith Haddad of Patriot National is the first of five articles we will post this week on our 2011 Insurance IT All-Stars.)
Judith Haddad knows there is a specific goal in mind for Patriot National Insurance Group, a workers’ comp carrier located in Florida.
“We want to think of premier solutions and be creative when it comes to our industry", she says.
Haddad has been executive vice president, CIO/CTO for Patriot for just three years, but has gauged the real value of working there is the company’s business leadership, particularly Patriot’s CEO, Steven Mariano.
“Our CEO is an entrepreneur in spirit and a true supporter of IT,” she says. “When I stepped on board in 2008 it was truly a partnership. [Mariano] has supported me and my department on everything we were trying to accomplish.”
Insurers need a strong technology infrastructure and Haddad feels as the CIO she needs the ability to get their arms around any issue and pinpoint the root cause. On the application side, Patriot has an older StoneRiver system that it has outgrown. The carrier contacted consulting firms Strategy Meets Action and Novarica to evaluate the system and help the carrier decide what to do next.
Patriot found Paradox Technology Solutions, a new solution provider, but one with great knowledge of workers’ compensation and the insurance space, according to Haddad.
“They are great partners with us,” she says. “We are now on a path to replace our legacy system with a brand new policy and claims administration system. We’re on an aggressive schedule and hope to be live July 2012. That’s quite the undertaking.”
Such projects can be daunting, but Haddad believes the industry is wiser on such issues today after having undergone the mistakes of the past. The key phrase for such projects today is incremental deliverables.
“We did a proof of concept to make sure with Paradox,” says Haddad. “We know there is a gap between the time you purchase the system and put it in. What’s the size of the gap and what’s the understanding of the vendor that’s needed to fill that gap?”
The two-month proof of concept shook out what Paradox offered out of the box, according to Haddad, and enabled the two sides to learn that fixing the gap was doable within the agreed-on timeframe.
“There are few bells and whistles, just everything that will carry us to detach from an old legacy system by July 2012,” says Haddad. “Then in the next six months after that, we’ll chunk out some other pieces and components that are value-added for doing more proactive screening of applications that are being submitted, and some additional claims and fraud functionality that will be built into the system.”
Haddad claims she enjoys working with vendors that truly feel a carrier’s pain, but admits it hasn’t always been like that.
“You were always at the mercy of your vendor,” she says. “Fixed pricing was unheard of; projects running late or over budget were notorious.”
Haddad reports more vendors are willing to work with carriers these days.
“Fixed pricing locks in a commitment I don’t think we were able to get five or seven years ago,” she says. “I think it truly joins vendors in the industry as a partner. There’s a level of commitment.”
Haddad’s view on leadership is you are either born with it or you aren’t.
“If you have to go to a leadership class you should probably rethink being a leader,” she says. “Leadership is germane to who you are. Passion and leadership are what carry you throughout your career.”
Moving up in importance, though, is the CIO’s business acumen.
“For us not to know the business side is a detriment,” she says. “Sitting in a meeting with my boss and my peers and understanding where they want to be today, tomorrow and five years from now is important because my mind has to be working in that direction.”
At least two issues keep Haddad up at night. (“Sleep is overrated,” she says.) Disaster recovery is one of them.
“It’s not for the things we’ve thought of, it’s for the catastrophes we haven’t yet thought of,” she says.
She believes Patriot has a solid disaster recovery plan in place, but what she likes to zero in on are the smaller things, such as having redundancy built into LAN / WAN support.
“These are the things I keep pushing my people to keep thinking about,” she says.
Patriot had a situation where a switch was blown and the IT staff wasn’t able to connect anyone to the network.
“I said what about accessing Citrix through the wireless access point but wireless access was on the network,” she says. “So I said we need to put a wireless access point in each office off the network. It’s minor stuff, but it’s fine tuning that makes us great in the area of disaster recovery/business continuity.”
One of her first steps as CIO was to move the data center to the Boca Raton headquarters of Patriot’s co-location site, Host.Net. That partner also built a private cloud site in Salt Lake City, Utah and Las Vegas, Nevada which will host Patriot’s disaster recovery.
“I love the idea because we can do so much more with cloud technology for disaster recovery,” she says.
The cost of disaster recovery solutions is a challenge.
“You know it’s important, but there’s a cap when you look at the return on investment,” says Haddad. “Doing it in the cloud allows you to gain significant value with what you can do for less money.”
A second issue that keeps her up at night is what to do with the huge amount of unstructured data Patriot collects—voice mail, email, and social media.
“We have to look at how to capture it, mine it, and create a structure we can use to our advantage,” she says. “What can we build into our new policy/claims admin system that has that Web services built-in? We’re also thinking of how we can build those functions into our data warehouse.”
Haddad is confident Patriot is already addressing many of the key issues of today that will likely cause IT leaders to lose sleep five years from now, including issues such as mobility and social media.
“Those issues are on my plate now to devise strategies around,” she says. “I do think those companies that are not thinking about either cloud technology or getting their arms around the unstructured data piece will come up against some problems. Their leadership as a CIO in providing value-add would be at least constrained if they are not looking at some of those areas. I know from my own involvement with the ACORD CIO forum that a lot of folks who are my peers are thinking of these things and what I see is a strong group of CIOs out there. The struggle, as always, is finding a truly successful migration path.”