Meet the Tech Exec Pauline Mulvey, VP Enterprise Business Technology, Mitchell
MEET THE TECH EXEC
VP Enterprise Business Technology
What superpower would you have? Be able to read people’s minds. It does scare me a little though.
If you were stranded on a deserted island, what three things would you bring? Are there coconuts on the island? Sunscreen, my phone, and maybe my dog, a 7 year-old German Shorthair named Shasta.
From your perspective as the VP, how are you supporting the way you view innovation here and just in general as technology is changing? We work with insurance claims. Processing claims faster is better, but accuracy is important. How you do it faster and, at the same time, improve accuracy, so that people are paid quickly but fairly and hopefully help to eliminate some of the fraud and drug problems that are going on more and more.
From an accuracy perspective, would that be sort of keeping governance over what data you require them to enter in? Or is it making sure they’re enough? To make it more accurate we need to address the human aspect, because humans make mistakes. I can ask you both the same question on a claim and one of you might say “green”, one of you might say “red,” because it can be subjective, so using artificial intelligence for certain types of auto accident claims. Using photos of damaged cars we leverage machine learning and over time learn this bumper has to be repaired, this one has to be replaced. Make recommendations to adjusters based on all the history of all the claims that we have. Say, in this type of accident, for this type of impact, typically, this is what happens. You still want a human to do the final review, but It helps to mitigate a little of that human error type of situation and speed up the process.
Is the machine learning part just looking at picture over picture over picture over time? Yes. We fed them millions of pictures to educate it to begin with. Now we are in the stages of doing final verification with some of our carriers to say, “Okay. Let us use your data. We’ve looked at all your pictures”. You have to have people review them manually, and have a machine do it, and let us see if we agree, and what percentage of the time do we agree, and how do we need to fine-tune this for your insurance process.
What was a moment when you had to make a split second decision that could have been a mistake? I started my developer career at a small company where I wrote software, went to a customer’s office and installed it, trained it and then supported it. As we grew, it came to the point where we needed a dedicated service and support team. The general manager approached me to start up this new team. Making the decision to shift from software development to training and support was challenging. It could have been a disaster for the company as well as for my career and me. Luckily, it turns out I really enjoyed setting up and maximizing processes and working with customers.
If you could give guidance to any IT manager about their careers going forward, how would you guide them as they look towards the future and the different roles they might want to play, or skillset they should have? Be open to everything. Technology is constantly changing; therefore, do not back yourself into a corner. Be flexible. Keep current with what the new latest and greatest thing is. In technology, you have to stay on top of what is going on. New things bring new opportunities, so don’t pigeonhole yourself and say, “This is the job I want, and that’s all I want to do.”
I went from being a developer to running a customer service organization to running a worldwide service organization and into the IT organization. I never thought I would work in IT, but here I am.
What are the areas of focus that you think are really something developers should be looking at? Definitely Cloud. I run the internal business systems, and everything we own now is in the Cloud. When we created the Business Technology group, we had hardware everywhere; with much developer time spent maintaining hardware and OS as opposed to focusing on people and process. Now, the majority of my team’s job is process as opposed to developing software or managing hardware. IT is now much more involved in, “Let me enable you to do your work/process better,” you have to become process experts and know what those best practices are so that you can make those recommendations to move your company forward.
Has that changed the whole way in which executives view IT? Absolutely. We’ve done a lot of acquisitions in the pharmacy space recently. We have four different businesses we are in the process of bringing together, and last meeting with the general manager he asked, “Can you help me transform these four businesses into a company?” It’s really looking at how you link them all together, provide common processes that will work for all of them, and then aligning the technology.
How are you helping foster innovation inside of the organization? I used to be a cheerleader so I can leverage those skills for internal marketing. My goal is exposing teams to the outside world. Mitchell has been in business more than 70 years, many long time employees only see things the way Mitchell has done them. I want to expose them to new ideas, show what other companies are doing. We work with SalesForce groups and NetSuite groups, and we really encourage many local businesses to “Come see how we’re doing things, and we want to see how you’re doing things.” We have similar technology stacks. It is great just to get someone thinking outside the box a little bit.
So, in five years, or even 10, biggest challenges you’re going to face as a leader in the world of technology? Five years from now, I think we will have a very different workforce. Just based on millennials, the way they want to work is very different. Everybody is going to need to change to effectively mesh. For example, with call centers, I had a lot of work-at-home people. We have technology that enables remote workers though some managers still feel their teams need to be sitting in front of them in order to do their job. I don’t think that’s going to fly in five years.
I think one of the challenges will be the broad aspects of enabling technology. Because of cloud, it is very easy for everybody to want to use his or her favorite device, apps, etc. and trying to keep it secure and collaborative will be challenging. Balancing innovation with Governance is going to be difficult.
The pace at which new technologies is becoming available, it is hard to keep up. We want to encourage innovation and experimentation and at the same time provide governance. We’ve got to figure out how to manage that.
With the blend of the millennials and the baby-boomers and all the generations, how are you mixing cultures? Are you having to that at this point?
Yes, we are a mix of cultures within our employees. We focus people on the Mitchell Way to bring them to a common place. With new hires, for many this is their first job, they never worked at a fast food restaurant or entry wage job. Some lack those basics such as coming to work on time and making work a priority. Teaching them compromise is key, understanding the bigger picture and how they fit in. Some have expectations of starting at the top vs understanding the value of working your way up the ladder. You learn a lot as you make your way up. If you start at the top of the ladder, you may fall off.
What is the biggest mistake you think you’ve made in your IT career in terms of something in hindsight you would have done differently? I am a very direct person. I had one boss tell me, “Wow, you just walked into that meeting, you pulled the pin from the grenade, set it down, and walked out the door. You just stood back and watched it, let it blow up.” I have learned through the years to know who your audience is. Know who your friends are versus your work acquaintances, because there’s a difference. Everyone is not going to adapt to you. You’ve got to adapt to them.
What’s your take on public cloud? You need to have a strategy about which type of cloud is right for your business. We had initially thought we can pick one vendor and put everything there and we are done, and then we found out, “Well, wait a minute. Different Clouds have strengths for different things,” it is going to end up being some hybrid, “This will be good on Google. This will be good on Amazon. This will be good on Azure.” There is not a “Just put it all up into Amazon” solution. It is not going to be that simple; one size will not fit all.
Which projects are you excited about that you can share? We launched a new customer community portal recently. We have had a portal for a long time, but it really needed improvement. We did a complete UX upgrade, talked to customers and said, “Do you use our portal, and how do you use it,” and then we had some of the customers who’d never even been there, and we asked, “Can you try and do this, this, and this?” That was really fun, since we’re normally behind the scenes, we don’t work with our customers directly a whole lot on the IT side, so for us to actually be able to listen to the customers and how they’re using some of our technology, it was fun. Being able to develop a community that incorporated their feedback was exciting.
This year, we have some significant functionality we are rolling out that will transform our front office. Providing improved automation, leveraging AI for better insight and rolling out a new HCM tool will be a ton of work but have wonderful impact on every employee at Mitchell. We will be able to replace some 12 year old technology and that is always a nice feeling, like cleaning out the closet.
If you could give yourself any advice looking back on your life, what would it be? Eat better. Eat less of the junk. Learn how to eat like a grown-up.
Do you think that technology has sort of caused a problem with that, where everything is done so electronically, that just the human-to-human connection’s been lost? Absolutely. We see instances of “You sit next to me, and I’m going to email you back and forth.” Sometimes you have to remind people, “Stand up and talk to each other.” It is way too easy now to duck behind an email or text.
Do you think technology has become a disabler in the world of business and communication, both in and outside the business? I don’t think it’s been a disabler. I think people abuse it, just like anything else. It can be a great enabler, for example we have a lot of remote people now and we are so connected, it is like having them sitting next to you.
When we rolled out our collaboration tool several years ago, we had great feedback from team members who are not in the headquarters office. “Oh, my gosh. I feel like I know what’s going on in the company now. This is wonderful. I feel like I’m part of the company. I know what’s happening.” It’s because our president embraces the technology, shares information and encourages all customer facing staff do to the same. When he visits a customer he shares, “The customer said this was great, they want us to continue working on that”. Anyone in the company can share information.
Of all the things that you have to deal with, from DevOps, data analytics, mobility, IT, DevOps, cloud, what are the two things that you think are most important going forward? Definitely for us, DevOps and data analytics. We started on our journey a couple of years ago, but it is still a journey. We aren’t there yet. We’re working with the different business units, and, we’ve got some real legacy, as well as newer code, personnel and teams, moving everybody to cloud, and continuous development, continuous integration, automated testing. Some folks have jumped onboard; other have not gotten there yet. We have to get all teams there, because you’re not going to be able to keep up if you aren’t doing it.
Mitchell has so much data, being in the claims market for over 70 years. Leveraging analytics is a huge opportunity.
Cloud is already happening, especially for our internal business applications. We are already there and it has made a huge difference.
What do you think about comparing cost models from on-premise infrastructure to Cloud? Leveraging SaaS vendors provides us with several advantages. We have experts within the various markets (CRM, HCM, ERP, etc.) They continuously push me updates, which means I am always going to be on the leading edge. I no longer need a full team of developers, I now have process experts, business analysis who add value by providing best practice, process automation. The cost benefit was super easy to do.
Cloud enables your developers to iterate quickly. Spin up an environment, take it down, spin it up, take it down. You do that with your own equipment, you’re driving people crazy and it is very costly since once you buy the hardware, you own it, regardless if you are using it or not. Give them a Cloud account, they can spin up an environment, you may only pay for 2 hours of processing. I can do capacity testing. I can hit a million transactions all at once, and then the environment is gone. “Okay. I’m not paying for it anymore.”
Has finance changed in terms of you having to look at things different with the financial CFO’s of the world? With cloud, it is easy to give everyone a license for everything and for people to spin up environments when needed. You need to manage much closer now. We have analytics and monitoring to insure that we are not spending money on items that people are not using. If you have not used your license to a software in 60 days, we will check to see if you really need that license. Staying on top of the opex spend is more important than it has ever been.
Initially it was, “Candy for everyone!” then, “Wait a minute! Time out! What the heck are you guys doing? Do you know this costs money?”
It is getting people to say, “This is a great enabling tool.” But at the same time, there’s responsibility that comes with it. If you spin up 1,000 sessions for something, know what that’s costing you, and then when you’re done with it, make sure you’re shutting it all off again. I think it is an awareness people need to have now.
Top concern. Choose from: security, mobility, IoT, analytics, DevOps, advanced systems architecture, cloud, automation. Pick 3 and rank them.