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Liberty Mutual Steps Up Performance With ITSM

The insurance giant started implementing ITSM practices two years ago. Today, they know an application is in trouble before it goes down, and IT is becoming part of the business team.
Feb 6, 2006

Sharon Gaudin

Two years ago, IT administrators at Liberty Mutual didn't know an application was down until users called to complain. Today, they're steps ahead, monitoring applications for slowdowns or abnormal activity -- sometimes fixing the problem before users even notice anything is wrong.

It's all about being proactive instead of reactive, says Steven Wrenn, senior director of IT Service Management (ITSM) at Liberty Mutual. And he's able to be out in front of the problems because he's spent the last two years implementing ITSM at the $20 billion insurance company that has more than 40,000 employees -- 3,500 of them in IT alone.

But getting to this point wasn't always an easy journey, he says.

Before he could start to make IT run better, he had to gauge where they were. And that meant measuring IT's performance and showing those numbers to the business executives. Those metrics, Wrenn says, raised some eyebrows in the boardroom but airing them also didn't make him very popular in the IT department.

''You're showing your dirty laundry,'' says Wrenn. ''You've got to be prepared for that. You have to say, 'This is what it is and we're working on making it better.' At the beginning, I put the metrics together and people said, 'You can't make that public.' There was a large fear factor. But we had a new CIO and he drove home that he wasn't about tracking people down. He was about wanting to get better. But it was a little scary. I took a lot of arrows. I was the constant deliverer of bad news.

''In the beginning, I took it from IT people because we were showing that we weren't as good as we thought we were,'' adds Wrenn. ''Without data, everyone thought we were doing a good job. Everyone was working really hard but the job they were dong wasn't at the level of service we needed to deliver to our clients. Once we got really going, it was quick to fix. People want to do better. When I told them what the score was in the beginning, they said, 'Maybe we don't want to know.' but I said 'It's too late.'. I opened that can of worms and you can't put the worms back in. I used to go home and say 'I'm going to develop a drinking habit.'.

Today, the going is easier for Wrenn, who was hired at Liberty Mutual three years ago to get IT on board with a service management mindset. He says he spent a year reviewing operations and identifying opportunities to get IT workers thinking about the business and the customer, and not just about the technology. With a dozen major offices, several hundred satellite offices and more than a few thousand servers at the insurance giant, Wrenn was looking at a massive job.

Working for the Customer

IT Service Management is both a mindset and a set of practices that make processes reliable, dependable and traceable. It's all about changing the way IT professionals have, in general, looked at their job. It's no longer just about making sure the digital trains run on time. It's about making sure the business has the tools it needs to be successful. It's a major change in thinking and actions. Today's IT professionals need to feel like they are part of the business team -- with everyone working for the customer.

''This is all market driven,'' says Wrenn. ''If we want to be in the top five insurance companies, you've got to be data driven. It was all about competition and scalability. We're growing. When you're adding on 5 percent to a $20 billion company, that's a big jump. You've got to be prepared for that kind of growth. You've got to be prepared for the future.''

The first hurdle that Wrenn faced was the lack of metrics.

Liberty Mutual's IT department had no way of knowing how effective they were because they didn't measure application uptime, slowdowns or even the severity of problems on the network. ''The environment was ready for change in a lot of ways,'' says Wrenn. ''The only thing that was really haunting us was that there were no metrics. Without metrics, you really don't know what to fix first... We had a bunch of firemen but we really needed fire prevention.''

Wrenn says it took six or seven months before the metrics started to have any real meaning. It took about three months of collecting information to show some change. After a while, people saw that Wrenn and his team were focusing on the right things. ''The first thing is to show that you can control [the metrics],'' he says. ''Then you try to control what is driving the numbers.''

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