Interestingly, what first appeared wasn't just one list of projects and weightings for each business group, but two. One was the executive vice president's own list and assessment of the impact of each project; the second list was one compiled by each executive vice president's direct reports. At each step in the processtaking inventory of proposed projects, evaluating them against alternative projects, measuring their impact against business objectives, and then prioritizing the results as aligned against business objectivesUMT's software provided the basic platform and pre-programmed algorithms for Bateman and company to plug all of their data into one comprehensive model. Once the inventory, business objectives and impact conclusions were entered into UMT's applications, Bateman was able to show the head of each group a "strategic alignment report" for each list. If the two reports didn't match up, the vice president had more than an IT or budgeting problem on his hands. "If he sees his alignment results are far different than those of his [business unit], he's got a communication problem as well," Bateman says. "Either he didn't explain what he wanted, or they didn't get it."
Running the lists through the system again, Bateman generated a report to determine which projects had the highest priority for budget approval. At the same time, IT would give rough estimates on what it would cost to develop each project. With the prioritization reports and the IT estimates, UMT's software model could then apply budgetary constraints against the prioritization report. For example, what happens when there's only $40 million in the budget for a product group, when the budget was $80 million? Having loaded AXA's financial constraints into the model, out would come a list of all the projects, showing the highest potential for return in terms of ROI and business value based on the $40 million limit.
Based on his analytics, Bateman supported a new life insurance product but curtailed a customer self-service offering. "At the time," he says, "a high emphasis was placed on new products versus new service programs."
Though UMT's automated rules for prioritizing might seem rigid, the portfolio-optimizer software is flexible enough to force a project back into the system that it may have initially declined, but only if the executive vice president can argue that such a project is of greater short-term value, or fulfills a clear regulatory requirement.
Ultimately, Bateman says, the most difficult part of the process wasn't getting AXA, as an organization, to understand what he was trying to do, but rather getting everyone to accept it. "The difference was challenging a mentality and culture that was used to saying, 'Oh, our competitors are doing it, therefore let's do it,' without worrying about the financial repercussions or payback."
This article was originally published on 06-01-2004
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