Axa’s IT transforms for a digital world. An interview with David Guillot de Suduiraut

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During the the Vivatech conference that took place in Paris from june 30th to July 2nd and gathered 5000 startups, investors, 500 speakers and 45 000 attendees I spent some time on the AXA booth, one of the more voluntarist french companies regarding to digital transformation and had the opportunity to meet some of the people making this transformation happen.

The switch to a digital world is crucial for IT departments. Not only they must bring new solution to business lines but also to it in a timing and with an agility they’re not used to. Moving from a culture of long and structuring industrial projects to agility, right to fail and collaboration with business departments is key for the future of the company and for the future of the IT function within it. That’s what I discussed with David Guillot de Suduiraut, the CIO of Axa France

Bertrand Duperrin : Hi David. What’s your vision of the role of a CIO today ?

David Guillot de Suduiraut
David Guillot de Suduiraut

David Guillot de Suduiraut : First, there’s something you must know. I don’t come from IT but from the business : I managed the French South West region for Axa. Becoming CIO when you were used to be in front of the customer changes everything.

So I don’t have any technological starting point but a customer orientation. What is the customer looking for, what are his concerns, issues, what makes sense for him ?

The real matter for any business is “how will I earn the customer’s trust as a business”. Everything must contribute to that. IT included.

BD : So IT transformation is the result of a new vision of the business ?

DGdS : Today an insurer pays in case of an accident. Tomorrow we’ll have to stand by our clients in case of serious issues, take care of them. And as a CIO I must take care of the business.

BD : How does it translates into action ?

DGdS : First, a couple of numbers to understand what’s at stake. IT at AXA France means 500 people and a 450M€ budget.

The idea is to become more squat and agile. Not a 500 people big liner but 30 very agile smart units that operate like and with startups.

We created “feature teams”. We start from the customer experience and break it into parts of our value chain. Each step represents a process that represents and experience that is held by a Feature Team.

BD : Does it imply a new wa to work ?

DGdS : Of course because we have functional, development and test people in a single team. It’s like, for instance, Spotify works. And we also include the client (ie business people). We need to have the business into these teams because they help to prioritize based on value.

BD : And what about your agents, who have both a key role and a special status in your distribution model  ?

DGdS : We strongly believe in the physical/digital mix. Our purpose is to build seamless experiences.

For instance our customer advisors use Salesforce, they get customer’s record with elements of context. Soon, agents will be able to access the same record but with other elements of context because they don’t have the same need but we’ll have reconciled many sides of the customer identity in a single database. From a customer standpoint it’s not tolerable that each of their interlocutors does not have the same information about him.

BD :Data sharing is key to digital transformation but is not a part of most businesses culture. Internally and externally.

DGdS : We have a strong customer data privacy policy. So we won’t share anything with the outside.

Internally our purpose is to build a master data mart (MDM) to have a single unified view of the customer.

But what matters the most to us is to get rid of the V-Model. The customer wants everything right here, right now and that’s not in the DNA of insurance companies.

We are also facing deep regulatory changes. All these things put together force us to adapt. If we don’t adapt we may get into big troubles but if we adapt and take care of the customer we can make a difference.

There is one and only one way to achieve this : make a good use of technology and not be the heavy bug things that uses to slow everything down.

Behind all that we have an ambition :provide ourselves with the means to become the Uber of our market.

BD : People who know the bank/insurance IT world will say that not everything can work according to this model…

DGdS : Right. We must continuously manage to make both this model and the legacy one work.

BD : Isn’t that dangerous ? How long will this situation last ?

DGdS : We don’t have any problem regarding to that. We will juggle as long as necessary and it’s going to last a long time. It’s even a given in our industry, we must be able to do both at the same time.

We’re able to make “mainframe people” work with “modern” developers. That’s where our success will come from.

BD : Thanks a lot David.

Photo credit: Agile by BsWei via Shutterstock