The CIO of round-the-clock assistance services provider Europ Assistance, Jedey Miranda, is pushing an innovation agenda to support the company’s aim of providing a modern set-up for its staff and diversified services to its customers.
Europ is mainly owned by insurance giant Generali and started operations in Brazil in 1996. Since then, it amassed a collection of business-to-business (B2B) deals with big clients from sectors including banking, car rental and manufacturing.
One of the key pillars of the company’s worldwide strategy is further developing its ability to offer new services through the web and mobile devices across its automotive, travel and health portfolios, as well as final consumers – the so-called B2B2C, an area that has become increasingly attractive to the firm.
To that end, Europ is looking to deliver a variety of IT-led novelties to clients including breakdown services delivered over mobile and tablet devices, as well as onboard data communications for the automotive area of the business, information pushed to mobile phones for travel services and remote monitoring for health.
The client-facing innovations are part of an extensive body of work that will be delivered over the next 12 months. According to Miranda, a seasoned IT executive who is also the company’s chief operating officer, the priorities are well defined.
“We have a portfolio management system and a committee with representatives of different business areas that decides the priority of projects, as well as their scope and cost-benefit ratios,” Miranda told IT Decisions.
“That structure ensures that IT is aligned to the business goals,” he added.
For 2011, Europ’s in-house IT team of under 40 people is working on 15 projects simultaneously alongside key outsourcing partners – HP and IBM on infrastructure and firms including Stefanini and CSC work on development.
Out of these projects, back-end work such as the selection and roll out of a mission-critical, core assistance platform to replace the current bespoke system developed by Europ’s Spanish arm is also right at the top of the list.
According to Miranda, his team is already past the proof of concept and shortlisting stage and a decision is due to be made this week. The CIO commented that his options were somewhat limited in terms of vendors with suitable products.
“There aren’t many alternatives in the market for systems that focus on management of mission critical activities that a company like ours would require,” Miranda said.
Even major vendors that would normally pitch high for that type of business process management software deal, such as SAP, would not manage to meet Europ’s specific requirements, said Miranda.
“[SAP] may be really good for many areas but it still has some way to go in terms of maturity around incident management,” he added.
The new system will cover some 1,200 call center operators, so licensing costs were also part of the considerations when choosing a new software package.
Europ is also looking to move some commodity systems such as email onto the cloud. The CIO said that, despite the fact that options such as Google Maps have been considered, the company is already a heavy Microsoft client, so a strong candidate would be the supplier’s cloud offering, Azure.
Mobile and social media focus
About 500 vehicles out of Europ’s fleet of 8,000 of recovery trucks is equipped with GPS technology and the idea is to kit out most of them with the devices over an 18-month period.
According to Miranda, the use of Europ’s cloud-hosted geographic positioning technology has so far maximized resources and reduced journey times by half.
The company’s clients already get to track vehicles from the moment they are requested via an Android-based application. The CIO added that tablet applications for the automotive area are also being worked on to meet demands from clients for service dashboards.
Europ is also about to release a mobile concierge service based on iPhone, to appeal to the wealthier public that would typically acquire the Apple device.
When it comes to social media, the company has somewhat active in the main networking tools and has been monitoring these interactions for about six months and mapping out its strategy in that respect, which should be in place by year-end.
“The social media websites are a very important tool to attract business and they need to be looked at by us as opportunities to service providers rather than a threat,” said Miranda.
“It is key to position yourself right at the heart of what is going on with social media, which in the end of the day, are the tools our customers use. Besides, you have to be ready for a generation that does not rely on a fixed phone line and does everything through their smartphones,” he said.
However, the CIO was keen to stress that the process needs to follow a few rules of thumb to reduce the risk of failure.
“You need to strike a balance: there are potential opportunities when you adopt a technology early on, as you can get significant benefits. But you can also get the flipside and pay the price when the technology or the organization are not sufficiently mature,” said Miranda.
According to the IT chief, after identifying opportunities around social media in terms of products to sell, it is crucial to establish the channels through which products will be sold and listen to customers to bring the services to life and meet their needs.
The company is also using the Project Management Institute (PMI) guidelines to establish its governance framework around social media.
“It is absolutely necessary to assess your capacity when it comes to human resources and have a very sound governance process to direct your efforts,” said Miranda.
A CIO needs to be inserted in the world of social media somehow in order to make such tools work in the enterprise, Miranda said.
“I am on Facebook watching what my children are doing and on Twitter watching what my customers are doing. Personally, I am more of a LinkedIn user – I don’t really fancy using these websites for personal purposes. Nevertheless, I am using all of them.”
Working with the Generation Y
It is a common challenge for CIO to change the equation between innovating and just maintaining IT, but Miranda wants to move up a gear in relation to the amount of time his team spends in innovation.
According to the IT executive, one way in which the agenda around innovation can be pushed forward is by dedicating staff to such activities and enabling team members to offer suggestions and mechanisms to put ideas into practice.
“Many companies are hungry for innovation and new ideas, but not many really create conditions for that to happen. It is critical to open the process of sharing ideas, with an innovation group acting as a catalyst,” Miranda said.
“And obviously, people giving the ideas have to be rewarded,” he added.
About 98% of Miranda’s team is under 30 years old – and the CIO concedes that the predominance of the so-called Generation Y amongst his reports adds dynamism to innovation processes.
“[The Gen-Yers] bring energy and, in the end of the day, they are in constant contact with what is new, so you need to create an environment that is conducive to experimentation and practical use of these tools,” Miranda said.
“But you also need to make sure that [the younger generation] is well-trained. We do train everyone in project management – otherwise it becomes anarchy,” he said.
With such a busy agenda and appetite for change, the most challenging part of Miranda’s brief is – just as many of his peers – keeping his eyes on the prize.
“Everything we do is really interesting, but one of the trickiest parts of the job is maintaining our focus on these 15 projects – and delivering them all.”
Photo by Tom Check licensed under Creative Commons