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Darren Ghanayem juggles Wellpoint's mandates for the federal healthcare law

Mary K. Pratt | Feb. 11, 2014
To keep pace with the Affordable Care Act, this CIO has turned to agile methodologies.

How do you prioritize IT needs at your company? It's on a return-on-investment model. It requires each one of the ideas we generate to create a business plan. The business plan is actually a preliminary IT deployment strategy, and it has to account for the cost. The costs are in the form of labor, infrastructure or software. And so when you look at the entire investment of resources, then you look at what you're going to return on the back end — lower cost of care, lower cost of business, improved health, which will ultimately have a material impact on our members, and then we look at it not just from a financial perspective but how quickly the return on investment will be achieved.

What's the biggest technical project for your IT team now? The healthcare exchange. It creates marketplaces for our products. We had to conform to the rules and regulations for participating in all 14 marketplaces — [that is] the states we're operating in. And each state has local nuances. The 15th marketplace, if you will, is the federal one. That's a big challenge. The target of success has been very volatile, because it's something that's been developed on the fly.

What's the biggest challenge with this project? We've got a very disciplined process for how we manage IT projects. We go through a step-by-step waterfall. But because the definition of success has changed so frequently through this exchange project, we had to get more agile, lean and iterative.

Your team is consolidating multiple complex methodologies and systems as a result of acquisitions. What were the challenges with that? The problem with having multiple systems is that those systems we've acquired over time were built through years and years of business processes. So the system really mirrors the process.

But we want to have consistency through markets. When we're dealing with systems that were built on processes unique for a market, it really challenges us to say: "Is the system correct or incorrect based on what we want to become?" That's where disagreements occur between the business units, with an IT delivery deadline looming over our head. We have to understand the impact on business and what we want to become versus what we are. A lot of companies that want to consolidate after acquisition run into the same challenge.

Is IT the moderator when there are disagreements? That's the role we play, because we've learned the hard way that if we don't moderate and bring solutions to the table, we'll find ourselves in an unsuccessful project with all the best intentions.

We sit shoulder to shoulder with the business, and when you're in a project team, you don't know who is IT or business. We really do sit together. That's how we basically moderate those debates. And we recommend solutions. It's much more than writing code or managing infrastructure; we're helping our business partners with their challenges. A successful IT employee is not just a coder — we actually understand our business. That's the role we've made for ourselves.

 

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