Verging on the cool – interview with James Skinner, Aviva

Occasionally we introduce you to some of our clients and ask them about some of their views on IT management. James Skinner, Global IT Services Director at Aviva, kindly agreed to tell us about some new IT developments that excite him.

James and his team are responsible for delivering the organisation-wide IT services and change for around 40,000 employees across six Aviva regions. New technology and collaboration toolsets are key areas of focus; for both employee satisfaction and gaining increased value from IT across the group.

James is infectiously enthusiastic about his work and the potential for emerging technology to improve productivity and reduce costs. He wants his managers to understand that IT should be run like any other business with good business practice, including reviewing the role of technology. Two areas which he describes as “really good, verging on the cool”, explain his thinking:

  • Changing the mindset of the IT organisation from technology-driven to customer-driven, offering “IT as a Service”
  • Exploiting innovative technology: the role of video and unified communications in the workplace

Developing a customer service mindset
James wants his staff to think about the impact on their customers, not the technology they manage: to stop thinking, for example, “server 23 is down” but rather that “100 employees across the group cannot submit their accounts”.

Taking the customer service mindset principle further means managers need to be proactive. James explains: “We visit people at their desks and have fantastic utilisation of our drop-in IT “Service Bar”. By cleaning up their PCs and removing unused software, we make them run faster and often reduce our costs because they no longer require a licence. People are often unaware of much of their software’s functionality, so we check that they know about the key aspects, improving their productivity.”

Despite this, James says: “We have 98% satisfaction ratings on our end-user support. But when I walk around I can see room for improvement everywhere.”

Exploiting video
Aviva is already using telepresence suites to enable communication and collaboration and James expects this to continue and grow. Although it is early days, James thinks desktop video could have an even greater impact as a key communications tool to reduce data deluge on staff.

James explains: “I received a 320 page report this morning. The information I need to glean from it could have been delivered in a 45 second video.” Following his own advice, James has a high definition webcam on this desk and around 30% of meetings are now through this medium, “it means that with a bit of forethought, it does not matter whether I am in the office, home or travelling, I can still be productive”. But beyond that I can quickly and easily create short videos to impart information quickly. In some regions of Aviva, a daily video broadcast of market changes and analysts comment is produced using the same methods.

In addition, James suggests: “Try setting YouTube as your search page instead of Google; it’s illuminating.”

And does all this pay? James: “I can see seven figure savings resulting from video conferencing and telepresence, but the savings from desktop video communications could be much greater. I’m very excited by the technology: a lot of it is really good and is working well for us.”