Allstate juggles data warehouse buildout, consolidation, and SOA initiatives

2009 InfoWorld CTO 25 AwardsAnthony AbbattistaVice president of technology solutionsAllstate Insurance

Anthony Abbattista is a busy man. In his six years at Allstate, he has led a total of six transformative IT initiatives, including the construction of a huge data warehouse, an SOA program, and massive datacenter consolidation. With a CEO whose stated mission is to "reinvent and rebuild the insurance industry," Abbattista's role has been to remake Allstate's IT infrastructure to match that vision.

With Allstate, it all begins and ends with data: 30 petabytes' worth, enough to fill the Library of Congress 15 times over. Abbattista's first major challenge was to consolidate 13 data warehouses into one. "They cost a mint to coordinate and operate," says Abbattista, "with multiple versions of the truth, bottlenecks from IT creating reports rather than end-user self service, and wasted cycle time in the business balancing and discussing uncoordinated analyses."

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Coaxing and coordinating all the major stakeholders to create the consolidated warehouse was the biggest challenge, but when the process was complete, Abbatista was able to point to a 40 percent reduction in annual costs. "The business case spoke for itself and had a less-than-three-year payback," he says. On top of that new foundation -- built on Oracle, Ab-Initio, Business Objects, and SAS -- Abbattista maintains what he calls an "information strategy," an ongoing effort to reap value from the warehouse by providing self-service data analysis capabilities to Allstate and its business partners while ensuring data consistency, management, and transparency.

All that data has to live somewhere. Abbattista has just opened a 65,000-square foot, Tier 3 facility with more than 14,000 square feet of raised floor space that blends ecofriendly construction and energy-efficient operations. The new building -- affectionately referred to as the Emerald City -- was designed from the inside out, starting with custom racks. Underlying the consolidated facility was a careful cost-benefit analysis focusing on technology savings, real estate givebacks, and energy savings. But Abbattista makes clear that the project was driven by IT, not the business side: "It required us to step up and own the business of technology. Sometimes the sweetest projects are not the ones that the business demands."

Abbattista's SOA initiative was also IT-driven. The business requirements were clear: "Our business partners need us to be agile, reduce cycle times, and be masterful at integrating bought and built capabilities." But it was Abbattista and his team that decided SOA would be the tool to fulfill that need. In his view, it's not IT's job to educate the business side about technology, but IT had better know the business "at least as well" as business stakeholders do.

Abbattista also led an internal Web 2.0 effort, sponsoring the delivery of blogs, wikis, and social networking tools for Allstate employees. In addition, his team launched an Innovation Lab, which is a collaborative environment for incubating ideas and exploring emerging technologies such as mashups, virtual worlds, and open source software. Abbattista considers these "table stakes for attracting talent and competing in today's world."

After this frenzy of activity, what does Abbattista plan for his next act? "The challenge is to keep remaking ourselves," he says. "A few years ago, I introduced the maxim 'we will never be done.' This upset a lot of people because most are so project-focused. The trick is to create and sustain an environment where some people are sprinting and some are running a marathon -- then you need to trade places!"

This story, "Allstate juggles data warehouse buildout, consolidation, and SOA initiatives" was originally published by InfoWorld.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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