Balancing Act

Global enterprises need standard processes. Here are three approaches for creating equilibrium.

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Too often, "senior management will say they want to be one company with one product line and synergy across the group. But they want local auto-nomy, too," Dallas explains. "They give no clear direction on what should be local, regional and centralized." In other cases, governance translates into CIO issues. "Senior business executives get bored with it because they don't understand why they're involved," she adds.

Dallas advocates a governance plan that gives more process ownership to each region while major platform decisions are made at headquarters. But some U.S.-based global companies have tweaked that model with success. Here are three different approaches to governance.

Headquarters-driven Companies

New York-based MetLife Inc. follows a headquarters-based governance plan for its main systems.

The insurance company just completed a 16- country rollout of a standard product-illustration system for sales agents and a data entry system to capture policies at their inception electronically rather than on paper. All the information is captured in common databases in Singapore and Latin America. All global offices also use the same self-service portals from Brazil and automated underwriting systems from the U.S.

To arrive at these standards, IT staffers from each region collaborated to decide on the best technology. "Once that's done, it's cast in concrete. We don't change it," says Stephen Bozzo, MetLife's international CIO.

The governance plan works because IT leaders spent a lot of time abroad explaining what they were trying to accomplish, Bozzo adds. The local offices were also given direct accountability for managing several aspects of the project and providing business input.

Foreign offices have control when it comes to product decisions, such as whether variable universal life insurance software or pension software should be rolled out based on demand for the product, return on investment, time to market and regulatory issues. "That comes directly from the business, based on its own country's business plan, which is fully vetted in the U.S. as well," Bozzo explains.

So far, MetLife's governance strategy has been well received at its foreign offices, including those added last year after MetLife acquired Travelers Life & Annuity and its international subsidiaries known as City Insurance. "You need to collaborate, but not necessarily agree," Bozzo says. "Be a good listener early on, and make sure you truly are aware of all the concerns your partners have -- not just colleagues, but the vendor community."

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