Tim Munson never set a career goal of working for an insurance company. But shortly after arriving at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, he found some unexpected chances to build on his career in information technology.
“Leadership gave me the flexibility to go off and build a mobile-friendly app that streamlines data across many systems, which helps us eliminate the problems that slow down projects,” says the manager of solutions architecture. “I had a chance to get the right people to the table to find the best solutions.”
The ComputerWorld rankings came out this week. BCBSNC made the list at No. 19 among midsize employers.
A Culture of Learning
The publication cited a culture of learning — led by the company’s Blue University training and development curriculum — along with flexible benefits as top reasons for the ranking.
Jo Abernathy, Blue Cross’s chief information officer, says it’s important for IT staff to keep current on a range of technologies, rather than specialize in one area. The company provides the environment for employees to stay up to speed — whether through programs at Blue University, or through informal methods that employees themselves come up with.
“People realize we’re at an inflection point as we move to new cloud-based and open-source technologies,” she says. “They’re learning new things. We want to facilitate that learning.”
For example, a program called Applied Learning Alliance gives employees a chance to choose self-paced instruction in 10 emerging technologies like Hadoop and Amazon Cloud. Each course consists of roughly 20 hours of instruction through books, videos and classes over about a two-month period.
Another program is called PitchIT. ComputerWorld notes that the employee-led CIO Culture Club sponsors PitchIT, encouraging employees to pitch their ideas on improving quality and efficiency.
Abernathy says PitchIT has produced 20 ideas that are being put into place, including improvements in the way file transfers are managed and moving some data warehouse functions to open source.
Not Sitting Still
Because competition for IT talent is fierce, especially in the Triangle, Abernathy says it’s important to continually improve the culture of learning and innovation. Employees expect opportunities to contribute their ideas and lead important projects.
An effort in the works is to create a physical space called “Innovation Garage” where IT employees can work with business and project leaders across the company. The traditional way of managing IT’s contribution to corporate projects is to wait until the project is officially assigned. The Innovation Garage will help Blue Cross business leaders leverage IT’s expertise, new cloud environments and tools to test ideas for proving value more quickly before going through the corporate project process.
The various ways of tapping into employee expertise has a business goal besides attracting and keeping top talent, Abernathy says.
“Our industry is changing rapidly. In technology, we’re trying to deliver more traditional work for our legacy systems while we build out our new environment that’s based more on open-source and cloud services. That creates a lot of opportunities for our people.”