Nationwide Focuses on How Technology is Enabling Businesses and the Rapid Pace of Technological Change
Steve Farley - Columbus Tech Power Player Honoree
VP of IT
VP of Cyber Security
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VP of IT for Nationwide, Steve Farley, discusses how technology can enable your business and the rapid pace of technological change and innovation.
Hello, and welcome to the ComSpark podcast, where you will get to meet today's technology thought leaders. To learn more, visit comspark.tech.
RF: We are here today with Mr. Steve Farley, who is the vice president of IT for Nationwide Insurance company. Currently, there are about 30,000 employees. My name is Ron Ford. I am the vice president of cybersecurity for Belcan and a member of the comSpark executive committee. I will be your guest moderator today. Let's get started. So, Steve, I'd like to start with talking about you and your past a little bit. How long have you been a vice president of software development services for Nationwide?
SF: I have roughly six years, but it's gone through several iterations. So, it's grown from, when I started we ran about 25 Nationwide agile teams to now over 200 Nationwide agile teams and we call them Nationwide Lines. So that's one of the things that intrigues me and keeps me energized every day is that growth curve and that constant infusion of new ways of working. When you ask why am I there six years is because we continue to grow and evolve. And the emergence of new principles and practices and new technology domains – it’s very intriguing
RF: Perfect. Yeah. I was going to ask you, the typical time of length of an executive is 18 to 24 months, but it sounds like the constant change and a lot that's gone on is, has kept you where you are and it keeps it exciting.
SF: You don’t want to know how long I’ve been in total, and at Nationwide, so it's over 30 years.
RF: Oh, that's fantastic. What was your first assignment as a technology executive?
SF: Yeah, if you just look at my career growth, I started out, you know, at Nationwide as a technologist. So I'm a programmer developer by trade. I still have live production running code in the company today. You know, my progression probably the first executive role I had was really in our life insurance business. And so we run about 20 different business units and in that life insurance business, I was the leader of an early adoption of life insurance, and then really cut my teeth in our international business. A lot of people don't know that Nationwide had an international business because we pulled out of that, but I lead international deployments of technology across Europe, including Luxembourg, Brazil as well as our Europe was Luxembourg and Poland. We also had a greenfield operation that we started up in Brazil and then we bought a company in Thailand, so I spent a stent, you know, taking technology abroad and trying to infuse Nationwide's technology and integration abroad. That's how I cut my teeth in kind of the more senior leadership roles.
RF: That's great. So how have you seen your role change as an IT executive over the years?
SF: Yeah, I think, you know, moving, I think executive roles are changing dramatically today because technology is changing dramatically today. So I think to be a good technology executive, you have to be in tune with how technology can enable your business. And we call that the what side of the equation. So our business is dependent on technology leaders to help them understand how technology can help move the business forward. So whether dealing with innovation around API emergence in the API economy or you're dealing with the internet of things which we're dealing with you know, so internet of things for smart homes that's important to insurance companies because we can actually prevent, for example, flood in your basement if we have an IOT device on your sump pump, those kind of things are emerging.
But, you know, so technology's coming at us fast, but it can be everything from baseline technology, like how do we transact in the company to all the way to creative digital solutions that are emerging in the marketplace. So for me, a good executive has to be thinking about how technology can help the business. But I'm going to spin that a little bit differently because I might be one of the few people that speak to you that talk about the way we work is extremely important. So spend a lot of energy about, you know, infusion of lean agile and Dev Ops principles and how do we get speed into the equation? So having solutions, but getting to the market and the slow pace, it's not going to serve us very well. Having those technology solutions, but infusing them with lean, agile and Dev ops principles that are catalysts for speed and quality is a huge focus of mine.
So when I talk about running the breadth of 200 Nationwide lines, you know, infusing the right way to work is really important.
RF: Wow, that's great. So all the work you've done in Ohio over the years, what do you think the local Midwest Ohio market needs to do to take IT to the next level and really become a powerhouse in the national scene?
SF: Yeah. So you know, you hear a lot about the silicon valley and what happens technology out in the west and you know, you hear about, hey, we have great IT talent in the Midwest as well and how can we be kind of that emerging center of excellence around technology. I think the best thing we can do is build community. I think one of the things that you're going to find right here in central Ohio is we have a close knit technology community. We get together, there's small CIO forums that get together. The central Ohio CIO forms that get together on a regular basis and talk about and cross share what's happening in their world related to technology and the way that we're working. So taking advantage of those things. We have other forums where literally companies are coming together and collaborating on how to build technology for the greater good of all of us. So instead of thinking just about us and our silo, we're thinking about technology across the breadth of the community and I think that could be very, very powerful.
RF: Great. In your opinion, what is one of the most exciting disruptive technologies that is beginning to impact our work and lives?
SF: Yeah, I mean, I think, you know, everybody talks about IOT. IOT is huge. How it plays differently for business is going to be huge as well. I think probably the second one is going to be artificial intelligence. You know, we don't know exactly how AI is going to be applied to our 20 plus business units at Nationwide, but we're trying to figure that out. You know, we know it's going to be powerful, but we have to invest in figuring out how powerful that's really going to be. And I think third on that list would be the API economy and how do we start to open our doors and let consumers have access to the things that they need out in the open marketplace, you know, so that people can tap in and we can actually, it helps us with cross selling. It helps us provide our products and services to the market place if we can get the right APIs out there for our consumers in the industry.
And then also I talk a lot about APIs internally. You know, if we can truly decouple and tear down the monolith of our applications that have grown up over the last 34 years, you ain't using microservices concepts and API technology. We can actually unbundle ourselves to make us go faster. Which is that speed equation that I talk about is like, you know, there's, how do you get things to consumers and then how you make yourself faster inside and everyone wins.
RF: Absolutely. So there's a big push and move to cloud technology. How has that changed your approach to application development and specifically the security for Nationwide?
SF: Yeah. So we're on it now, so it's coming at us fast. I wouldn't say we were early, early adopters of the cloud movement, but we are on it on a very rapid pace right now. So things that we talk a lot about is how do we create the right cloud pipelines to get our software and our applications to the cloud. So whether you're talking about, you know, an opinionated architecture like pivotal and you can get things to the cloud through a pivotal solution or you're talking about an AWS direct pipeline, those are the things that we're exploring and building out right now. So how fast can we get our apps and our software to the cloud are going to be dependent on decisions we make around the pipeline choices that we choose as well. And I think a lot of people miss the second component was if our developers, and this is a lot of my angle and my role at the company, but if our developers don't know how to code in the cloud or know how to build software in the cloud, that's going to be problematic.
So if we get the right pipelines and then we marry that up with how do we enable developers and we call that cloud enablement of our developers, that's the win-win and we're 100 percent focused on that at Nationwide. So my biggest play right now is getting our developers in my role, getting our developers ready for cloud based development. Whether that's an A-pass solution or take advantage of an IOS based solution in the cloud. They've got to know how to maneuver differently in the cloud and take advantage of cloud based services and do things like 12 factor development. Absolutely.
RF: Great. There's a growing trend for a CIO’s purchasing cyber insurance and I don't know if you're familiar with what is Nationwide doing to better understand the risk of these policies they’re writing.
SF: Yeah. So, that's probably, I'm not as close to that as I should be, you know, not being the CSO and not being our IRM leader. But I would tell you one thing is it's intriguing. So there's one thing I would say it's, hey, we're an insurance company, but we offer that. So, you know, there's something in that for an insurance company as it starts to evolve.
RF: Perfect. So, more towards your direct line of work, there are so many tasks for applications today. What are the challenges in designing an application that's intuitive and easy for an end user to grasp?
SF: Yeah. So I think I wrote some words down this one. This one's interesting for me. So we're moving away from the word application. So when you think about how software is assembled today, and I talked a lot about the API economy, out the adoption of microservices. It's more of an assembly process. So no longer are we building these monolithic applications that have traditional user interface, business logic and data layers. I mean, things are being coupled together at a much more rapid pace, you know, so we've used that word apps and applications for so many years and we all grew up being application developers, at Nationwide we're changing the tone to that and want to, I want to be actually, I'm actually the application development profession owner at Nationwide, so we have these professions for the entire enterprise that I'm deemed the application development profession over my biases, get that moved to the word software development profession and get it moved to, hey, we're, about building software in new and different ways and it may not look like a monolithic application on the past. So start with that is, you know, I just think software is being designed completely different.
And then the other challenge is how do you design software and a rapid incremental pace, leveraging our agile and Dev. Ops. principles so low, no longer are we taking a long time horizons to architect out a grand solution and then revealing that solution to our business partners. We've got to get those business partners in the room and design with us incrementally. And you know, anybody who's familiar with a lot of the agile principles is, you know, it's all about that customer collaboration. It's about the show and tells on a very frequent basis and let the customer way on is it, is it evolving the right way? Is the software actually evolving the right way? It's a much more evolutionary process than it ever used to be. You know, back in the days when I grew up as a developer.
RF: Absolutely use of stories and sprints and all that at a fun, an agile approach to stuff. Well that's great at Nationwide. And talking about the challenges in designing applications, how do you then take it the next level and maintaining quality and meeting the challenges of the business has of rolling applications out quickly at a very quality type of product?
SF: Yeah. So great question for us because we're really focused on not only increasing in speed but increasing speed with quality at lower costs. So we're investing heavily in test automation. We're investing heavily in pretty much automation and everything we do. So, you know, when I talked a lot about agile Dev ops principles, everything is about shifting left quality. So a lot of people are stuck in that mindset of testing quality out on the back end and we're focused really hard on shifting it left on the front end so you know, everything from insuring sprint level testing, iterative level testing, automation at point of continuous integration. All those things are huge investments for us right now. So you know, I do believe, you know, the days of manually testing out on the back end based on just knowing the business are going by the wayside and getting more involved in testing in an automated way and leveraging software development techniques and practices and new tools on the market place is a huge play for Nationwide right now.
RF: That's great. And very, very important, especially when you're using an innovative approach to development. Well to close in, definitely I think we definitely need to have you back at a later time because this has been a great conversation, but what advice would you give to an aspiring IT executive?
SF: I would say probably the best advice is stay in tune with the marketplace, whether that's locally or the industry. When I interview and I interview a lot of what we call a next level down executives, you know, our first tier executives and even our directors and I always ask them an intriguing question which is, you know, how are they paying attention to the industry? And first reaction is what industry? And I always say the software development industry and the technology of the technology industry and making sure they're paying attention and have a pulse on it because if you don't have a pulse on it, you kind of want to get behind very quickly or you start to stray your own way. That might be, you know, sometimes that's good. You might be really innovative in the way you're straying, but other times you're just getting off the rails and you're probably not taking advantage of what is really happening out there in the marketplace. So, you know, I think it's really important for executives to stay in tune with what's happening in the software development industry, both locally and nationally.
RF: That's great. Well, thank you very much for meeting with me today. This has been an interview with Mr. Steve Farley, the vice president of software development services for Nationwide Insurance and me, Ron Ford, vice president of Cybersecurity for Belcan and a member of the comSpark executive committee. To learn more about this event and others, visit comspark.tech and goodbye, until next time.
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