Jim Wadleigh | Crain's Connecticut

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Jim Wadleigh

Background:  

Access Health is an insurance marketplace for small businesses and residents in Connecticut. Jim Wadleigh, who has 25 years of experience in the healthcare industry, started working at Access Health almost four years ago.

The Mistake:

When I was working at Cigna, I got an opportunity to expand out of a big project. I led an implementation for what most people would see as MyCigna.com. It was the first big insurance carrier to roll out a portal. I had the opportunity to help Cigna consolidate and replace the technology call center applications across the country and across the world because we outsourced the call center in technology at night around the world.

That was the beginning of some of the most difficult pieces of my career. This was probably a $150 million a year initiative that was froth with poor decisions throughout its entire implementation. Some of my biggest mistakes were going into it thinking that there wasn't a lot more that I could learn from technology.

We used a vendor to outsource some of it, and it’s similar to what we've done here at Access Health. Probably mistake No. 1 along that journey was letting the vendor make more decisions than probably should have been made and not really getting into the details and weeds of what was occurring in that project at its onset.

Continuing through that process was probably not my best effort in overseeing finances in implementation. From a business perspective, I probably didn't manage my business partner anywhere near as well as I should have. They wanted to go with a big bang implementation across 15 call centers around the world and we let them do that even though we knew that it wasn't right.

I can still remember that September when we turned it on and the lights dimmed in the county of Hartford, Connecticut. It was a roaring non-success. It became what I viewed as the end of my career at Cigna.

I do believe things happen for a reason and it took a couple more years after that to flush me out of the system. I'd become the system expert and I knew that. I learned a lot along the way. I partnered with some new faces that had come and gone because some people smarter than me realized it was time to get out when the going was good. I got to meet a lot of smart people who taught me about some of the poor decisions that we made along the way around implementation of call center technology, the limitation of these business initiatives and the repercussions of some of those decisions.

I ultimately got the role as chief information officer for Access Health Connecticut. All those experiences – building out a call center, implementing a web portal, shopping experience – and all those poor decisions have me sitting at this table.

All those poor decisions have me sitting at this table.

The Lesson:

An organization should leverage technology as enabler to do business and influence customers better. There isn't a day that I don't talk to our operations staff and say, "What are you telling technology? They need to do better, so this customer has a much better experience with our organization."

That doesn't change overnight. You need to become the advocate of that and work your way through it.

I was basically pushing out technology. Now I look at it and go, what is the business impact? Why are we doing this? I question everything. I need to justify the risk in terms of impact on our customers. I need to know that we're not going to negatively impact our customers and it's not going to raise our cost $50 a call.

Because of that initiative, I am always looking at potential impacts. What are the business benefits? Why are we doing this in the first place? We also need contingencies so if anything does go wrong we are not caught short and flat footed on these things with our customers.

That project taught me to make sure my technology teams think that way. The mistake forced me to broaden the way I looked at projects, because you need to look at the financial impact a massive project like that has on stock prices and you start looking at what impact that has on customer service.

Follow Jim Wadleigh on Twitter at @JimWadleighAHCT.

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