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CIO Helen Cousins Transforms Lincoln Trust's Tech Department Using Business-First Philosophy

EVP and CIO Helen Cousins' business-first philosophy has transformed Lincoln Trust's technology department into an award-winning creator of holistic business solutions.

During her 37-year career, Helen Cousins has been recognized with an impressive 15 honors and awards for her technology and business accomplishments. And she has earned many of them during the past five years in her current role as executive vice president and CIO at financial firm Lincoln Trust Co.

Although Lincoln Trust ($15 billion in assets) is a provider of trust and custodial services, any bank CIO could appreciate the work that Cousins has achieved at the Denver-based company. The most noted of Cousins' efforts has been the implementation of a business process management (BPM) solution that encompasses enterprisewide business intelligence and workflow management.

"When I came to Lincoln Trust Company it was pretty obvious to the entire company that we were drowning in paperwork," Cousins recalls. "We were getting more than 100,000 documents a month. We had to institute a solution -- the ultimate goal was to be paperless, which we pretty much are now."

Since implementing the BPM solution and electronic documents in 2007, the company has reduced its paper-based workload by 90 percent, Cousins reports, adding that the platform also automates workflow and processes and allows employees to track documents throughout any process. This automation and transparency, she says, has contributed to a 90 percent reduction in client complaints about delays and lost paperwork.

The architecture of the BPM solution takes a best-of-breed approach, leveraging Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM's Blueworks Live (formerly Lombardi Blueprint) for process discovery, mapping and inventory; DocuSign (Seattle) for electronic document and signature services; Kofax (Irvine, Calif.) Capture for document capture and indexing; and Redwood Shores, Calif.-based Oracle's IPM for a document imaging repository. Although the majority of the project was delivered using Lincoln Trust's in-house team, the firm's IT organization leveraged Amdocs (Chesterfield, Mo.) and Cognizant Technologies (Teaneck, N.J.) to assist with development, project management and testing.

In 2011 alone, the BPM initiative garnered Cousins the honor of Technology Executive of the Year from the Colorado Technology Organization, Gartner's BPM Excellence Award and the IBM ACE Award. "The reason we've been winning awards for [our BPM solution] is because it really went over the entire enterprise and not just one department," insists Cousins, sharing the credit. "We always think around process. Before business even comes to my team to do anything, we've already gone through a process review."

According to Cousins, the level of automation and business process management that Lincoln Trust has achieved puts the firm in front of the competition. "It allows our people to focus on new business and growth rather than operational issues," she says.

After implementing the BPM process, Cousins developed a business continuity plan (BCP) that she put in place in 2009. "A lot of companies have an on-site disaster relief program, but they don't spend a lot of time on the BCP side of it," she says.

Lincoln Trust's plan, Cousins explains, leverages Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.-based Citrix remote network access, CenturyLink (Monroe, La.) cloud telephone routing and an off-site Tier 4 data center where network equipment is housed to ensure that business can continue in the event of power outages, fires, snowstorms and technical problems. "It's very seamless," she says of the fail-over process. "We've tested it out several times with snowstorms."

Building Trust with the Business

Based on her experience heading IT for a variety of enterprises, including global banks and Fortune 500 companies, Cousins says, she believes that a technology team must first and foremost be a business team that enables positive business results. "I strongly feel that IT and, in particular, the CIO need to clearly understand that they have a shared responsibility with the rest of the executive team to run a company," Cousins says. "This allows the technology team to focus on business results, not just technology."

When she first joined Lincoln Trust, Cousins recalls, she had to work to rebuild a deteriorating relationship between the head of business operations and the IT department. According to Cousins, she laid out a road map of her vision of where IT should be and made sure her team executed against it religiously, with small deliverables every few weeks that added value in a way that business operations executives would begin to notice.

"As a result, within my first year at the company IT became a trusted partner," Cousins explains. "Once the trust had been built, bringing new ideas to the business became easy. This allowed us to implement the award-winning BPM process."

Cousins believes the key to helping her team focus on business results has been the development of outsourcing partnerships. "We choose partners carefully," says Cousins, noting that Amdocs runs Lincoln Trust's data center and Cognizant is the company's business processing partner. "The technology and workflow we've implemented have allowed us to easily offshore a lot of the back-office work because we can monitor people in India the same way we monitor people who are on a different floor of the same building," she continues. "It gives us more control."

Partnering with the Customer

The next phase of Lincoln Trust's BPM program is to extend the workflow to customers to allow them to participate directly in the processing of their interactions, Cousins reports. With a rollout expected in 2012, the functionality will provide customers with complete transparency into the status of any of their documents.

"Let's say we get a form that isn't fully filled out -- it will automatically route to a customer's email so they can actually become part of the workflow themselves," explains Cousins. "As soon as they complete the missing part, it will automatically come back to our in-house system. So there would be no mailing of papers or phone calls -- just seamless routing to the customer."

For now, customers' main interactions with Lincoln Trust are through the firm's website. "We're offering a lot of customer self-help via web services," relates Cousins. "We are the only trust company that allows people to do distribution self-service through the website, and we've implemented a lot of self-serve options for the IRA business and the retirement business."

Lincoln Trust also uses Twitter and Facebook to engage and educate customers and for marketing efforts, Cousins notes, but the company has yet to adopt mobile technologies. "The average age of our consumer is 66 years old, so we're not really focused on that," she says. "Over time that may change. We've got 401(k) and IRA plans; the younger generations aren't even thinking about those now, but when they grow older and get these plans, we have to be able to allow them to make changes to their accounts -- let them do what they want when they want to do it."

Looking ahead, Cousins says, executives need to involve customers in product creation. "Businesses have to stop thinking about just the talent that's within their organizations," she comments, pointing to the retail space, where, for example, Nike allows customers to create their own custom sneakers.

"Especially as the younger generation becomes a little older and becomes more entrenched in the consumer world, they're going to be looking for more personalization," Cousins adds. "We need to work with them to somehow co-create things."

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