5 minutes with... Udo Bauermann, Regional IT executive, Munich Reinsurance

Q: What is your organisation’s core business?

Our business is insuring insurance companies and can be understood with regards to the most severe hailstorm event in Australasia to date: the Sydney hailstorm on the evening of April 14, 1999. This storm caused insurance losses of more than $1.5 billion, too much for many insurers, that’s why they share their risks (premiums and losses) with reinsurers such as Munich Reinsurance Company of Australasia (MRA).

How big is your organisation and where are the key locations?

Munich Reinsurance Company of Australasia (MRA) employs about 150 highly experienced staff. The headquarters is in Sydney and regional offices are in Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Auckland.

Do you believe that IT currently has the respect of business leaders that it deserves?

If not, I would be out of work. Excellent services and marketing are keys to success and IT must show a presence throughout the organisation. The times of the closed shop with staff speaking a different language inside are gone. Also, as more and more business activities with or without IT relevance have project character, we can use our expertise to support these projects by providing senior project management resources.

How will IT help drive your organisation’s success?

Mission possible: for years MRA has had numerous events where IT meets business or business meets IT (whatever you prefer). At Munich Re, IT is invited to provide input to all business strategy and planning meetings, and we do so. It’s simply a waste of creativity and intelligence to reduce IT to service operations only.

What key projects are you working on?

We still have two mainframe-based business applications in place, one for our non-life business and one for life reinsurance. Over the years, the non-life solution has been complemented with a widely accepted modern management information system; therefore the key project here is to replace the mainframe component with a standard software package. Life is different as over the years the Excel freaks on the business side have built heaps of sophisticated but isolated worksheets now crying out for consolidation in order to facilitate control and monitoring of reinsurance treaties. At the top of our technical projects list is a disaster-recovery hot site in our Melbourne office.

What are the most pressing issues you face?

To calculate (and thus prove) the positive impact of our work on the bottom line of our company. This is an issue specifically under the pressure of exploding software licence and maintenance costs.

How important do you believe the open source movement will be to the future of IT?

No relevance at all (probability 0.5) and no relevance for Munich Re (probability 1.0). Interestingly enough, the city council of Munich has recently made a decision to go Linux.

What are your greatest IT challenges?

To keep staff motivated and His Majesty the Managing Director happy.

What is your annual IT budget?

Somewhere between $5 million and $10 million, including second-level support for about 250 workplaces outside Australasia.

How many IT professionals in your team?

There are 18.

What’s your average week like?

I love my job, because there is nothing like an average week. In fact, just the first 30 minutes of each day in the office are standardised: check local, global and Internet connectivity and read e-mails.

If you could change one aspect of your job, what would it be?

Reduce the number of things I have to do but don’t like. Could give me more time for reading newspapers and magazines (sorry dear Internet) which is so important in these fast-moving times.

What is the most difficult IT decision you have had to make?

That goes back to my time in Munich into 1999. We all had a plan A (the solid solution) and a plan B (the patchwork solution) in place to handle the Y2K problem, and a date (in our case) in 1999 where we had to make the decision to continue with plan A or to switch to plan B. Against the costly advice of one of the renowned consulting firms working in a couple of projects for Munich Re at that time, we decided to continue with plan A, and the fact that I’m still with Munich Re proves that we finally were successful. You might argue that I’m no longer with Munich Re in Munich but now with Munich Re in Australia, but both my boss in Munich and my boss here have confirmed that my delegation was a move to Sydney and not a removal from Munich.

What is the most embarrassing thing that has happened to you at work?

It was not really embarrassing, but it happened. A complete office refurbishment and the Windows 2000 rollout in 2002 were two perfect reasons to equip everyone with the latest state-of-the-art desktop hardware and someone had the “brilliant” idea that this should include wireless keyboards and mice. Tests in IT went well, so I gave the go-ahead with the result that after the rollout myriad radio waves went out of control, in most cases affecting the PC next door or even on the next floor level. Every time since then when I speak to my peers about new technology, I see a certain smile on their face.

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