Harsha Senanayake, Union Assurance’s Chief Information Officer and Head of Business Systems Financial Services Sector, Vice President of John Keells Holdings PLC, has had an illustrious career. At the outset of his career, he joined the John Keells Holdings PLC Group’s IT Division in 2001 and has held several positions, including Head of Enterprise Applications and SAP Practice at Group IT. He graduated from London Metropolitan University with a BSc in Computer Science and has a Post Graduate Diploma in Information Systems Management from the University of Colombo.
He oversaw Union Assurance’s 30-year-old core insurance system replacement project, which won the 2020 Global Celent Model Insurer Award for Legacy and Ecosystem Transformation. Harsha led the Group’s primary Enterprise applications and platforms and established business cases for IT transformation initiatives in multiple sectors. Further, he supervised an SAP team and has pushed presales in creating SAP commercial practice with a top Sri Lankan customer base He continues to contribute to the Group’s digital innovation in the role of Head of Business Systems, Financial Services Sector.
During his time as the Secretary of the John Keells Group (JKH) Digitisation steering committee, the committee developed initiatives such as measuring and enhancing the group’s digital quotient (DQ), the JK-STEM program to bridge the digital skill gap, and the John Keells X startup accelerator to foster open innovation. Harsha was a key contributor to the Sinhala Unicode project for the Linux operating system and the Sri Lanka Buddhist Tripitaka Project, among other volunteer initiatives. Harsha was named Employee of the Year at JKH Center Functions in 2009, team recipient of the Chairman’s Award Winner title in 2013, as well as the Chairman’s award for Disruptive Innovation in 2019 and 2020 as part of the JKH Group.
When asked how Union Assurance is dealing with the post-pandemic new normal in terms of digitizing processes, Harsha says that in its 30 years of business, the company has been at the forefront of technological progress in the insurance market. At Union Assurance, “digital” is a way of life, from employees to trusted advisors who use their digital skills to give greater products and services to their clients.
Union Assurance, one of the first insurers to offer a fully digital, paperless process for consumers to submit and issue policies, with shorter turnaround times, straight-through processing, digital claims filings, and service capabilities. This is made possible by a newly modernized core insurance platform, which was a first in the region and was recognized by Celent (a division of Oliver Wyman), a global research and advisory firm for the financial services industry, which named Union Assurance a “Model Insurer” and set a new industry benchmark.
The organization’s digital capabilities were put to the test during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Harsha, and therefore were spurred to deliver uninterrupted services to clients while also instilling a digital culture. He elaborates that all staff worked from home, digital payments grew by twice as much during the period, 100% of training was delivered online, over 300 advisors built online advisor pages to engage with customers, and island-wide leadership used digital dashboards and web conferencing to manage performance across the country. This significant digital adoption is expected to continue as the bulk of their workforce works from home and adopts a digital lifestyle.
When asked about the company’s long-term IT goals, Harsha says that the company is launching new digital initiatives to ensure its leadership in the digital sector remains relevant to its current and future digital native customers. They plan to invest in new digital channels, advanced analytics(to increase client retention and drive efficiencies), advance their bionic agency model, and establish a modern self-service app that rewards a healthy lifestyle while also safeguarding the lives of fellow Sri Lankans, as this is their fundamental competency.
Harsha believes in providing opportunities for young adults talented in IT to grow by convincing them that any new technology skill can be learned, but instilling this confidence in them can be a challenge. Furthermore, he states that IT personnel in the corporate world undervalue the relevance of gaining product management and advanced analytics abilities. Harsha goes on to list the values that he holds dear in his role as CIO, adding that being relevant is crucial in the fast-paced world of technology and digital. It is critical to continue to learn and communicate how technology may produce value for the organization by cutting through the hype. Finally, Harsha says that Steve Jobs’ slogan, “Stay hungry, Stay foolish” is something he strives to live by, because the instant you believe otherwise, you become obsolete.