Honeycomb Connect

John Benzinger, Executive Vice President and Chief Information Offficer, ServiceLink
January 23, 2007

A Fidelity National Financial company since the summer of 2005, ServiceLink is an organization of 700 employees in the Pittsburgh area that also claims the title largest centralized ‘Closing Management Company’ in the U.S. Having chosen not to be a part of the acquisition of his previous employer, Benzinger joined a ServiceLink team fronted by Ernst and Young “Entrepreneur of the Year” Ray Pronto (ServiceLink founder) and CEO Jeff Coury.

“I was looking to work for someone I really respected and that I could learn a great deal from,” he says.

A fondness for technology and accountancy was evident early in his career. Whilst working as a capital analyst with Kaufmann’s Benzinger managed to get top grades at university night school, taught his peers the basics on computers in his spare time, and designed a video discourse teaching aid. He has progressed from working with Kaufmann’s in their acquisition and integration of Strouss’s; into PC networking, as an engineer then controller of an entire division; and now, with ServiceLink providing strategic vision and leadership beyond his technical team and across the entire enterprise.

These days, “I am more strategically focused,” he says, “primarily due to the involvement I have driving the business.”

This includes searching for process innovation by leveraging more out of the resources at hand; the most pressing need today is ensuring that the technology his team is creating is serving internal users in achieving services as quickly and efficiently as possible.   

“Our particular industry has been faced with reducing the turn-time of our service. We have overcome this by encapsulating as much of our process in our software as well as creating performance and exception management modules to oversee the day-to-day needs.”

And Benzinger’s had his share of recognition, having been awarded CIO of the year by the Pittsburgh Technology Council in 2006. It’s the achievement he’s most proud of, and he adds, “a big part of [winning] is people and how you can leverage those people so they feel good about what they are doing.”

Employee recognition is a key priority for Benzinger—“to ensure the team is empowered to make decisions as well as take risks” —so as an incentive he sponsors gift cards each month for people that are making a difference.

In the fast paced financial services environment it’s often hard to keep personnel aligned with constantly shifting business objectives. Benzinger tries to keep his team informed on business priorities; so that they’re always aware of what direction they’re headed.

“We have constant change in our business, I have to understand that, be ahead of it. [Leadership] is trying to manage the change so that the people at the lower levels aren’t feeling it.”

Minimizing the “chaos” and its effect on overall productivity is what Benzinger spends much of his time doing.

“In many instances it requires me to go and sit in front of an executive and say, wait a minute, you said this last week now your saying something else this week, pick one strategy and stick with it.”

Enabling back-end efficiency allows ServiceLink to deliver faster and faster turn-times—so much so that it’s becoming well-known in the industry for high customer satisfaction.

Because his team was able to handle change so well they were kept in tact during ServiceLink’s acquisition and are now designing and implementing a “Next Generation Software” deployment.

“Our goal is to move as much of the business process into an engine so that as our business and customer’s needs change, we can quickly adapt.”

ServiceLink offers an innovative client relationship system that assigns “one team to one client.” Striving to gain competitive advantage from IT investments the firm is adopting SOA in an effort to provide even more personalized and agile tools, so that the company can deliver on its promise of customizing its service to a client’s particular needs.

“We become an extension of our customer,” says Benzinger, referring to the ServiceLink system.

His strategy depends upon empowering the right people and making sure they’re delivering services that are aligned with the business’s trajectory. Otherwise it can spell disaster, Benzinger recalls previous projects that were shut down because they weren’t meeting business needs. He expects his team to question what it is they are doing and constantly QA their own processes.

“I also frequently visit my user community throughout the company and poll them on the application.”

Maintaining a constant feedback cycle and conducting internal audits ensures process efficiency and also helps with regulatory compliance; ‘that way you’re not caught off-guard,” says Benzinger.

There is a strong case for the strategic importance of IT but Benzinger worries that sometimes too much emphasis is placed on technology as an enabler; he argues that doing certain processes manually helps “iron out the kinks.”

Speaking on the role of IT, he says, “we have empowered people to be able to do more with their data, before they couldn’t get at the data they needed to make certain decisions, and I think that’s a huge benefit for them.”