Ray Voelker is The Progressive Group of Insurance Companies’ Chief Information Officer, leading the centralized information technology organization. Voelker’s area of business responsibilities includes enterprise technology, application development, IT human resources and training, and IT control. During his tenure since he joined Progressive in 1985, Ray has held several executive IT management positions, including call center technology executive and IT operations executive, and various application development and infrastructure technology roles. He became chief information officer in the year 2000. He played a big role in building the capability for the company to sell insurance directly to consumers, as Progressive was the first auto insurance group to have a website and the first to sell insurance to customers directly over the Internet. Since then, Ray has worked on some of Progressive’s most successful projects, such as Progressive’s Snapshot, the company’s usage based insurance device, and The Business Innovation Garage, an in-house think tank, where IT employees sit side-by-side with co-workers from all different parts of the business, combining individual areas of expertise to solve business problems which launched this past spring. Outside of Progressive, Ray serves as Board Chair for OneCommunuty, a nonprofit organization that uses advanced technology to help transform and establish Northeast Ohio as a national hub for innovation and economic growth. He also has been highly involved in several STEM initiatives throughout his career, including serving on the Board of Directors at TechCorps, a technology focused organization that works for all K-12 students to have access to learn technology skills, programs, and resources to help them prepare for and be successful in the workforce. Ray has a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering from Case Western Reserve University and an MBA from the Weatherhead School of Management at Case.
Progressive has always been a forward-thinking company. With innovative products and services, we look to the future in nearly everything we do. This is especially true when it comes to investing in the future of our communities through our education-related efforts. Encouraging students at all levels to develop skills in science, technology, engineering and math remains a key focus of our social responsibility efforts. Progressive is fueled by the work of thousands of analysts, actuaries, programmers, and engineers. Through the programs we have offered, such as STEM Progress® and our Progressive Educational Partnership Program (PEPP), we strive to help young people better understand how these skills apply to real-life situations and can lead to careers.
We officially launched our STEM Progress® program companywide in the spring of 2013. The Progressive Crash Courses—lessons we develop for students in grades 3 through 12—are at the program’s foundation. All courses are taught by Progressive employees to bring real-life STEM experiences into the classroom. As of May 2015, more than 11,300 students in 22 states have participated in our Crash Courses.
The Progressive Parkway lesson for grades 3-5 uses insurance concepts in board game format to help develop math skills around risk and probability. CSI: Claims Scene Investigation and Baseball by Numbers are two courses developed for grades 6-8. CSI: Claims Scene Investigation challenges students to adopt the role of a claims representative and investigate an accident to determine who’s at fault. Through this, we help teach algebra, measurement, data analysis, and experimentation skills to demonstrate how they apply to real-life situations and jobs at Progressive. In Baseball by Numbers, students use math and data analysis to analyze the stats of MLB players. They then use these same skills to look at how insurance companies use driver-related data to determine risk ratings. Two of our high school course offerings – Pizza Pronto (a web-based driving game) and Physics by Accident – are currently being tested for release during the 2015-2016 school year.
We’ve also joined with Cleveland State University on various STEM education initiatives, including a student scholarship program, a STEM workshop for teachers, and a baseball-themed four-unit STEM curriculum provided to teachers that culminated with a special STEM Education Day at Progressive Field on May 14, 2015. About 660 students and teachers attended this event.
Our IT organization specifically has partnered with several groups to extend our outreach to children, including the one I am most proud of; Tech Corps. Through Tech Corps, a nonprofit that works with business volunteers to help inspire and educate K-12 students about the technology and computer industry, we have participated in their coding camps, and Techie Club, an afterschool program that covers fundamental programing, robotics, and more. We have also been involved with HER Ideas in Motion, a Cleveland-based nonprofit focused on helping girls achieve in technology and media arts and hosted a “Bring Your Daughters to IT” event.
This kind of collaboration is important to Progressive. Our IT department is constantly working with departments across the company to come up with ideas on how technology and big data can solve problems for consumers, our internal teams, and the industry. In fact, that’s how our Business Innovation Garage (BIG) came to be. BIG exists in the Cloud and in our data center – it’s staffed by a garage manager and four “mechanics” who are also IT analysts. The BIG team works to collect and cultivate new business solutions, with the end goal of exploring and testing ideas before we actually invest significant time, dollars, and resources into the project. BIG employees collaborate with colleagues in marketing, product development, and engineering. The garage has been extremely successful, and experiments involving company innovations such as Snapshot as well as other employee-driven ideas will continue to be tested as Progressive remains dedicated to its quality of offerings and the customer experience.
As a CIO, I integrate this kind of collaborative thinking everyday as it’s important for me to look at Progressive as a whole and a big part of that is making sure all of our offerings are digital in format.
One example is taking our legacy policy serving systems built in the 70’s and 80’s and figuring out how to make it work well with mobile. Another example is streamlining all of our customer touch-points to give people the best possible customer service experience with us no matter what platform they are using. An additional priority is integration with our marketing team. They are constantly looking for strategies for advertising campaigns and other consumer contact points, and the IT team works to find solutions to help optimize these efforts through data and better get our message across to potential and current customers.
Capabilities and tools are fine, but they’re not of much use without smart people to be problem solvers. Through our involvement in STEM programs; using top tech tools in the field; providing perks like our Gainshare bonus program and on-site fitness classes; and an ever-evolving training program, we continue to build a team of the most talented and forward-thinking IT professionals in the field.
The Progressive Group of Insurance Companies lives up to its name by being a step ahead of the insurance industry, by finding new and affordable insurance solutions. From innovative products and services to goal setting, we look to the future in nearly everything we do. In early 2013, our STEM Progress® program launched companywide. Progressive Crash Courses—lessons we develop for students in grades 3 through 12—are the program’s foundation. Progressive employees teach the courses to bring real-life STEM experiences into classrooms. More than 11,300 students in 22 states have participated in our Crash Courses. We’ve joined with CSU on various STEM education initiatives, including a student scholarship program, a workshop for teachers, and baseball-themed curriculum highlighted at STEM Education Day at Progressive Field in May 2015Our IT organization partners with nonprofit organizations (e.g., Tech Corps and HER Ideas in Motion) to promote computer and technology skills.