Sylvain Guilbert is thankful for taxes. “I was very lucky to be involved in this project at an early age, and be part of a team and learn how to work with others and communicate,” says the vice president and chief information officer of Echelon Insurance on the initiative that kick-started his career: developing the Québec government’s tax system. “In information technology, we often get involved with maintenance, system support, and user support—which was not very attractive to me.” For a programmer, this project moved well beyond support.
Since then, Guilbert has worked as a business analyst and systems architect, and over the last thirty-three years, his career has taken him to a lot of different places. From Québec to Toronto, San Francisco, Boston, and even to Paris—to name a few—he has held several positions within the information technology field.
Yet one thing has remained constant: Guilbert’s love of projects. Working with others on a singular goal is the dynamic environment in which he thrives.
Now he finds himself in an ideal environment at Echelon. The complexity and integration of the systems used, which extend throughout every facet of the business’s operations, excites him. In his current role, he is managing two initiatives that merge his passions for working on team projects and integrated systems.
Project: General Information System
Currently the largest project at Echelon, the General Information System (GIS) will be a centralized system for all of Echelon’s business in Canada. The project is a migration of Echelon’s data centre, enabling underwriting, claims, finance, reinsurance, and all facets of the business to be integrated in one spot.
Guilbert’s fingerprint is on every aspect of the system—from planning its inception five years ago to negotiating its purchase with the Saskatchewan government—making GIS his baby. When the integration of this system began, Guilbert defined the budget, assessed risk, and planned the project’s timeline. He’s now monitoring the progress of these aspects and updating his team on a weekly basis of any possible adjustments that may be needed.
According to Guilbert, managing change is the highest hurdle. For the CIO, this means getting everybody to buy into the new GIS. “The business has to agree to adapt to the changing system, not the other way around,” he says. “Our day-to-day operations need to coincide with this new centralized system across all layers of the business.” To overcome this challenge, Guilbert began the process by ensuring that his team fully understood the bigger picture of how the new system is going to be deployed. Then he started bringing the team up to speed and familiarizing them with it.
Guilbert was tasked with revamping Echelon’s cybersecurity in two distinct areas. The first is to put in place intrusion detection to see early on if there are any attempts to go through Echelon’s infrastructure and stop a potential risk before it becomes a serious problem. The second is to put an incident response plan in place that is unique to each area of Echelon’s business.
On an operational level, Guilbert is accountable for tracking and monitoring confidential data within Echelon’s security system. In the larger picture of Echelon’s cybersecurity efforts, he is trying to create, as he says, an ecosystem of cybersecurity throughout the entire company.
The greatest challenge is ensuring that each Canadian office conducts business in a way that aligns with the security ecosystem put in place. “We want the employee to be part of the security,” Guilbert says. “They must go through rigorous training, pass exams—and at the end of the year, we retrain employees to deal with any new security threats that arise, or new techniques that hackers are using.”