BlueCross leader seeks bright minds

Last week's Ignite! conference brought together key Midlands players to stoke interest in the project designed to bring young professionals to the region.

Anne Castro, chief design architect for BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina, was among the speakers. The speakers were an eclectic group, including a young Web entrepreneur, the director of the S.C. Philharmonic, a restaurant owner and the director of a nuclear company.

The event was sponsored by EngenuitySC, a public-private partnership of business, academic and government leaders working on the area's efforts to build a knowledge economy.

Castro, 50, started with the company 29 years ago as a programmer and now oversees the massive company's computer systems as its "chief design architect."

She spoke to The State on Monday:

What does a chief design architect do?

It has nothing to do with buildings. Castro makes sure all of the company's computer systems are built according to company standards and that they can talk to each other in the most efficient way possible. That helps the company process more than 8 billion health care transactions every year.

One of her challenges, for example, was making sure the computer system could handle all the requirements of health care savings accounts when they were created.

What was discussed during the Ignite! conference?

Castro and all of the other presenters had six minutes to talk about the role they play in Columbia's quest to transform to a knowledge-based economy - a region attractive to bright minds - during the high-spirited presentations.

Castro used a movie that showed BlueCross BlueShield's tower at I-20 and I-77 transforming into a superhero. She peppered in bits of information to help the audience understand the sheer size of the company. "I danced onto the stage," she said.

So how big is the company?

"A lot of people might think of us as an insurance company in South Carolina," she said. "We're really a lot bigger than that." Castro said the company, which operates nationwide, processes more than 800 million claims a year and has an information systems staff of 2,400.

How does a knowledge-based economy play into BlueCross' success?

The initiative promotes Columbia's attributes, including Innovista, state government, the University of South Carolina, downtown living spaces and fun places to visit.

"Their purpose is to make sure that Columbia is a place where the brightest young people want to come," Castro said. "All of that together is what brings those bright minds to our city."

That allows companies like hers to recruit talented people to the city to fill important jobs. "We are nothing without our people," she said.

Why would your company be attractive to bright young people?

BlueCross BlueShield is working to transform itself into a "world-class technology company," Castro said. It is one of only three data centers nationwide hosting Medicare data, and it has won 78 percent of that business, ahead of IBM and EDS, two major data companies.

BlueCross also is part of the trend among large companies of eliminating large servers and handling data in a new type of mainframe. It takes up less space and has fewer parts, making it easier and cheaper to operate and rebuild, if necessary.