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Best Friends Forever

One of the most interesting things about smart and successful insurance technology executives is that they typically combine confidence and pride with a realistic and almost wry sense of both technology and human limitations. No matter how long they've been in the business, effective CIOs don't lose their creativity and desire to make an impact -- nor their healthy, clear-eyed skepticism about technology hype and management expectations.

This sort of "enthusiastic sanity" was very much in evidence among the attendees at Insurance & Technology's recent Executive Summit (in-depth coverage begins on page 24), and nowhere more so than during the Summit's closing session, a point/counterpoint featuring two of I&T's 2006 Elite 8 honorees, Stuart McGuigan, SVP and CIO of Liberty Mutual Insurance Group, and Al Bowen, SVP of information systems at Ohio National Financial Services. The two executives debated topics as varied as security, social networking technologies and the Optional Federal Charter, but both agreed that, at the end-of-the day, if the boss doesn't understand and appreciate what you do, the odds are against your success.

After long careers in IT management, both men have renewed appreciation for the challenges the IT organization and the people who lead it face. Asked why CIO tenure continues to be relatively short, McGuigan observed, "We make the development of systems and support of technology seem too easy. We're implementing constant change. Other business areas are good at sharing the complexity of doing their jobs, but we don't share enough. This stuff is hard!" Even something as simple as taking the CFO and CEO on guided tours of the data center, "just to see that level of engineering," could open some eyes as to the difficulty of the job, McGuigan suggested.

Bowen was just as blunt. "I don't call myself a CIO because CIOs get fired!" he declared. "What a surprise -- you say you're the chief information officer, and what executive in your organization thinks they have all the information to do their job?"

Like McGuigan, Bowen pointed out that sometimes technological prowess is not the most important factor in a tech chief's success. "It's an image kind of issue," he said. "You've got to be partnered up with the leadership of the company. If you don't report to the chairman or CEO, your tenure is questionable. If the COO, CFO or CEO isn't your best friend -- three years and you're gone." Words to live by, for sure.

Katherine Burger is Editorial Director of Bank Systems & Technology and Insurance & Technology, members of UBM TechWeb's InformationWeek Financial Services. She assumed leadership of Bank Systems & Technology in 2003 and of Insurance & Technology in 1991. In addition to ... View Full Bio

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