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Today's CIOs stand at the intersection of business and technology.

As the old economy gives way to the new in the insurance industry, the vanguard of information technology—the elite rank of CIO and CTO—continues to rise to a higher level of prominence within the organization. Today's CIO stands where business and technology meet, withthe expertise—and with increasing responsibility—to maximize the way one serves the other.

Being closer to business means being further away from the technology, in some sense. The days when the CIO of a large company could be up to the elbows in the technology and "married" to particular projects are a memory. Today's CIO straddles both worlds, serving as an ambassador and translator, providing a new kind of combined expertise found only at this intersection of disciplines.

But an ability to develop synergies with the business partners is just part of what makes an outstanding technology executive, according to members of Insurance & Technology's Elite 8 2000 Consultants Advisory Board. The Advisory Board offered nominations for this year's Elite 8 and then voted for their top choices.

An elite CIO is, according to Mike LaPorta, global leader, insurance, Deloitte Consulting (New York), "a visionary capable of envisioning how to provide significant value to business users quickly and cost-effectively." He or she is "on the front end of technology, stays abreast of what's happening and recognizes what will work."

Mike Adler, partner, PricewaterhouseCoopers (New York), describes the elite CIO as, "someone who can take a really large, diverse organization and get people—whether IT people or business people—on board to rapidly make decisions and implement solutions on a consistent basis." He or she must work with the business executives, Adler says, "to understand the business vision, and how e-commerce fits into it."

Perhaps the most basic quality of today's insurance industry CIO is the capacity to learn. As technology continues to evolve at a rapid pace, it doesn't make sense to think of merely being qualified for the top job. Constantly re-qualifying oneself, so to speak, is itself a critical qualification. "In the information age a learning/relearning commitment is required," says Benjamin Tomb, managing director, financial services, KPMG Consulting (New York). The elite technology executives, he says, "have to demonstrate a commitment to education for themselves and then set a budget for continuing education for the entire organization."

To a certain extent, the need for continuing education is obvious, since technology leaders have always had to keep pace with technological innovation. But today's CIO needs to know how that technology fits into the business. The learning commitment must be "both from a stewardship and a competitive perspective," says Tomb, "because strategies in today's market are much more fully inclusive of technology, rather than enabled by technology. In the past, technology was considered as a means of gaining efficiency. Now the Web and the Internet, in many cases, may be the strategy." Accordingly, Tomb adds, "CIOs and CTOs have to be business strategists first, technology mechanics second."

Of course technology executives are not the only ones to have evolved. Their business colleagues are more tech-savvy than ever, more capable of identifying areas of technological opportunity, and more likely to ask hard questions—and demand satisfying answers. Top tech execs, says John Johnsen, managing director, TCI Consulting (Cresskill, NJ), "have to have a really good sense of what the needs of the business are, and insurance is a very hard business to understand." "Strong credibility" is one of the most critical qualities. "You have to have the ability to get senior management to have faith and respect in you," he says, adding that it doesn't stop there. "Getting along with the head of operations is just as critical as having the confidence at the top of the organization."

Anthony O'Donnell has covered technology in the insurance industry since 2000, when he joined the editorial staff of Insurance & Technology. As an editor and reporter for I&T and the InformationWeek Financial Services of TechWeb he has written on all areas of information ... View Full Bio

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