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Changing Times: How Insurance CIOs Can Strengthen Their Strategic Influence

Insurance & Technology's Elite 8 2012 advisory board members discuss what characterizes the successful insurance CIO in a time of great change.

Optimism Under Pressure

Craig Weber, Celent
Craig Weber, Celent

The successful insurance CIO acts in a spirit of "optimism under pressure." Most CIOs have resources at their disposal -- not as many as they'd like, perhaps, but enough to make a big difference in their companies' performance. There's a sense that technology is gaining traction and delivering improvements more efficiently than ever before.

CIOs are definitely key players in senior management now. The past decade has taught us that getting value out of IT spending is hard to do, and most business people know they lack the skills and experience to do it well. Secretly, lots of business people (including CEOs) are terrified of the complexity in today's technology. Effective CIOs have job security and/or high employability.

Setting strategy is about managing tradeoffs, and no one knows better than a CIO what is possible using current and emerging technologies. But too often, CIOs are caught up in justifying IT costs or addressing short-term needs and can't make the mental shift toward defining the world of the possible to other inhabitants of the C-suite.

The CIO's Golden Rule

Frank Petersmark, X by 2

Frank Petersmark, X by 2

Today's environment is completely different from just a few years ago. CIOs are expected to be strategic leaders while worrying about operational business alignment, innovate while battling strong headwinds against change within their organizations, and contribute directly to top-/bottom-line revenue while seeing overall investments in IT stay flat or slightly decrease.

Alignment is yesterday's challenge for CIOs; if they're not strategically integrated into their firms, then they're not functioning effectively as a CIO. Where that hasn't occurred it's often due to undelivered promises on IT initiatives -- over time, over budget, unrealized efficiencies, etc. That's how credibility and trust are lost.

CIOs must be careful about how they communicate the complexity and effort required for enterprisewide IT initiatives. More CIOs than not get into trouble by oversimplifying what it will take to get something done; when things go awry, they've left themselves in a vulnerable position and risk damaging whatever hard-earned credibility they've attained. The golden CIO rule is still to do what you say you're going to do, and implicit in that is thinking carefully about what you and your division can and cannot do.

Know Your Business

Steve Callahan, Robert E. Nolan Co.

Steve Callahan, Robert E. Nolan Co.
Know your business -- that is the key to success in today's volatile world. Technology has always been complex, but the shift in complexity from the "hard" world of managing raised floors and data farms to information-driven "soft" technologies imposes an amplified demand for business acumen. For the former, technical depth was key; for the latter, a blend of business-specific knowledge and continually updated technological breadth is a necessity. Actionable thought leadership able to determine which combination of increasingly diverse options will drive optimal business value, and then deliver it on time, is today's executive jackpot. A CIO capable of driving rapid implementations with agility and flexibility is the rare find that truly stands out.

Many of the other demands on a CIO -- resource balancing, scope management, governance, communication skills, staff leadership -- have always been and will continue to be foundational skills. Knowing which specific solution to run, why it is best for the business, and how to get it in place ensures C-level trust, a place at the strategic planning table, and a more successful business.

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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