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Help Is Available for Challenged CIOs

Top technology executives will need to improve skills to navigate through rough waters, but for those feeling in over their heads, guidance is available.

As insurance technologists struggle to keep afloat in the rough waters of the current economy, even the more seasoned IT professionals may find themselves at the helm of a floundering ship. Although free time is scarce and professional development seems low on the list of priorities, now more than ever, a reevaluation and refreshment of business acumen is critical.

"This year will be a year of continued strife; there will be more overwork, and IT professionals will need to buffer and bolster intellectual toolboxes with more than just technology skills," advises Diane Morello, vice president, research director, Gartner (Stamford, CT). The research and advisory firm has released a career blueprint titled Eight Career Resolutions for IT Professionals. The list is business-focused because, according to Gartner, IT professionals need to demonstrate their business value during the prolonged challenges of the economic downturn.


The first technologist resolution, advises Gartner, should be the performance of a self-evaluation so that business and technology knowledge can be assessed. After an inventory is taken, the next two important plans of action for technologists, according to Morello, should be the pursuit of emerging and enduring knowledge, as well as a search for additional leadership opportunities and increased accountability. The Gartner list also stresses it behooves IT professionals to focus on finding new value in prior IT investments and reapplying functions and features to new business processes based on new-found business knowledge.

These steps are important because business and technology are always changing. By constantly positioning IT skills as they apply to short- and long-term business goals, IT professionals will stay aligned with the strategic road maps of their organizations. Whatever the means for improvement, Morello insists that 2003 is no time for complacency and advises that technologists honestly face strengths and weaknesses, immerse themselves in the business and demonstrate leadership in good times and bad.

Although they are likely to lead to self-improvement, professional development efforts in the wake of budget and regulatory pressures cannot guarantee leadership success. Facing new tests each day, CIOs may find themselves learning lessons the hard way. Fortunately for insurance information technologists who are feeling in over their heads, experienced resources are available.

Atlanta-based Tatum CIO Partners LLP provides the technology leadership services of partners who each have more than 20 years of CIO experience. Tatum provides CIO services across industries and has about 25 former insurance IT leaders on its team. Oftentimes, the firm's partners work alongside a carrier's chief information officer or line-of-business head to help evaluate and rescue "very sick" projects, says Diane Smigel, a Tatum partner and former IT executive at John Hancock, New England Life and Capital Holdings, a consultancy. The firm also engages its partners as interim, part-time and full-time chief information officers. According to Smigel, Tatum CIO Partners has worked with about a dozen carriers.

All in Same Boat

Smigel comments that in the current economic climate all carriers are facing the same types of problems.

"Insurers are dealing with the same budget and profitability challenges right now," she says. "Carriers are focusing on their customers and a lot of them are finding that they need to upgrade core legacy systems in the short term without disrupting the operations of their company." In addition to focusing on predefined projects, "Tatum CIO Partners is often called into insurance companies to set direction and choose the right technology solutions," says Smigel. "Tatum also revisits an organization's effectiveness and makes changes to a company's IT strategy."


8 Career Resolutions for IT Professionals

- Take inventory of your technology and business knowledge.

- Get smart about the key drivers of your company's business.

- Identify required services.

- Become an evergreen professional.

- Seek leadership opportunities and accountability.

- Strengthen your knowledge of business principles.

- Get connected.

- Find new value in prior IT investments.

Source: Gartner, Inc.

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