Insurance & Technology is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Trading Technology

12:53 PM
Connect Directly

Help Wanted

Throughout their organizations, insurers today have to do more with fewer resources. Human resources is no exception. Recruiting - and retaining - talented IT staff is critical.

Q: What key skills do insurance IT professionals need to have today?

A: Eric Chand, AFLAC: The key skills required of IT professionals are mainframe and/or distributive programming, analysis, and architectural skills. It is rare to find one person with all these skill sets, so companies must focus on developing these skills internally. Additionally, skilled IT professionals need to understand how their insurance company works: operations, branding, products, services, organization, etc. Senior employees become more valuable as they learn the company's business environment and processes.

A: Margaret Resce Milkint, The Jacobson Group: IT professionals need to move beyond the technology expert label. In addition to strong technical skills, IT leaders must be able to offer a multidimensional perspective as a business partner, collaborator, connector and driver of results. IT professionals must demonstrate that they can do more than just keep the technology running - that they can add value to the organization and contribute to the bottom line. A solid understanding and respect for the intricacies involved with current business dynamics and culture is critical to ensuring IT's seat at the executive table. Being able to create a successful IT strategy that meshes with business strategy is also necessary. Stellar communication skills are needed to effectively communicate strategy and gain buy in. IT professionals also must possess vision to enable them to project beyond their organization's current shape, as well as past current operational and cultural limitations. The ability to act as a change agent and to lead the IT staff and the company through the reengineering of workflows are essential characteristics.

A: Matthew D. Hintz, CIGNA: The healthcare business is undergoing systemic change, which means our technologists need to be even more business-focused and oriented. That means developing skill sets that enable our businesses to integrate information and service and serve it up to consumers. Specifically, we are focused on expertise in customer-facing technologies, such as Web services, enterprise data architecture for integrating information and services, large-scale program management, and vendor management. Unlike technology companies that attract people who are interested in "technology for technology's sake," we draw technologists who are interested in solving business issues.

A: Joel Gelb, The Main Street America Group: IT professionals need the obvious technical skills to perform their job function, but they also need experience in applying these skills, as abstract knowledge is not adequate to cope with the real demands of an active company environment. Beyond these skills, analytic ability is a clear requirement in almost all IT jobs. In many cases, insurance knowledge also is a key need for the IT professional to function. This is especially true across the application side of the house, but it is helpful even for technical support types to be plugged in to the business and how it works so they can better anticipate and respond to problems.

Over time, "soft skills" also have received more emphasis, especially the need to communicate effectively - both listening and providing information - with nontechnical clients. Client relationship abilities for dealing with business people and being able to work effectively in teams (technical and nontechnical) are also skills that are in demand. Finally, IT professionals need to be skilled at being professional: knowing how to manage multiple priorities, large spans of control, lack of certainty and other complexities to make sure that solutions are satisfactory.

Q: How will the insurance IT professional's role evolve in the future?

A: Milkint, The Jacobson Group: Evolution of the IT professional's role will lead to broader and nontraditional opportunities. Technology fuels insurance organizations for future growth and differentiates the leaders from the rest. Robust IT leadership is vital to an insurer's success. It is important for IT to be viewed as more than just a necessary support function. IT professionals need to exhibit real-world business and leadership skills, such as business and marketing savvy, operational know-how and hands-on insurance experience. IT leaders need to contribute and add value to strategy. In order to bridge the gap between business and IT executives, IT leaders must be aware of the operational realities of the business and prove that technology can help improve profitability. Creativity and the ability to operate cross-functionally are increasingly important traits in an IT professional.

A: Hintz, CIGNA: New product development is accelerating in the health insurance industry. During the next few years, the popularity of consumer-directed health plans is expected to grow exponentially, and these products are dramatically changing business processes, as well as the technology that supports it. Consumer-directed plans mean more consumer-facing technologies delivered through the Web, which means expertise in everything from data integration to online services to vendor management.

Q: What challenges do insurance companies face in terms of finding and recruiting skilled/talented IT employees?

A: Chand, AFLAC: The insurance industry still depends on the mainframe and other legacy-based products and skill sets. The academic world has moved into the newer distributive processing - most educational institutions do not teach or address mainframe technology and its operations. This presents greater challenges for us to recruit for skill sets that are diminishing in terms of supply. It also presents us with strategic opportunities to partner with universities to expand mainframe programming education.

A: Gelb, The Main Street America Group: Besides the usual reasons for hiring being tough, special factors make this even more difficult now: an aging COBOL-skilled workforce, "sexier" industries than insurance, deeper pockets on the part of other industries, more-specialized skill needs as IT tools evolve and interact, and a shortage of IT professionals with insurance experience. Dealing with such shortages of skilled talent requires a full spectrum of approaches, including use of recruiters/headhunters, online recruitment services and networking. An additional approach would be to set up job fairs (your own or a multicompany event). Also, use industry contacts to learn of disruption in other insurance companies and then approach those companies to see if downsized staff are available to recruit. Mainly though, out-of-the-box solutions are a key to reducing the problems that talent shortages bring. Some thoughts around this include: more-careful workforce planning to allow more time to recruit or execute a "grow your own" strategy, and a creative use of outsourcing and consultants. Depending on one's culture, options such as part-time, shift or work-at-home arrangements can allow you to tap into a larger pool of resources than traditional hiring arrangements would.

Q: How can insurance companies motivate and retain IT employees?

A: Chand, AFLAC: Every IT developer or systems engineer wants state-of-the-art skill sets, state-of-the-art technology, challenging projects, competitive salaries and benefits, opportunities for professional growth and advancement, and a great work environment. Companies must continually focus on meeting these needs if they hope to attract and retain quality IT professionals. Companies also need IT managers who are great leaders. Only great leaders will have success in creating the environment that motivates IT professionals to be committed and loyal to the organization.

A: Hintz, CIGNA: In sports, they talk about a coach putting players in a position to win. That's very much the challenge for today's IT leadership - putting high-performance individuals in an environment where they can see opportunities to learn and grow professionally.


THE EXPERTS: IT workforce

Eric Chand
Senior Technical Recruiter
AFLAC, (Columbus, Ga.)

Joel Gelb
VP and Chief Information Officer
The Main Street America Group, (Jacksonville, Fla.)

Matthew D. Hintz
HR Senior Director
CIGNA, (Bloomfield, Conn.)

Margaret Resce Milkint
The Jacobson Group, (Chicago)

Peggy Bresnick Kendler has been a writer for 30 years. She has worked as an editor, publicist and school district technology coordinator. During the past decade, Bresnick Kendler has worked for UBM TechWeb on special financialservices technology-centered ... View Full Bio

Register for Insurance & Technology Newsletters