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Management Strategies

03:58 PM
Frank Petersmark, X by 2
Frank Petersmark, X by 2

In IT, The Business Should Always Be the Winner

It's important that CIO accolades stay focused on those who ultimately benefit.

When it comes to award ceremonies, Hollywood has nothing on insurance IT. Each year there are any number of awards for insurance CIOs and other IT leaders involving innovation, technology, and program or project achievement. And it seems even more awards are created each year. On balance that's a good thing, as it gives more CIOs an opportunity to be recognized for the difficult jobs they do. As a former CIO I often think there should be an award for keeping one's job another year – I'm still waiting to see that one.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I have received several such awards throughout my career, and in each case I appreciated the recognition and the implied understanding of the complexity involved in business technology initiatives. While the growth of this award phenomenon for CIOs might be seen as a part of a larger trend recognizing the value that CIOs can and do bring to their organizations, it's important to not get too carried away and lose sight of the real focus of these awards – recognition for delivering value to the business. That has always been and always will be where the real rubber meets the road.

Frank Petersmark
Frank Petersmark, X by 2

So in the spirit of that, here are a couple of suggestions to make sure things stay on track.

First and foremost, and while most of the current award criteria reflect this, it's vitally important that the nomination process and award criteria stay focused on capturing the real value a CIO provides to the business.

In my new industry role, and as a result of our firm's thought leadership perspectives, we have been asked to participate in the nominating and judging process for several of these awards, a role we take seriously and are only too happy to perform. Whenever we participate in such things, we're always careful to take the perspective of the ultimate consumers of whatever the award is highlighting. Has the nominated achievement improved the business lives as intended? Did the nominated achievement meet the business goals and objectives as prescribed at its outset?

If you asked the consumers of the nominated achievement directly (and you should), what would they say about the value derived from their perspectives? As a CIO, it certainly is flattering to receive such awards, and on some level it can bring some well-deserved attention to the efforts of those who toil in thankless IT roles. There's also no doubt that it nicely enhances one's resume, and the accolades received can in some cases be used to legitimize one's career achievements and next-step aspirations. However if it doesn't somehow meet the needs of those it was designed to help, then that's an issue.

[Previously from Petersmark: Why the mainframe is like Godzilla]

That's why it's important that these awards stay focused on those who ultimately benefit. Of course, the individual award recipient benefits from some positive publicity and acknowledgement of their accomplishments, and an argument might be made that the recipients' organizations benefits from the same sorts of things as well. But for insurance CIO awards to stay relevant they must stay focused on the ultimate beneficiaries. Otherwise, CIOs run the risk of being perceived as focusing too much time and attention on external matters rather than internal ones.

Another important element of the nomination and award process is to solicit, to the extent possible, direct feedback from the consumers of the nominated achievement. This might seem obvious, but time and logistics sometimes prevent this from happening. And when it doesn't happen any award received runs the risk of lacking the complete credibility it might otherwise have.

One way to ensure that business or customer users are involved is by making it as easy as possible for them to do so. For example, it might be worth developing nominating criteria that is different for the business people involved as opposed to any solution providers or consultants that might be involved. So rather than focusing on software architecture or technology stacks, important things to be sure, I'd like to see nomination requests sent directly to a CIO's customers, encouraging them to talk about how the nominated achievement has benefited them.

There are some awards that have this component, but not all of them. That way award recipients get nominated by the very people that have consumed the solutions and services provided, creating a pretty straight line from the award winner to the beneficiary. For CIO insurance awards to stay meaningful and important, that needs to continue to happen.

Such a practice would help to insure that there is a balanced and fully vetted view of any award nominees. As it stands, there are cases where some award recipients are nominated by an external solution provider, or somebody else in IT, and while there is nothing inherently wrong in this, it can diminish the objectiveness of the appraisal of the value and benefit of the solution or service.

Now this may seem like much ado about nothing. After all, what's the harm in a little public cheerleading to recognize people who for the most part get little thanks for what they bring to their respective organizations each and every day? Well there isn't, unless for some reason the nominated CIO is perceived as not delivering fully om whatever the nominated achievement was by his or her customers. That's why it's so important to involve those customers in the process.

One other thought on this: As it stands, all of the current insurance CIO awards that I'm aware of are ultimately awarded by entities external to the CIO's own organization. These may be solution providers, consulting practices, technology vendors, and the like. Again, there's nothing wrong with that so long as the aforementioned nomination processes are part of the consideration. But what about a CIO or IT award that is generated from within the CIO's organization?

That might sound a little silly, but think of the possibilities in terms of continuing to improve the relationships between the business and IT. It would allow both to walk in each other's shoes as it were, by focusing on the kinds of nominating and judging criteria based on some internal measure of customer satisfaction with the solution or service? Or better yet, on some financial metrics of competitive or expense impact.

These kinds of things are often done under the rubric of project management or some other form of project governance, but why not make it part of some larger award evaluation that leads to a better appreciation of what each other does? Not only could this help both the business and IT sharpen their criteria and appreciation for the value can be derived from working collaboratively, done well it might even help improve business and IT relationships in organizations.

Because when it comes right down to it, the only winner in any of this that should really matter is the business.

About the author: Frank Petersmark is the CIO Advocate at X by 2, a technology consulting company in Farmington Hills, Mich., specializing in software and data architecture and transformation projects for the insurance industry. As CIO Advocate, he travels the country meeting CIOs and other senior IT and business executives at insurers, learning about their goals and frustrations, sharing lessons learned, and offering strategic counsel. Formerly Chief Information Officer and Vice President of information technology at Amerisure Mutual Insurance Company, Frank has more 30 years' experience as an information technology professional and executive.

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