The key to success in the insurance industry in the coming years is based on an obvious fact, the implications of which too many companies still fail to appreciate, according to Srinivas Koushik, vice president and enterprise CTO of Nationwide (Columbus, Ohio, $24.5 billion in assets). "We build nothing tangible; all of the products that insurance or financial services companies offer are driven by information-information makes up our products," he argues. Given that fact, he concludes, "the companies that will do well are those that realize that IT is their life blood."
It was Nationwide's appreciation of this truism that influenced his coming on board in January 2002, Koushik acknowledges, taking on responsibility for the company's information circulatory system, so to speak. Charged with providing leadership in the areas of IT strategy, solution delivery, and architecture, Koushik has driven the implementation of an Adaptive Enterprise Architecture that guides a gradual simplification of Nationwide's technology environment. Since arriving at Nationwide, Koushik has pioneered technologies such as Web services, portals, enterprise content management, enterprise application integration and on-demand processing power, as well as innovative hardware approaches such as Blackberries and tablet PCs.
Perhaps Koushik's major accomplishment so far has been to move Nationwide's multiple component companies in the direction of operating as a single business. "We've made big strides in getting to a standardized infrastructure and application framework," he relates. "That's important because it determines the service levels we can offer customers, and thus has a direct effect on the bottom line."
Koushik has also driven standardized methodology in Nationwide's application development approach, and has helped develop Nationwide's Technology Engagement Model (TEM), which aligns IT on the most important business objectives through the work of formal councils that respectively address strategy, technology approaches and specific solutions. "The big thing we've done with the TEM is to introduce the whole concept of the architect, who provides a critical voice that needs to be at the table," Koushik says.
Koushik's efforts arise from a conviction that the insurance industry is poised to make significant improvements in its technology, and thus its operational efficiency. "From a technology environment standpoint, no matter what insurance or financial services company you look at, its value chain is not as optimized as a typical manufacturing company," he argues. "There's a huge opportunity for the companies that can figure that out." Standards will be a big piece of the solution on an industry level, Koushik believes, and has taken a lead role in bringing Nationwide into ACORD (Pearl River, N.Y.) and WS-I (Web Services Interoperability Organization), a consortium dedicated to the promotion of Web services.
Before coming to Nationwide, Koushik spent 10 years at IBM (Armonk, NY) refining his technical expertise. But his devotion to technical excellence goes back further. As Vijay Gopal, Nationwide enterprise architect, and former college mate recounts of Koushik-who was two years ahead of Gopal-"the guys in my class used to refer to him as 'furniture' because he was always in the lab." But this heads-down impression belies the breadth of Koushik's abilities.
What makes Koushik such an outstanding technology executive is not just his ability to focus intensely on technical challenges, but also to be able to understand the relation of technology to business needs and effectively communicate that between business and technology professionals. "You cannot underestimate the importance of communication," he asserts. Koushik is a passionate advocate of improving the communication skills of technologists, who, he acknowledges, "have a tendency to delve into bits and bytes." Koushik coaches his subordinates to take a narrative, business-value-focused approach to their presentations, utilizing all elements of the presentation, including color-coding. Nevertheless, according to Gopal, Koushik's people still often seek to have their presentations "Srinivized" prior to delivery. Admits Koushik: "It's an area where I have a lot more work to do."
Another area of vital work for Koushik is mentoring. "Since I've benefitted so heavily from it throughout my career, it's a big item on my agenda," he remarks. Koushik himself looks to three mentors of his own at Nationwide-not all of whom are above his level-and provides mentoring to eight individuals whom he describes as "high-potential."
In addition to the immediate value to the participants, Koushik sees mentoring as another aspect of fostering vital communication throughout the organization. "I believe informal networking is one of the things that makes you a successful company," he opines. "You have the people in positions responsible for making decisions, but then you've got the whole set of people who actually make things work! It's invaluable to set up networks and get to know those guys."
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