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It’s Not Your Father’s IT Shop

Information technology organizations are changing from the top down. Mere managers are a dime a dozen, while IT leaders are the precious currency needed to turn a traditional IT shop into a competitive asset for the insurance company of tomorrow.

Knowing what the business side is up to helps IT leaders develop proposals and make sure IT goals coincide with business objectives. ""The business and IT organizations have to work together,"" says Accenture's Pfau. ""The technology folks have to understand the users, and the business folks have to understand the technology. Throwing projects 'over the wall' is no longer acceptable.""

Surprisingly, the practice of the business side giving the IT group a project and hoping the end result is what is needed still takes place, says Bernard DeFiore, president and CEO of (Dallas), an online employee benefits exchange. ""I still see a number of organizations where the CIOs are told to build things and are never involved in the business-technology development,"" DeFiore says. ""That is changing as many CIOs are looking to getinvolved earlier.""

Aligning the business and IT goals is important to guarantee success for all projects, says Nationwide's Tien. ""If a project idea comes out of the IT side, it won't go anywhere without business buy-in,"" Tien says. ""Without the presidents and the higher-ups getting behind the project, it won't get a whole lot of momentum.""

And by getting buy-in, or better yet ""accountability,"" from the business side, CIOs can avoid being the fall guys for failed projects. ""Traditionally, IT projects are sponsored by IT,"" says Andersen's Mangan. ""Without a business person responsible for the project, all of the blame for a failed project falls on IT.""


One way to ensure the business and the IT teams share the responsibility is to create an IT organization where there is no separation between IT and business. New York-based AIG's e-business risk solutions group (eBRS) only has one mission, not separate IT and business goals. ""I have been in the information technology business for 27 years,"" says Allen Brewer, CIO of the eBRS. ""This is a very different sort of group. I have worked in startups where there was a greater separation of business and IT than what we have here.""

Gretchen Hayes, eBRS's president, says that in her role she knows more about technology now than ever before. ""Up and down the ranks for the business people, there is just plain more knowledge of technology,"" Hayes says. ""I have had to learn a lot more. I think everyone has had to learn more. Most of the technologists had to learn a lot more about the insurance products. And they have a lot to offer. IT people know what is going on in the market and they have ideas that contribute to our mission."" In the past, continues Hayes, most business leaders would never consult technologists on the business plan, but it is different now.

Greg MacSweeney is editorial director of InformationWeek Financial Services, whose brands include Wall Street & Technology, Bank Systems & Technology, Advanced Trading, and Insurance & Technology. View Full Bio

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