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Not Routine: A Day in the Life of an Insurance CIO

What really goes into the daily routine of an insurance CIO? I&T editor Anthony O'Donnell recently shadowed 2002 Elite 8 honoree Dennis Callahan, CIO of Guardian Life Insurance, through what Callahan calls a "not atypical" day.

NEW YORK CITY, Thursday, August 28, 8:15 a.m.-CIO breakfast with assorted staff attendees. This bi-weekly meeting format enables Callahan to give people who don't report to him directly the chance to address any topic they wish. An unforeseen matter of urgency results in Callahan's arriving a few minutes late, for which he apologizes-then sharply calls the meeting to order. A friendly, familiar tone prevails as each of about 10 attendees introduces themselves, followed by each addressing a particular point of interest or concern. Topics range from the trend of the U.S. economy, to business/IT relations, all the way to "What the heck does 'on-demand' mean, anyway?"

9:00 a.m.-Glasshouse Technologies. Representatives from the Framingham, Mass., storage-focused consultancy enjoyed a face-to-face with Callahan as a reward for a job well done involving assisting on a deal with EMC (Hopkinton, Mass.). Bob Mathers, Guardian's 2nd VP, technical operations, makes the introduction, voicing praise for Glasshouse. Callahan is friendly, if inscrutable, as he queries Glasshouse executives about the direction of the storage industry. Warren Jones, VP, IT operations (and Callahan's former Goldman Sachs colleague), opens up the possibilities for future work, while maintaining a posture of sales resistance. "We've got a lot of confidence based on what you've done for us," Jones says. "Now show us the money"-which elicits from Callahan: "Now that warms the cockles of my heart, Warren!"

9:30 a.m.-Jaime Sguerra, architecture team head, and senior business systems officer, one-on-one. Direct-report Sguerra brings Callahan up-to-date on a variety of issues related to the carrier's architectural strategy. Topics include review of the executive summary of a report on Guardian's engagement with IBM-owned Rational, whose methodology-the Rational Unified Process (RUP)-the carrier has committed to adopt; issues of compliance with internal architectural protocols and standards; matters relating to the pooling of resources through the carrier's project management office; and use of the Primavera project management system.

10:00 a.m.-Interview with prospective IT hire.

10:30 a.m.-Lifecycle Planning. Attendees include top IT finance officer, Rick Omartian, 2nd VP, CFO and chief of staff; along with Warren Jones and Karen Olson, 2nd VP, client support services, another Goldman Sachs colleague, who is now in charge of the customer-facing side of operations. "The best person in the role that I've ever met in my career," Callahan says of Olson. Discussion centers on acquisition and deployment of PCs, the negotiations with vendors, and the operational consequences of choices. At one point Callahan consults his PDA and runs into some difficulty. "Ilan, are you doing heavy calendar work?" he shouts out to his ever-so-efficient executive assistant. Receiving a reply in the affirmative he adds, "You're bombing my Blackberry!

11:30 a.m.-Marc S. Sokol, chief security officer, one-on-one. Discussion begins on implications of the USA PATRIOT Act for Guardian's various lines of business. Lobby redesign is discussed as part of business continuity plan. Sokol and Callahan talk about a "Lessons Learned" incident report on the firm's response to the Northeast blackout of August 14, as well as plans to adapt a home-grown contact database application to business continuity applications, and leveraging existing technology to fight computer viruses.

Noon-Lunch at Harry's with Ron Benasack and Ray Roy, MFX. Callahan gives a hearing to former AIG colleague Benasack, now VP, business development, of insurance-specific technology solutions and services company, MFX (Toronto), along with Ray Roy, the vendor's chairman and CEO. Callahan asks Benasack how he's finding the marketplace. "I think it's turning around," Benasack replies. What MFX could do for Guardian is tentatively discussed. Callahan makes it clear that MFX would need to come up with an offer that would provide substantial value.

1:00 p.m.-Ed Curtis, facilities head, one-on-one. Curtis comes bearing mock-ups of what Guardian's front entrance would look like with the addition of certain security features, as part of a larger disaster recovery/business continuity framework. The meeting continues with a discussion of the Lessons Learned incident report, with a related conversation about the cost/benefit calculus of investing in additional power-generating capabilities.

1:30 p.m.-IT Senior Staff Meeting. Callahan meets with his direct reports, HR liaison and a communications representative. Topics covered include status of the 2004 technology plan; budgeting, with attention to status of chargebacks to the business; and major projects status.

3:00 p.m.-Group Insurance Business/IT status. Rollout of a large application is discussed, with emphasis on timing releases to maximize available human resources. Vendor-related issues have delayed a separate rollout, leading to discussions about vendor management and communications issues with the field force. Callahan moderates a frank but collegial discussion among the IT and business representatives.

3:30 p.m.-Office Services BPO, with Rich White, group insurance profit center head. Callahan and White discuss the final stages of moving group office services to an outsourced model. Talk focuses on strategies for negotiation with finalists, followed by a resolution to accept bids/pre-commitments.

4:00 p.m.-E5 Systems (Chinese outsourcing). A long, well-crafted sales pitch is cut short by Callahan, who emphasizes Guardian's experience and explains he's interested in specific information about the China opportunity. "I can see you're further down the line than many companies," one of the E5 reps replies. A brisk give-and-take ensues on the particular merits of China, as compared to India and other offshore venues.

5:00 p.m.-Open. Callahan catches up on e-mail and other office work.

6:00 p.m.-Dinner with Teradata representatives. Jones and Omartian also attend. The tony restaurant Nobu is an apt setting to celebrate the signing of a contract. Guardian is happy about the deal, and the Teradata (Dayton, Ohio) people are elated. At Teradata's invitation, wine enthusiast Callahan orders a California Zinfandel and an Alsatian Gewurtztraminer. Guardian's IT boss then initiates an evening of mutual admiration over preliminary cocktails and appetizers. The conversation grows more interesting by the glass, but Callahan soon calls the "two-drink rule," consigning all said to the confidentiality of the convivial.

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

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