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Insurance CIOs Should Turn Conventional Transformational Wisdom on its Head

X by 2's Ram Sundaram says insurers pursuing IT transformation should do the opposite of five rules that represent conventional wisdom.

Ram Sundaram, X by 2
Ram Sundaram, X by 2
Ram Sundaram, principal of X by 2, a Farmington Hills, Mich.-based consultancy, missed Opposite Day in his April 17 remarks to the Michigan IASA chapter, but he seems to have had the odd holiday in mind. For insurers to succeed at insurance IT transformation initiatives — X by 2's specialty area — they need to do the oppose of conventional wisdom. Sundaram identifies five conventional rules that insurance IT execs should turn on their heads:

Conventional rule #1: “We need an army because it’s a big project.” The opposite: “Less is more.” The “overwhelming force” approach weakens communication, creates paralyzing dependencies, and dampens accountability throughout the team, Sundaram said. “Instead of an army, you need the IT equivalent of Navy SEALS,” he insisted.

Conventional rule #2: “Call in fine-grained specialists.”

The opposite: “Generalize, don’t specialize.” It’s impossible to build complex IT solutions the way Detroit builds automobiles. “Narrow specialization and a belief in commoditizing tasks can be toxic to success,” Sundaram said. “Successful IT transformations require all team members to be versatile generalists who have a broad grasp of the project’s vision and understand—precisely—how each contribution affects the project as a whole.”

Conventional rule #3: “Write down the perfect recipe and follow it.” The opposite: “Throw away the cookbook.” Many people mistakenly believe creating and following the “perfect” process recipe ensures good results. When results don’t happen, they make processes even more rigid, which only makes things even worse. “Stay adaptive, continually fine-tune tactics to better align with your project’s underlying business value,” Sundaram counseled.

[For more insights from X by 2, see Breaking the "Hot Technology" Circle: Technology Ranks Third in 2013 CIO Priorities .]

Conventional rule #4: “Status reports say the project is on track.”

The opposite: “Show me, don’t tell me. Verify early and often.” Top executives can’t take reports and PowerPoint decks at face value. They have to visit the trenches to find out what’s really happening.

Conventional rule #5: This isn’t even a conscious rule, according to Sundaram. “It’s something like, you get architecture without thinking, which once you get you won’t like,” he explained.

The opposite: “Hit the ground thinking. Get your architecture right first.” The team’s “architecture visionaries” must clearly define and articulate their thoughts and expectations at the project’s start. “All successful transformations begin with well-articulated business and technical visions, expressed clearly and succinctly,” Sundaram declared. “Be bold. Be courageous. Do things differently.”

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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