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Lisa Valentine
Lisa Valentine
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Start Me Up

Craig Lowenthal, CIO, Integro New York-based Integro, an insurance brokerage and risk management firm, opened for business in May 2005. Craig Lowenthal, CIO, joined the firm the following month, and by September 2005 Integro began full broking operations. (Integro ended its first full year of operation with revenues approaching $50 million.) After the initial push to build the company's infrastructure, Lowenthal now is focused on adding more functionality to the company's technology platform, in

Executive Resume:

Name: Craig Lowenthal

Age: 43

Title: CIO

Education: B.S. in accounting from the State University of New York at Albany.

First Job: Accountant at Deloitte & Touche in New York.

Interests: Lowenthal is a baseball fan and softball player, as well as self-described "geeky guy" who likes to fiddle with computers.

I&T: What's it like to be CIO of a start-up?

Lowenthal: From an IT perspective, it's pretty cool. Bringing everything together was fun, exciting and terrifying. There's a lot to do to gear up quickly, from trying to find the right partners to hiring staff.

For any company -- but especially for a start-up -- it's critical to have an appropriate technology base. We had to create that very quickly so we could grow and serve our clients and our own colleagues efficiently. But you get to leverage new technologies and you get to create and build something that you wouldn't be able to at a traditional or existing business.

I&T: It must involve a great deal of time pressure.

Lowenthal: As a start-up, everybody needs something, and they needed it yesterday. I was the only IT person for a while, so all requests came directly to me. Prioritizing is a big challenge. You can't just run amok and start buying things. The business plays a huge role in helping set priorities.

I&T: As a start-up, is it difficult to recruit top talent?

Lowenthal: It's not, and we really are discerning about the people we hire. I don't want to hire anyone who doesn't embody the Integro culture and core values. When looking at potential hires, I look first at how they are going to fit into the team. Are they team players? Do they have an agenda? Are they the right fit for Integro? If I feel that they are a fit for our culture, then I'll look at their technical skills.

There have been people I would have liked to have hired who were nervous about start-ups, but it was actually easy to attract most of our employees. This is an exciting opportunity. The founders of the company have a great track record, we are very well capitalized and the industry was certainly ripe for a new broker. Without legacy systems we are able to use leading-edge technology for efficiency and competitive advantage -- that's a tough formula to say "no" to.

I&T: Do you have plans to increase your IT staff?

Lowenthal: We'll remain fairly flat for 2007. As a start-up we needed to ramp up, but we can't continue at that run rate. We have about 40 IT people, including both full-time employees and contractors.

I&T: As a young company, do your employees tend to be younger as well?

Lowenthal: We have a mix of experienced veterans and young people. While we don't have any Cobol programmers, we do want people who have been-there-done-that and have learned from their mistakes.

What's nice is that in this company you have the opportunity to do things differently. If you come to Integro, we'll leverage your ideas. One of the mottos that I live by is that it's important to leverage the thoughts and ideas of everyone in my department. It would be extremely limiting to rely solely on my vision, suggestions and ideas. People see things very differently and have different perspectives. I pride myself on leveraging the ideas of others and giving them credit for it as well.

That's why the concept of team is so important. In my position it's certainly not a democracy, but we debate the pros and cons, get everybody on the same page and go forward in that direction. You get a lot of good ideas in that environment because you've got a lot more brainpower.

I&T: What's the IT reporting hierarchy?

Lowenthal: I report to the CFO for day-to-day issues and to the executive committee -- consisting of the CEO, president and CFO -- for budget and strategy. Reporting to me are principals in charge of infrastructure, business systems and application development.

I&T: How would you describe your technology strategy -- bleeding-edge, late adopters or somewhere in between?

Lowenthal: We are certainly leading-edge, and we've sometimes been bleeding-edge when we really didn't want to be. We bled a little bit. That's caused us more work and some frustrations, but in the end we've gotten the results we expected.

Integro is a very collaborative company. We are here to do things differently. Rather than a traditional siloed company where the P&L is by location, our P&L is by client. We bring the people and capabilities together that best serve the client. That's an important distinction.

I&T: What does that mean for you as CIO?

Lowenthal: For me, that means I have to implement and leverage technologies that enable heavy collaboration and communications and a face-to-face experience, whether people are located in London or Bermuda, New York or San Francisco. At Integro, everyone has a webcam on their computer, and everyone can make a video call to anyone else in the company.

Our VOIP solution using the Nortel [Toronto] platform includes video and Web-sharing capabilities so we can share screens and files with each other. We've implemented portal technologies that allow us to collaborate and participate electronically in projects.

I&T: Can you offer an example?

Lowenthal: We use BEA's [San Jose, Calif.] AquaLogic portal platform to serve as a customizable intranet so everyone can choose the look and feel they want on their workstations. In addition, the AquaLogic suite has collaboration and content management capabilities so employees can post documents, project plans, calendar information, even white board space. Everyone is working on the same document or screen as everyone else in a collaborative manner.

I&T: Did you create this platform in-house?

Lowenthal: No. As far as build versus buy, our strategy is certainly to buy. Our core compentency is not as a software builder. We want to leverage the technology that's out there, especially Web services.

I&T: Do you have a development staff?

Lowenthal: About one-third of our IT staff are business analysts. We do have developers, but they are focused more on integration rather than building. A key foundation of our integration is BEA's business process management capabilities.

I&T: What role do partners play?

Lowenthal: Finding partners was challenging. Because you're going fast and furious, any start-up is going to make mistakes. Some [potential] partners had core competencies that didn't necessarily fit with a start-up; they couldn't execute quickly enough and didn't bring in the right people. We made some great partner choices and we made some not-so-great partner choices, but today we are in great shape.

I&T: Are there any disruptive technologies on the horizon?

Lowenthal: I don't think there is a magic bullet out there that will transform either brokering or the insurance industry. It's really about leveraging Web services for competitive advantage and efficiency.

For us, content management and document management are critical for organizing information. Portal technologies help us communicate and work well with our clients. If we are easy to work with and are able to have up-to-date information, clients will want to work with us.

There is nothing in and of itself that we are doing that is superphenomenal over another competitor. However, most of what we are doing is leading-edge, and when you add all that together, it provides a significant competitive advantage.

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