Q: How has your role as a senior technology executive evolved since you received Elite 8 recognition? How do you expect the job to change in the next few years?
A: Judy Campbell, New York Life: The biggest change is the importance placed by the business on really understanding the ROI of technology projects. In the past, there was more talk about the ROI of technology projects and less adherence to doing it. Now, the discipline exists to insure we get the benefits and build the savings into the project plan - whether that is on the business side or on the IT side. The IT areas now are much more involved in the process change required to achieve benefits for projects, and I expect that involvement to grow.
A: John Hodge, XL Global Services: When I received the Elite 8 honor [in 1999], my company was in the process of being acquired by XL Capital. Later that year, I was appointed global CIO - my role was to pull together the IT function at a time when XL was doubling in size and acquiring a couple dozen new business units over the space of three or four years. We started with a totally distributed IT function and progressed to the globally integrated IT organization we are today. This meant absorbing 17 separate IT organizations into a single global IT shared services structure that supports XL in 90 locations spread over 30 countries - we still have dispersed IT operations, so our budget is in 25 different currencies. As we look forward, the job will be very much one of managing the paradox of partnering with, and providing service to, our business units.
A: Byrne Chapman, American Family Mutual Insurance: Over the past few years, my involvement in planning and projects at the strategic level has increased significantly. Technology enables us to implement business solutions that are required for our company to be successful. This has changed my focus somewhat over the past couple of years. I am not focusing on whole solutions - I am championing the need for business process modeling as a part of all our major projects. Senior technology executives will become more involved in business strategy and delivering complete solutions.
Q: What is the biggest challenge you currently face in your job?
A: Campbell, New York Life: The biggest challenge remains finding the right quantity, quality and cost of human resources to allow technology to be a differentiating factor for our businesses. This has always been part of the job, but the complexity of our systems and infrastructures has vastly changed in recent years. This complexity will continue to grow while the talent to deal with these new issues continues to become scarcer in the U.S. More and more, we are training our own new staff. This is a big change from the days of the dot-com boom.
A: Hodge, XL Global Services: Change management in a global environment is the No. 1 challenge. Change management is never easy and multiple cultures compound the challenge.
A: Chapman, American Family Mutual Insurance: My biggest challenge is making sure that our entire IS division is focused on providing the solutions and services that our company needs. While this challenge has existed for a long time, the difference at this time is that we are now engaged in delivering solutions of more strategic value rather than point tactical solutions.
Q: What recent technology development has been the most unexpected?
A: Campbell, New York Life: Certainly, the consolidation of the technology industry is increasing, and I don't think we yet know what the impact will be. It remains to be seen how large enterprises will develop or purchase software in the future. Also, the commoditization of the hardware business is probably just getting to a peak. This may continue to help prices and reduce choices.
A: Hodge, XL Global Services: In a pure technology play, I don't think there have been too many big surprises - I expected pen-based technologies to be much more prevalent than they have turned out to be, though. The unexpected developments really have been the aftermath of the Internet bust. Stability of vendors is critical, but we all have to get used to key vendors being in Chapter 11 or acquired by competitors that would have been difficult to predict. It is not a comfortable situation.
A: Chapman, American Family Mutual Insurance: I have been surprised at how suddenly the industry has recognized that business process modeling and business process design are required to maximize the value of electronic workflow engines. I am a little surprised at how little progress electronic workflow engine products have made in making it easy to implement workflow applications.
Q: How has the challenge of hiring and retaining skilled IT employees changed?
A: Campbell, New York Life: This continues to be a big challenge. Luckily, New York Life has minimal turnover - a fact that was true even at the height of the Internet boom. But where we need to increase particular skills is harder than ever. We have begun some basic training programs that we have not done in 15 years or more. We are developing our own talent to help replace the baby boomers as they retire. But the talent to manage the complexity of today's environments still is scarce. This really is a systemic problem, as I have learned in my work on a university board - the number of college students that major or minor in math and science has dropped more than 30 percent in the last decade or so. This is going to be a big issue in the future.
A: Hodge, XL Global Services: The skills in demand have varied, but the challenge of hiring and retaining high-performing staff really has not changed. We are trying to leverage our global organization to offer opportunities to individuals for personal growth that would never have been possible previously.
A: Chapman, American Family Mutual Insurance: We have been able to find quality IT workers in the market in the Midwest. We are embarking on a large project in which we will be staffing up our contract resource. At this time, it appears that there are skilled IT workers in the market, as well as contractors.
Q: What is the biggest challenge facing the insurance industry, and where does information technology fit into meeting the challenge?
A: Campbell, New York Life: The insurance industry remains challenged by regulation and cost levels. In both cases, IT is a large part of the partnership needed to address these concerns. Developing ways to economically meet regulation and tax changes clearly is in our sphere of influence. Also, helping to create an operation that can be flexible enough to react quickly and profitably is an important part of what we do.
A: Hodge, XL Global Services: You mean, other than catastrophe and regulatory challenges! From a purely operational point of view, we still are not a very efficient industry - there are lots of insurance companies out there with multiple legacy systems and processes for similar functions. Outsourcing or offshoring can provide short-term cost relief, but many companies still have to face some fundamental issues. In many cases, a significant reinvestment in IT is going to be necessary.
A: Chapman, American Family Mutual Insurance: We face the challenge of reinventing many of our IT systems. I think we will be challenged to build systems that support the rapid development of insurance products along with reduced maintenance costs.
Elite 8 Pioneers
CIO, New York Life, (New York)
Elite 8 1999
John C. Hodge
Global CIO, XL Global Services, (Stamford, Conn.)
Elite 8 1999
VP, Information Services, American Family Mutual Insurance, (Madison, Wis.)
Elite 8 2001
Peggy Bresnick Kendler has been a writer for 30 years. She has worked as an editor, publicist and school district technology coordinator. During the past decade, Bresnick Kendler has worked for UBM TechWeb on special financialservices technology-centered ... View Full Bio