There was a day when an insurance company would have been fortunate to have a CEO who understood that technology could be an influential factor in competitive success. But as the maturity of both technology and businesses' appreciation of its potential have progressed, a higher standard prevails. Today's tech-savvy CEOs recognize that technology can be the single most important weapon in their competitive arsenal. Nothing replaces sound business strategies, but astute application of technology can simultaneously shape and enable strategies that can make for stark advantages in operational efficiency and business efficacy. Knowing this, the tech-savvy CEO takes responsibility for understanding technology's strategic potential and running the kind of company that can take advantage of it.
In fact, one of the signs of a tech-savvy CEO is the creation and enforcement of a tech-savvy company culture, according to Bob Haas, vice president of A.T. Kearney's (Chicago) technology transformation consulting practice. "In many organizations, you still hear the language of, 'Well, there's business and then there's IT.' But some CEOs have banned that kind of language," he says. While that may seem trivial, Haas notes that "You would never say, 'There's the business and then HR or finance.'"
Tech-savvy CEOs are also likely to expect technology literacy on the part of the entire executive management team. For such CEOs, "It's no longer acceptable for a senior vice president to claim ignorance about IT," Haas says. These expectations may seem small, Haas adds, "But they end up influencing major cultural changes that have a significant effect on the organization overall."
Those cultural changes are most effective when they permeate the organization at deeper levels. In many companies, the degree of networking between the IT organization and business units is low. Stronger CEOs will foster business unit/IT ties, opines Theodore Klein, a partner in IBM's (Armonk, N.Y.) Business Consulting Services. "They do that by rotating executives in and out, by insisting that their senior executives communicate with the IT organization on a regular and frequent basis, and by keeping abreast of what's going on with IT themselves," he argues.
A more technology-friendly culture is critical in fostering creative thinking and effective application of technology, but equally important are institutional changes for the management of the risks associated with technology. In fact, it is here that the CEO's management expertise dovetails most consequentially with an aggressively opportunistic approach to technology.
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