Aligning technology initiatives with business goals will be a major strategic driver for IT organizations in the coming years, according to technology executives in attendence at Celent's (New York) Insurance IT Strategy Roundtable, which was held in New York City in January. "The symbiosis with technology and product will explode to the point where technology will be an invisble part of the product," said panelist Michael Bernaski, CIO and senior vice president, property-casualty, e-business and technology, The Hartford Financial Services Group (Hartford; $2.1 billion net income).
In addition to IT/business alignment, moderator Matthew Josefowicz, manager of Celent Communications' insurance group, outlined three other key concepts for IT planning and decision making: agility when choosing systems infrastructure; accessibility to other systems and stakeholders; and affordability to the company as a whole. Josefowicz pointed to ACORD standards as an increasingly important component of insurers' technology strategies.
"Overall, there is a strong interest in ACORD standards, especially when combined with Web services," he told attendees. "We see it becoming the de facto for inter-company communication."
Panelist Dennis S. Callahan, executive vice president and CIO, Guardian Life (New York, N.Y. $37.2 billion in assets), elaborated on the need for standards. "Where we can adopt standards as an industry, we operate effectively and don't waste time or money doing the same things in different ways, which allows us to concentrate on differentiating our product," he said.
The panel also discussed how Sarbanes-Oxley compliance projects can ultimately have a positive spin for IT. "The intent of Sarbanes-Oxley is a clear interpretation of information, yet there is no prescribed recipe" for following it, explained The Hartford Financial's Bernaski. "We looked at it from a financial payload perspective and were able to update the integrity of our data systems as well as put wind in the sails of our security initiatives," he added.
"Data center and compliance projects are a significant requirement, and we are implementing some process management tools for tracking data," explained Piyush K. Singh, CIO, RLI (Peoria, Ill.; $73 million in net earnings). "It is really more of a challenge for the business side, since the IT side is naturally more project-oriented."