It wasn't long ago that IT organizations were exhorted to align with the business; today, that's old advice. The new IT mandate is to be the business.
Arguably the youngest member of all the corporate functions, IT is scaling the maturity curve. From its start supplying basic technology services, IT has become a provider of reliable business solutions for many enterprises. Today, however, with a wide range of provider choices — from as-a-service computing models to outsourcers — IT needs to become a partner that delivers strategic business value.
In forward-thinking companies, IT is enmeshed in the fabric of the business team and is at the table contributing to strategic business decisions. For the majority of firms, however, a gap exists between how IT is perceived versus where it needs to be in order to remain the technology partner of choice.
That gap is rapidly widening in today's business world. Even with lean technology budgets and an intransigent maintenance-to-new development ratio, C-level expectations are on the rise. Insurance IT organizations are expected to deliver innovative capabilities at the speed of business in a complex economy.
So how can insurance IT organizations close this gap? First, they need to visualize what the 21st century IT workforce/culture looks like: It has a proactive mind-set; it is a "strategic partner" to the business; it is a unified team; it measures success through business results; and it places an emphasis on partnering skills.
Next, they need to assess the core competencies of their IT workforce and craft individual development plans to build the new skills to achieve the desired state. Many of these new skills would not traditionally be associated with IT; for instance, while "technical skills" appears on Google's "eight habits for highly effective managers" manifesto, it falls at the very bottom, topped by "coaching," "empowering the team" and "being a good communicator," among others.
With that in mind, here are 12 core competencies to help insurance IT organizations close the skills gap:
1. Influence: Guide business clients' decisions and actions, even without direct positional authority.
2. Enabling change: Drive change with purpose and intent instead of just "letting it happen."
3. Leadership: Make the key mind-set shifts and adopt the behaviors that enable excellence.
4. Consensus building: Resolve power struggles, dissolve resistance to change and garner needed support through persuasion, trust-building and rapport.
5. Business acumen: Understand the business environment: challenges, responsibilities and pressures.
6. Communication: Effectively interact with people by listening, developing empathy, using diplomacy, sharing your expertise and dealing with emotions.
7. Strategic focus: Operate from a consolidated view of clear, finite priorities rather than fighting fires.
8. Organizational understanding: Step out of IT and understand the factors that influence your projects, including key stakeholders and their power levels, connections, relationships and previous histories with each other.
9. Problem solving: Work through complexities with respectful negotiation/conflict management skills.
10. Project management: Balance the "art" of project management (relationship-building) with the "science" (tools and methodologies).
11. Technical understanding: Continually educate yourself and clients on how the business can differentiate itself through technology-enabled capabilities.
12. Client orientation: Build a service strategy that is dedicated to the client's best interests, and be ready to answer the question, "What's in it for me?"
For 21st century insurance industry leaders, business and technology strategies will be so intertwined as to be indistinguishable from each other. Technology is the new face of the business, but ironically, doing it well depends less on technology than on the human side of the IT enterprise. By focusing on a new set of core competencies, IT can transform into the mature and evolved profession it needs to be.
Dan Roberts is CEO and president of Ouellette & Associates Consulting, a Bedford, N.H.-based firm focused on developing the 21st century IT workforce.
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