November 27, 2005

Adrian Brown, CIO, Canal Insurance Before Adrian Brown took over as CIO at Greenville, S.C.-based Canal Insurance (more than $1 billion in assets), the IT staff at the commercial trucking insurer was focused on maintaining legacy mainframe applications. Two and a half years later, Brown has transformed the IT department into an agile development shop that is well versed in technologies such as Microsoft .NET, Java and XML, and that enables the carrier to implement new applications rapidly while still leveraging its existing mainframe architecture.

I&T: How do specific requirements for the commercial trucking industry affect the way Canal approaches its technology initiatives?

Brown: The trucking industry is very highly regulated, and security is even more of a concern post-9/11. Crossing state lines requires up-to-date documentation. We use technology to get information to our customers quickly and continually look to make the process even faster. If we didn't do what we do well, trucks all over the country would literally stop running.

I&T: What are some of the major technology initiatives you've spearheaded since joining Canal?

Brown: Not counting some internal systems - such as an agent portal and a policy confirmation system that we've developed using XML - we've implemented a claims system from Guidewire Software (San Mateo, Calif.), a document management system from ImageRight (Conyers, Ga.) and financials using SAP (Walldorf, Germany). We've done all this with a staff of 26 IT professionals - that includes mainframe and network staff as well as a technical help desk.

I&T: With so many projects and a small staff, how do you avoid burnout and keep your staff motivated?

Brown: The IT staff is proud of what they've accomplished. They are not just programmers, but business people as well. Our people specialize in particular business areas, such as underwriting or claims, and they attend meetings with users where they hammer out requirements. We have strong user departments and functional vice presidents, and there is a lot of back and forth among IT and the users. My staffers know that they are part of the business and bring value.

We also are really big into education. When I came here two and a half years ago, the company was not spending money on education. We've turned that around. We're training staff in Microsoft (Redmond, Wash.) .NET and other technologies, as well as helping some of our staff members get bachelor's and master's degrees.

I&T: Does your staff attend many conferences to keep up with these new technologies?

Brown: We don't go to a lot of conferences, but we do try to attend a few that are really educational. We'll also bring in talented gurus from vendors such as Microsoft to train our staff and keep us updated about new technologies we should be watching. While we don't want the negative business association with being bleeding edge, it is good to get technology people to give you a heads-up on new technologies.