January 19, 2010

"It's not personal, it's strictly business." This phrase, and numerous variations on it, is not only among the three Godfather films' many additions to our culture -- it also is a guiding principle in the business world.I was reminded (again) of this truism when I learned that Craig Lowenthal has left the CIO position at NYMAGIC. Lowenthal, a long-time insurance technology executive who also held senior IT positions with Hartford Financial, Integro and Reliance, joined NYMAGIC in 2007 with a mandate to overhaul IT at the New York-based carrier. He embarked on several ambitious initiatives, most prominent of which was implementation of an entirely new policy administration system. Reportedly, it was difficulties and delays in the rollout of the system that ultimately caused Lowenthal and NYMAGIC to part ways.

After the first reaction of sympathy for any individual who is in Lowenthal's situation, the next thought of anyone involved in the insurance technology business -- especially as a CIO or senior-level insurance IT executive -- probably is: "Could this happen to me?" The answer to this question varies, depending on one's point of view and interpretation of what might have gone wrong at NYMAGIC, or any other organization where the CIO is compelled to move on. Whenever there is news of CIO turnover, some observers will always blame vendors that don't or can't deliver on promised solutions that the CIO advocated. Others tend to blame the carrier itself for lack of patience, insight, flexibility or any other attribute that might have helped forestall the fallout (a perspective akin to the view Conan O'Brien's fans are taking of NBC). Still others will point at the executive him (or her) self, suggesting that whatever the technology or solution in question there was not enough due diligence, managing of expectations and realism in whatever project the CIO was supporting.

The bottom line is that it never has been easy to be an insurance industry CIO (or a late-night TV talk show host), and it's not going to get any easier (improved business management understanding of technology notwithstanding). And as the industry continues to deal with the fallout from the recession and global financial crisis, it's likely we will see more CIO turnover. But that doesn't mean that IT executives will give up on trying to lead and innovate -- it's the proverbial offer they can't refuse.

Katherine Burger is Editorial Director of Bank Systems & Technology and Insurance & Technology, members of UBM TechWeb's InformationWeek Financial Services. She assumed leadership of Bank Systems & Technology in 2003 and of Insurance & ...