Each year, Insurance & Technology's Elite 8 spotlights the best insurance technologists from across the industry. We depend on insurers, vendors, and others to nominate qualified individuals, and then we have a semi-formal advisory board of top industry analysts to help us whittle down what is always overwhelming response. After posting the list this week, I reached back out to that advisory board and asked: What makes a CIO stand out from the crowd? Here's what they told me:
[Meet Allstate EVP of technology and operations Suren Gupta and other 2013 Elite 8 Executives, including AXA Equitable CIO Michael Healy, and MetLife SVP Manish Bhatt, at I&T's Elite 8 Executive Forum, Nov. 7 in New York City]
Matt Josefowicz, Novarica: Insurer CIOs must balance technology proficiency, effective management of their division, and forward-looking technology vision, but this is really table-stakes. What makes it possible for CIOs to really drive value for his or her company is an intimate engagement with the strategy and operational realities of the company. CIOs bring an invaluable perspective to strategic descision-making. As the one C-level executive that touches every process in the company, they have a unique internal perspective. Plus, CIOs are often the most aware of the potential of new technology and how that is changing market and customer demands, which gives them a unique external perspective as well.
Karen Furtado, SMA: CIOs that stand out and represent what excellence really means in the insurance industry approach technology with a view that is totally focused on what it can do to improve business capabilities. They also demonstrate the ability to collaborate with the business to make things happen for the benefit of the company. These successful CIOs have developed a technology roadmap – one with the detail needed to support the transformation of the business. The proper balance of technological proficiency, management tactics, and forward-looking innovation is dictated by the maturity of the technologies that are supporting the business today. An organization that has a modern core system in place will be able to focus more on forward-looking innovation. On the other hand, an insurer that must play catch-up by implementing a modern core environment will be hard pressed to do too much beyond getting the foundational basics operating smoothly. The right balance is very important, but it is important to note that the balance will shift frequently. It's a moving target as the alignment of business competencies, the competitive climate, and stakeholder wants and needs change.
Pat Speer, Aite Group: The insurance CIOs that stand out as "elite" apply three distinct leadership tenets to their jobs. First, they need to be committed to innovation. This commitment is not just to an element of what we might refer to as disruptive technology, but to innovation in business and technology strategy, innovation in people and project management, and innovative thinking and approach as it applies to the political aspects of getting funding for technology that will support positive bottom-line results. Second, by having a true commitment to the overall business, an insurance CIO can plot his/her journey to a seat at the boardroom table. Here, the ideas behind the funding decisions that help bring out necessary improvements are heard, and considered. By insisting on being qualified to understand how the business functions and by keeping an eye on the company's growth trajectory, the CIO can be an active participant in the company's success. Third, any member of leadership who demonstrates a commitment to the company's financial success will be an asset to the organization. A CIO who exhibits this tenet blows through the stereotypes around being concerned only for the technology infrastructure and systems that keep functional areas operational. By monitoring the department's selection, control and management of IT investments and tying that process to a continuous review of the IT investments that are most appropriate to meet operating units' needs, the entire enterprise benefits.
Mike Fitzgerald, Celent: A best practice regarding innovation in insurance is emerging which has these investments headed by a business, not IT, leader. The best organizations have an executive level position reporting to the CEO who is building innovation processes and championing these efforts. To be a leader amongst CIOs in this environment, it is increasingly becoming necessary to do more than just look after systems, infrastructure and providers. Leading CIOs are able to actively support their company's innovation efforts. These are the men and women who are able to balance both the pressures of today, the preparation for tomorrow and the experimentation with the future. You can identify these organizations easily when their business partners compliment the IT organization on their ability to prototype, incubate and implement innovative ideas.
Dave Hollander, Ernst & Young: The ability of the CIO to act as a transformation agent as technology and distribution channels go through intense change is a real gift to bridge both the business and the IT sides. It's more than the technology: it's executing the change around the processes and metrics, and defining the business case. When someone brings that mindset, and the culture of the company looks to the CIO to be a catalyst, that's elite.