tion and is a strategic partner in all new enterprise initiatives.
The term CIO apparently no longer stands for Career Is Over.
Here is my take on the evolving role and position of the CIO
based on having been one (a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far
away), knowing and talking with current CIOs, and reading
various articles on the subject.
The trajectory of the CIO and the IT function in the insurance enterprises is consistently upward. More CIOs now report
directly to the CEO (or COO) than did in my day. As has been
noted consistently in the press, IT is now viewed more as an
enabler and facilitator than a necessary evil to be tolerated due
to there being a lack of alternatives.
This is partly due to better delivery performance by IT,
which in turn is partly due to the improvement of vendor
software and delivery—a subject we have discussed at length in
the past and will no doubt revisit in the future. CIOs are now
viewed by the CEO as a strategic partner. This is partly due to
K The CEO now realizes that she/he cannot get very far with
new initiatives without data
K CIOs have woken to the realization that in order to be effective they need to speak and think in the business language
of their clients
K An increasing number of CIOs have spent time leading
business units and were business operations executives
before they were CIOs.
However, it is important to appreciate that the CIO lives
in a schizophrenic world. The business side of the CIO’s role
is an opportunity to deliver value, move the organization
forward, become appreciated, and succeed. The technical
side of the CIO’s world is mostly an opportunity for failure.
Business people do not understand, and do not wish to try to
understand, the risks and complexities involved in technology.
None of these people appreciate the fact that the systems were
available, that performance was fine, or that their website didn’t
get hacked. In this realm no news is no news, not good news.
These results are both vital and assumed.
My last CIO job ended largely due to tension between my
boss’ wish to get the company on the Internet and my almost
total focus (in 1998) on helping the company survive Y2K.
There is no upside in keeping the trains running, but there is
hell to pay if they run late or stop. Y2K, while being a great
example of the non-upside of technology, is becoming a distant
So what about systems getting hacked? Anyone know what
happened to Sony’s CIO? I guarantee she/he is crippled for
life professionally, if not outright dead. The language of CIO
postings has changed over the years. It’s nowadays common to
see words like “visionary”, “strategist” and “facilitator.” What the
posting never says is: “ability to keep one eye on the train time
In reality, of course, except for the smaller IT shops, the CIO
has a direct report who looks after the trains and keeps them
running. Another major factor in the evolving role of the CIO
is that of leader and manager. Never before has the CIO needed
to be a capable leader and manager. The simple fact is that the
technology world is now so complex that no one person can be
expert in all its core competencies.
We marvel at the capacity of brilliant men like Leonardo Da
Vinci to have conquered such intellectually diverse fields as art,
engineering, architecture, mathematics, cartography, botany,
and anatomy, but the reality is that, notwithstanding his genius,
Leonardo lived in a time when there was so much less to know
about anything, allowing him to dominate in multiple fields.
So it is with today’s CIO. The core role of the CIO now is to
identify opportunities and challenges, set the course, hire the
best experts in the field, and get out of the way. One example
close to my own heart is that of core system vendor selection.
Rather than selecting the vendor and their software, many CIOs
now focus on selecting the consulting advisor who will lead the
carrier in selecting the software vendor. This form of specialization is a market response to the rise in complexity referenced
above. The CIO’s job is to stay in control of the complexity,
maximize the benefits that it brings, and minimize its risks.
There are, of course, exceptions to these trends. There are
still CEOs who are frightened and confused by technology
and who do not understand or trust their CIO. Also, the “cost
center” view of IT still prevails in too many insurance companies. There seem to be two ways that this type of IT shop can
go: They get better at delivery or they get outsourced. In a real
sense having the IT department outsourced is the ultimate
failure for a CIO; they didn’t just get fired, they got their whole
department fired. Ultimately, and appropriately, the future of
the CIO (and his/her department) is dependent on the delivery
of measurable business value while minimizing technical risks.
As the proverb goes: “Nothing succeeds like success.” ITA
George Grieve is a popular writer and speaker on the
subject of insurance technology solutions and will lead a
session on the CEO/CIO relationship at ITA LIVE. He is the
author of the book “Shop Talk” and is CEO of the consulting firm CastleBay Consulting. The views and opinions in
this column are those of the author and do not necessarily
reflect the views of the Insurance Technology Association.
Business people do not
understand and do not wish
to try to understand the risks
and complexities involved in