Editors' Cuts

CIOs as Chief Innovation Officers

Chris McMahon
Insurance Experts' Forum, September 19, 2013

As a company name, it’s an unusual choice but one that could have resonance with insurance CIOs, says Michael Boyle, CEO of Perseus Technical Strategies LLC and former CIO at both Aflac and Allstate.

“Perseus slew demons, and many of the problems we have are monsters that we have to slay,” Boyle says. “We have huge amounts of data, problems with customer experience, IT problems in our own shops, so ‘Perseus’ seemed appropriate.”

At his presentation at the CIO Summit last week, Boyle urged insurance CIOs to start thinking of themselves as chief innovation officers, binding technology to business needs and providing vision.

“It’s more than just making the trains run on time,” Boyle says. “Everything else is important: running the factory, keeping applications in place, security, compliance and uptime. But those things are just the cost of doing business.”

To move to the next level, insurance CIOs have to understand the businesses, customers, processes and products, he says. “Once you have that good base and an excellent partnership with your business partners, you can drive forward to see the world as it needs to be.”

One of the challenges is that, faced with so many potentially disruptive technologies, many CIOs are unprepared to actively research and consume them. And that’s limiting, he says.

“One of the things that occupies my time is looking at early stage software companies. I spent about 20 years on Wall Street specifically working with early stage venture capital companies and I’ve spent 10 years in insurance as a CIO. What I learned from that is that there is a wide, huge world of technology solutions that can make our lives easier: improve customer experience, fraud analytics, and so many other components.”

One of the hurdles, as discussed by attendees of the CIO summit, is the perception of IT as an expense rather than as an asset, as evidenced in a discussion of budgeting processes and priorities.

“What’s vital is to change the conversation from one of technical capabilities to what the business issues are and how we solve them. One of the most important things is having a really great quality of dialogue and transparency,” Boyle says. “We are a service. Be transparent, communal; be collaborative and social, because it creates transparency into the whole definition of the requirements that need to be provided,” he says, adding that larger companies have dozens of projects every year, but that processes and governance are typically in need of improvement.

“You have to have the dashboards that show how your company runs. You have to treat IT like it’s a company. It’s no different from showing results to The Street about what you are doing from a capital reserving perspective or what average handle time is for a person on the phone. IT has to be able to provide transparency into what they are doing as well.”

 

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