The Era of the IT Executive: 25 CIOs Speak Their Minds
Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer
Great American Insurance Group, Property and Casualty Insurance Group
How do you deal with the reality of rapid change in business today?
The phrase, “change agent” is easy to use. Everyone uses it by default. The issue is that everyone embraces change except when it impacts their processes directly. I think in today’s business world, we have an opportunity to bring about that change during a technology transformation. If we miss that opportunity it’s very difficult to pivot yourself again.
There are two kinds of companies that exist today: traditional companies, referred to as legacy native companies, and digital native companies that were born and brought up in the digital age. The legacy native companies have a gap from an operations and customer experience standpoint because in the last 10 years technology has changed completely. A lot of legacy native companies are much further ahead in aspects of technology, but customers’ and employees’ expectations continue to push the envelope as consumer benchmarks for convenience and “ease of use” are being enriched every day with the introduction of new capabilities.
When we talk change, I think over time corporate America has taught us that we all need to have consensus to move forward. This is considered teamwork. (Former British prime minister) Margaret Thatcher defined consensus as “The process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies in search of something in which no one believes, but to which no one objects.” Some leaders are consensus leaders and others are change agents. Consensus leaders will look for agreement from everyone, but to achieve transformation that is hard to achieve. Consensus is the lowest common denominator, a risk-aversion mentality. In any group, if I have to get five people to agree for dinner and sign off on this decision, McDonald’s becomes the easiest choice in terms of consensus. Within a rapidly changing environment, I am not seeking consensus to achieve transformation; instead, it is about empowering the environment. It’s my job to define the strategy, remove barriers and be a cheerleader and continue to drive the vision.
What is the greatest challenge for Great American’s P&C group in this rapid change environment?
The life span of S&P (Standard & Poor’s) 500 companies traditionally lasted 60 years. Now it’s 17 years, and projected to go down to eight years. This means that every two weeks an S&P 500 company is being replaced by a new company. The pressure for traditional companies is huge. The challenge for all legacy native traditions is to stay relevant for the future and the empowered consumer of today. The future consumer expects a very different level of interaction. I don’t mean just the external person, but also the employee. They have expectations that are driven by their day-to-day life experience. While the world is getting complex we have to hide the complexity and exhibit a simplified user interface to the consumer. Just think about it – consumers do software upgrades easily these days by the click of a button. Their question is why does it take corporations six months to do an upgrade? Consumer behavior and expectation will drive much of the corporate environment. Ease of use, design and simplicity drives what we do and how we build it. The challenge is to stay relevant.
How do you measure success?
I think success is measured by analyzing end-user adoption. There are two aspects to technology. One is the technology itself, but the other major part is working on expectations of the user environment as their end-user experience continuously changes. You have to make it easy to use. They need to see the value proposition in that respect. The end-user adoption really becomes the true testament.