The Era of the IT Executive: 25 CIOs Speak Their Minds
Vice President, Information Technology
Ohio National Financial Services
In your opinion, how does IT support the vision of the business?
The way we look at strategy is that IT is part of the business. We see projects as business projects. IT, marketing, product development, actuarial, etc., are all part of delivering the business project. Our goal is to make it look like IT is part of the business and try not to do an “over the wall” process. The corporate strategy is to look three to five years ahead because we want to grow our businesses. Ohio National’s vision is “To be your company of choice through integrity, trusted relationships and financial strength.”
At the end of 2014, we moved into strategic business units with named leaders of each of those different businesses. We expanded our South American operation, leveraging the rapidly growing insurance marketplaces in Brazil, Chile and Peru. In the past, we operated more as one strategic business unit, but now strategic business unit leaders are focused on growing each of our five businesses. Our goal, as part of this new corporate strategy, is to grow these businesses up to scale and the company as a whole.
As part of this new corporate strategy we needed to look at how IT can be prepared to compensate for some of the investments we didn’t make in the past and position ourselves to support that desired growth. Over the last year we hired 190 (48 in IT alone) new people in the company. Since 2008 we have experienced a 50 percent increase to our workforce. A significant amount were hired for IT. We are about making IT a partner of choice with the business. Sometimes you’re going to lead and other times you will follow, but it’s a partnership.
How does IT move from a transactional relationship to more of a partnership with the business?
That is a transformation that we have to make. From both an IT and a business perspective, we want to move out of that transactional. In some cases we are trying to change where the business felt like they were given something from IT instead of really meeting their needs. You may have heard the phrase, “IT found a solution and then came to look for the problem to solve.” We don’t want to do this. We want to understand what the business opportunity is and how we apply the right technology solution. For example, a new administrative platform for our life products was a big need. There was a big collaborative project put together with representatives from business and IT to evaluate the different vendors. As a team, they made a recommendation to senior management. In the past that might have been IT finding a system and then turning it over to the business team. In this case we had the business leading the charge and IT was hand in hand to find the right system that met the needs of the business. We want to enable the business folks with tools that ensure success. That is a big change that we are seeing at Ohio National.
How do you deal with change on the people front and communicating that change to business executives?
It’s all about communication. You have to keep reiterating what your strategy is, whether it is IT or corporate strategy. Constant reiteration. In absence of communication, folks are going to make up their own scenarios. Sometimes it is the right scenario and they move forward by embracing the change. Sometimes it’s doom and gloom and they can’t handle the change. This reality is the reason approximately 90 percent of our employees have gone through change management training. We are making huge changes here. The corporate strategy, including huge investments and hiring new associates, affects everyone in the company. This is where we are go- ing, having a goal to help people get through change.