When Celent released its “2010 CIO Survey: Pressures, Priorities and Strategies,” survey results, it did so with an end in mind: release the information to a room packed with 100 insurance executives and let them relate the findings to their own business initiatives.

The “room packing” occasion was Celent’s annual Model Insurer Award presentations, and many executives in attendance had already been recognized for their best practices by the Boston-based insurance consultancy.

So it’s not surprising that an ensuing panel discussion would be dynamic and compelling, and the executives, John Campbell, CIO, American Modern Insurance Group, Mike Foerst, CIO, Missouri Employers Mutual (and Celent’s Model Insurer of the Year), Mark Esposito, SVP & CIO, Hartford Life, and Bill Pieroni, Operations VP, State Farm Insurance Co., did not disappoint.

Moderated by Craig Weber, SVP of Celent’s insurance practice, the panelists were asked to respond to the survey results, which had been presented by Celent senior analyst Donald Light, and frame their responses against how they are facing the challenges of an evolving industry.

Results of the survey, which focused on 2010 IT budget and staffing priorities, technology strategies and emerging technologies, revealed a modest total year-over-year growth in IT spend (with significant multi-year core systems projects), a strong emphasis on IT outsourcing remaining, and the desire for emerging technologies, such as high performance UIs and enterprise SaaS.

Weber asked the panel to react to the results, (namely that 2010 business priorities will be growth-driven) and describe their organizations’ 2010 game plan for success.

Pieroni was surprised at the number organizations in the survey reporting they had scaled back IT operations. “Given the long-term nature of these projects, funding cycles, etc., I was surprised,” he said. “We are incredibly tied to the economy, and we know how hard it is to attract talent, yet the results point to a hiring freeze? I was shocked.”

Esposito confirmed the Hartford’s plan to take market share with new, innovative products, stating, “Our investments will grow in that direction.”

Mapping survey results against his company’s own strategy, Esposito told the audience, “If you look at the levers being pulled with infrastructure, and look at investments in 2010, our growth agenda plays forward with underwriting, distribution and value derived from fixed costs,” he said.

Foerst told the group that his company was focused on growing the top line. “We’ve been discussing what terms we need in place to make this happen?”

Campbell admitted that the emphasis at his company was on profit. “I realize that you need growth to drive profit, but I was still a bit surprised seeing growth as the number-one driver.”

Esposito admitted the focus on competing in the future was one he relished with energy and enthusiasm, and reflecting back on 2009 was less pleasant, (The Hartford accepted federal funds). “I was done with 2009 in June of 2009,” he said. “We have had some course corrections, and we will be aggressive because consumers are looking for this, and it’s our job to create innovative products for them.”

Pieroni told the group that State Farm is not looking to make any fundamental changes in its long-term vision. “We’ve been realistic about our business goals. But we know that 2010 is going to be a zero-sum market—a true slugfest.”

Foerst told the audience that the key to competing successfully goes back to planning. “You have a plan and you are executing to that plan. But you need to periodically review whether the plan still makes sense,” he said.

If Campbell’s plans for growth seem less aggressive, think again.  American Modern was acquired by Munich Re last year, and the company experienced double-digit growth.  “That’s not to say we don’t sit with corporate leadership to evaluate what’s working and what’s not.”

For copies of the Celent report mentioned in this story, please visit www.celent.com.

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