Amidst the current crisis, many insurers are turning to IT to help them change the way they operate so that they will be positioned for success in a more competitive and challenging market.
Business/IT communication is IT's responsibility. Remember who the "customer" is. Although communication is a two-way street, IT must take the lead in promoting and fostering a culture of communication. While IT staff (and some executives) may resent having to shoulder this burden, it is important to remember that however strategic IT's role may be, it is still a supporting function within the organization. Many CIOs frequently have to remind their staffs that they are working for an insurance company, not a technology company.
Or, as one CIO we know put it more succinctly: If business and IT fail to communicate properly, who will be fired - the business leader or the IT leader?
Recognizing that the business side is essentially a customer of IT, it is important to foster an internal sales culture within IT.
IT departments should apply the same kind of client management techniques that effective service providers do: frequent proactive updates and informal touchpoints, focus on business value to be achieved, in-depth needs analysis, documentation of conversations and change requests, and other practices common to consulting organizations. This is one area in which many CIOs who are former consultants excel-applying their client management skills to their relationships with senior business executives.
Among this, Novarica's recent discussions with CIOs have highlighted steps that can help improve IT's abilities to communicate:
BE PREDICTABLE AND PROACTIVE
Insurer business executives are typically uncomfortable with IT. In most cases, senior executives at insurance companies have familiarity with sales, marketing, underwriting, claims, service and basic company operations. But IT is a black box to them, which creates uncertainty and fear in dealing with IT. After all, here is a critical piece of their information business that they don't really understand.
IT can help increase the comfort level of business executives by offering predictable and proactive communications. Regular status reports of business capabilities delivered, project milestones achieved and other elements helps business feel in control.
And proactive notifications that explain a problem and steps being taken to correct it can minimize the anxiety that occurs when business brings a problem to IT without having any idea of its magnitude or how it might be corrected.
KEEP IT SIMPLE
Techno-speak is not impressive. IT needs to explain themselves in simple terms that focus on business impact and user experience, not technology. For example, discussions of scalability could be framed not in the usual terms of systems performance, but instead, as an inability to grow the book of business. Discussions of SOA can be presented as offering the potential to speed the delivery of new technical capabilities due to eased integration.
FACILITATE INFORMAL RELATIONSHIPS
People communicate better when they know each other. One CIO we know has a formal program to cover the costs for lunch meetings at nearby restaurants between IT staff and their business counterparts.
CROSS-POLLINATE STAFF WHENEVER POSSIBLE
Giving staff the opportunity to move between divisions plants a "native speaker" on the opposite side of the border and can create valuable translators. In addition, transplants can help make the mindsets and needs of their original divisions more understandable to their new colleagues on the other side, even if they are not in a direct translator role.
Make Governance about Priorities and Collaboration
An effective governance process focused on facilitating effective prioritization and collaboration can be one of the most valuable tools in improving business/IT communication. It gives both sides a common goal and common set of metrics to work toward.
However, governance processes must be designed with this in mind. Processes that are overly bureaucratized or focused on insulating one side or the other from blame for project failure will not be effective.
Successful governance processes should include formalized escalation processes to help all sides understand how disputes will be resolved and, importantly, frequent re-evaluations and improvements of processes based on experience.
MAKE COMMUNICATION A PROCESS
Communication must be viewed as an ongoing, critical process, not a discrete event that is ancillary to IT's "real work." As a service partner and enabler, all levels of the IT organization must consider communication to be part of their core mission.
Matthew Josefowicz is director of the insurance practice at Novarica, New York. He can be reached at email@example.com.
(c) 2009 Insurance Networking News and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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