At its one-day executive edge meeting in early October, IASA brought together senior insurance executives in all areas of the business to discuss high-level financial, technical, investment and operational information.

In the afternoon, the attendees broke off into two groups. Finance/investment met in one area and information management/technology huddled in another. I didn't hesitate to head straight for the technology breakout discussion, where I would get a glimpse into the minds of top IT execs. The IT execs didn't hold back in their breakout. As they discussed current challenges, including cloud, social, analytics, IT skills, data quality, modernization, distribution and mobility. Moderators took extensive notes, so the two breakout groups could come back together to recap and expand on each others' discussions.

After the hour-and-a quarter breakout, the groups gathered in the general session room. Each was supposed to report what was discussed in their breakout, so the whole group could discuss how to help each other. This would bridge the gap between IT and the business, where they can find common ground, right? Since the IT group was so lively in their session, I expected a lot from the finance group.

But what happened was each side asked questions the other wouldn't or couldn't answer. I know this isn't a surprise to many people, and it's not a reflection on the event itself. It can be difficult for people to talk in a public forum-there was often chatter among attendees when they didn't have a microphone in front of them-and it can be difficult for the two sides to relate to each other.

While sitting there I wondered if this is the biggest challenge insurance IT execs face: The varying cultures within the insurance organization and how that has changed role and the organizations' view of the CIO.

More than ever before, insurance CIOs are being counted on as innovation drivers. One of the tech execs at the event told me that it's becoming difficult to develop and deliver innovative projects when you're considered a cost center that performs routine maintenance.

It reminded me of Celent's 2012 Insurance Innovation and Insight Day at the beginning of the year, where Celent Senior Analyst Mike Fitzgerald explained that the new world of the CIO could be thought of falling into one of three separate types of focus/management categories: operational, strategic and disruptive. Many at the event agreed that the most successful CIO would have all three traits.

Dan Greteman, SVP, CIO-Allied Commercial and Specialty, Nationwide Insurance, said "I think of it as if it's one person; they spent 75 percent of time in operations, 20 percent in strategic planning, and five percent of their time doing disruptive activities," he said.

The allocation will depend on the culture and the specific CIO, but the point: The new CIO needs to be ready for it all.

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