An interesting idea to emerge from Novarica's 2011 CIO Insurance Summit is that “the CIO discussion with a CEO used to be centered around, ‘What’s wrong, what’s broken now?’ And now it’s moved to, ‘How can you help? What can the technology do for me?’”
I can certainly remember when most organizations—insurance and otherwise—viewed their IT operations as necessary, but not critical. There were lots of reasons for this. First and foremost, people on the business side really didn’t understand just what all those geeky propeller-heads in IT were actually doing—and that was fine, as long as some kind of results were produced. If you asked the average 1980s business executive why the IT function was important, they would probably say something about accounting and efficiency, but wouldn’t have a clue as to the details.
For their part, IT workers relished the idea that they were performing an important function that only they understood. In some organizations, the IT folks held witch doctor status, with everyday business drones frightened to death that the techno-types would somehow pull the plug on the business if they weren’t treated well. All that changed, however, as computers and technology began to permeate all areas of business culture and everyday life.
In today’s business climate, the average business executive has at least a passing familiarity with what IT does and why it is important. The business side now knows that IT isn’t performing tricks with smoke and mirrors. Add to that the fact that, in insurance at least, vendors are falling all over themselves to make IT applications easily usable for non-IT personnel—telling customers that they don’t need IT any more (at least most of the time).
So why are CEOs now desperately turning to IT for technology solutions? The answer is that the economy and the markets have put us all in a very uncomfortable position, and we don’t see an easy way out. When that happens, that old IT witch doctor magic suddenly seems to make sense again. Even though most savvy executives realize that IT is not a gathering of miracle workers, that old perception of some voodoo-like mojo going on in IT has re-emerged.
That is a sad development, indeed. CEOs are asking their IT workers to ditch the Clark Kent glasses in exchange for Superman's cape in order to enhance—or at least maintain—the company’s competitive position. Thus, performing a technology miracle is expected and anything short of that is a failure, as not even the weakness of the economy serves as an excuse. This is a no-win situation for IT, and an attitude that needs adjusting. Quickly.
Ara C. Trembly (www.aratremblytechnology.com) is the founder of Ara Trembly, The Tech Consultant, and a longtime observer of technology in insurance and financial services.
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