Surveying The CIOs

Kate Rubin, president of the Minnesota High Tech Association, interviews local IT executives about the state of the practice.
Surveying The CIOs

Four times each year, local CIOs come together to share insights and ideas in CIO Forums held by the Minnesota High Tech Association. The topics are chosen by the CIOs themselves. Topics for 2010 include cost management, mobile devices, talent strategies, and security, risk, and identity management. For this presentation, I asked four prominent local CIOs what they are seeing in their own companies.
Tom Bauer, senior vice president and CIO, Allianz Life, Golden Valley
As with most companies in the life insurance industry, Allianz Life is gearing up to facilitate distribution of products through multiple channels. IT has been investing in Depository Trust Clearing Corporation (DTCC) capabilities to improve ease of doing business, while expanding broker/dealer and wire house distribution channels to enable revenue growth.
Expansion of the DTCC capability helps meet the requirements of new distribution partners. Investments in licensing, contracting, and appointments, according to Bauer, “provide a 360-degree view of producers.” This year, Bauer says, “We are evaluating and planning for a new policy administration system, which will allow more flexibility for introduction of new product features, as well as strategy development for next generation Web and e-commerce, including eApps and eDoc delivery.”
Bauer says that Allianz Life is also focusing on employees, “to create an environment that maximizes leadership potential and employee performance.” According to Bauer, “Focus on professional and personal skill development yields employees who are trusted, empowered, and take ownership of what they do. We are creating a culture where our success, and our value, is determined by our ability to meet the needs and expectations of the business.” Bauer says that Allianz Life IT recognizes and rewards employees for “doing the right things,” and promotes a willingness to take calculated risks. “We actively and visibly support collaboration, accountability, and diversity.”
David Harkness, vice president and CIO, Xcel Energy, Minneapolis
David Harkness says the big issue at Xcel Energy is “addressing how we best use IT to our strategic advantage.” Harkness rejects the notion of IT as simply a corporate resource drain with results that are invisible to the rest of the company. “The big challenge for the IT organization is to transform ourselves into being much more collaborative with the internal [customers],” he says.
"The thought leadership that we bring to the business requires a better understanding of the business challenges facing Xcel Energy, not simply being a ‘techie’.” But the business, he says, “must be ready to accept the partnership and agree that IT has something tangible to offer.”
Building effective cross-business partnerships has the additional benefit of demystifying what takes place in the IT department. Harkness says that integrating IT with business needs also helps his department better prioritize projects.
“Instead of prioritizing some customer care projects against other projects in customer care, we can prioritize them against projects in transmission, distribution, or generation,” he says. “It helps us pick the projects that provide the most value to all of Xcel, not just to a particular business unit.”
Malcolm McRoberts, senior vice president and CIO, Deluxe Corporation, Shoreview
Deluxe, traditionally a check printer, is redefining itself as a vendor partner with a portfolio of services for small businesses and financial institutions.
Malcolm McRoberts is helping to drive the transition, which, he says, “necessitates both a change in the nature of our relationship with our customers from touch points that are more traditional direct marketing and transactional in nature, to those that are Web-based and ongoing, as well as a shift in the customer base itself.”
The role of IT at Deluxe, McRoberts says, ranges from “supporting brand awareness and positioning through enhanced e-commerce and service provisioning platforms, to more fully integrated fulfillment and delivery solutions.” His big challenge is to create a “seamless view of the customer . . . and the multiple solution sets we provide.”
Lina Shurslep, vice president and CIO, Navarre Corporation, New Hope
Navarre is a leading distributor and publisher of home entertainment products including DVDs, PC software, video games, and accessories. The company has distribution relationships with retailers such as Walmart, Best Buy, Staples, and Office Depot, and has recently expanded into Canada.
“As an IT function, we focus on providing our business partners with real-time information and the ability to serve our customers efficiently and accurately,” Lina Shurslep says.
Virtualization of the company’s data center operation and moving into cloud computing have reduced ongoing operating costs. “Our business and volume are seasonal,” Shurslep says. “By utilizing a cloud environment, we are able to scale the capacity and costs on demand, all while maintaining uptime and transactional performance.”