Leadership Team Alignment
Chubb Group of Insurance Companies
James P. Knight is global chief information officer and executive vice president of Chubb Insurance Company, a top-ten global insurance organization that provides a range of services to both personal and commercial accounts.
How has the role of the IT function changed over the years?
It’s evolving. IT is moving from back to front office in terms of importance. Historically, the IT function was very transaction based, dealing with transaction-processing issues relating to accounting, payroll, HR, claims, and underwriting. For information companies, such as Chubb, IT is fast becoming much more strategic; we’re now viewed as a pillar of the company’s success. We are the bloodline of the company, tasked not only with improving transactional efficiency and effectiveness, but also with making the company more intelligent.
So what issues is the IT function at Chubb now dealing with?
We’re grappling with a range of issues, from how best to do policy writing and claims to how we invest and how we deal with catastrophes. We view ourselves as a tool to process, optimize, and manage information to create customer stickiness, as well as to make Chubb a more intelligent company. It’s another arm of the business offense.
What’s been the impact of the proliferation of computer devices, such as tablets, smart phones, and laptops?
We can now touch the customer as never before. It goes way beyond billing and on-line payments to sharing our policies with customers and engaging them interactively. The more intimate you become on line, the more stickiness you create, and the less likely customers are to change to another provider.
What’s the biggest challenge facing IT functions in today’s global enterprise?
The biggest IT challenge involves grappling with the question: Who will get to the future first by rapidly harnessing the power of technology? It’s all about speed of innovation and delivery. One reason why this is a daunting challenge is that there is a lot of legacy built into IT systems. Examine most organizations and you’ll find monolithic systems that are inflexible, built on obsolete technologies, and difficult to change. You can’t go about rebuilding them without spending millions of dollars just to be in the same place you were before you rebuilt them. The only difference is that you will have more-current technology.
How are you addressing this challenge?
We’re chipping away at it. We’ve begun to build things in components, much like Legos. Each “Lego” is a component of a system that you can then zero in on and replace quickly and cost effectively, if need be.
You decided to move your IT team to the horizontal, high-performance model. Why?
IT will make or break Chubb. If we do it right, we can use technology to outpace competitors. We’re making tough, important decisions about transforming IT—and we must make them quickly. This requires fresh thinking and leadership alignment around our mission and vision, beginning with the leadership team. We need to be fully accountable for one another’s success and to be able to address issues with candor. If someone is off strategy or underdelivering, we need to get them on track without hesitating.
What’s different about your leadership team now that you have been through the alignment process?
We’ve identified, and are working toward correcting, the underlying disconnects that have kept us from performing to our maximum potential. We now have a common understanding of our key objective: becoming a world-class IT function. If someone offers an idea or suggestion, you’ll often hear a colleague raise the question: Is that really world class? The level of candor has increased. You hear team members challenging one another—and me—professionally and with greater energy. People will say what’s on their mind without the long preambles. We have a common set of protocols for decision making, which speeds up the process and taps into the best available insights and information.
What advice would you give other senior executives who want to elevate their team’s performance?
The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. It’s may sound like a cliché, but it remains true. The synergy of having a leadership team that understands and believes in the mission and vision and has the fortitude and candor to drive toward achieving them makes the leader’s job far easier. CIOs cannot know everything, which is why open discussion and debate enable leadership teams to capitalize on what they bring to the table. And, if you want to change an organization, start with the leadership team. When the next levels see a noticeable difference in behavior, they too will want to become part of the transformation.