How IT Helped Shape UL's New Business Strategy

Underwriters Laboratories' CIO Christian Anschuetz discusses UL's recent transformation from a non-profit to a for-profit organization and how IT shaped and supported that change. He weighs in on the consumerization of IT, offers advice for CIOs, explains why 'big data' without 'big discretion' will lead to 'big failure,' and more.

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Q. How are you reshaping your IT organization to enable these changes and to drive business results? What skills and knowledge are emerging as critical?

A: UL is largely outsourced from a support and maintenance, as well as an application development perspective. But there are, in my opinion, some skill sets that no firm should ever consider outsourcing. The skill sets that we have to have and that we've been working very hard at UL to ensure that we have, in copious quantities and high quality, are around relationship management; architecture, which is both technology and business; program management, because nothing matters if you can't execute these big changes; and business analysis skills. That has caused us to fundamentally reshape the organization and put an emphasis - a huge emphasis - on those four core skill sets. We've been making a lot of changes in that regard, a lot of the people in the organization have really stepped up their game and have, shall we say, retooled themselves. Many others have been added to our roster externally as well, bringing both the necessary skills, but also infusing the team with new energies, perspectives, and quite frankly, enthusiasm. In fact, probably about 30 percent of the IT organization is new within the last number of years.

Q. Have you changed the structure of the IT organization?

A: The answer is yes. However, I would tell you that the structural changes to date have been mostly "happy-to-glad" alterations. In many ways we still look very, very much like a traditional IT organization. As I say that, I am in the process now of moving to a structure that is much more firmly focused on the customer and the user experience, and ultimately on the commercialization of the incredibly valuable products and information capabilities we bring, and intend to bring, to the market in the future.

Q. This is a big change, with your team enabling this big business change. What are you learning along the way as CIO?

A: It is a nonstop learning exercise. Every day I learn something new. I would tell you that it's never been a better time to be a CIO, because all this learning is coming as a result of new and different opportunities that CIOs haven't been able to have in the past. The days of aligning IT and the business are gone. IT now is the business and the business is increasingly IT. CIOs who realize that and who learn more and more about how to leverage their technology savvy and the savvy within their organization to increase the capability and knowledge and savvy of the whole firm are going to be the ones that drive the biggest, most lasting and meaningful change.

Q. You've said that the CIO role is an increasingly pivotal role for companies. Explain why you believe that.

A: Well, I think it's finally getting to the point where it's becoming patently obvious even to the casual observer that technology is not about just driving efficiencies. It definitely does that. But now it's becoming increasingly obvious to the non-technologist that top-line growth, that obtaining and retaining customers, the ability to innovate and drive and deliver new services, are all invariably going to happen because of, and in many cases as a direct result of, technology. This general awareness of this fundamental fact is driving firms to act differently, to think differently and it's creating more and more opportunity for CIOs to take a much more active role in leading the whole business as opposed to just the technology function.

Q. How do CIOs need to change to take advantage of that? What are the kinds of things that maybe they're not thinking about or maybe not approaching in a way that allows them to capture that opportunity?

A: There are CIOs I know out there who are absolutely great leaders in this space; just fantastic and way ahead of me in so many ways. But I would tell you that to lead their organizations, CIOs have to do a couple of things. One of them is that when you say you are delivering technology for the customer, first of all, be real clear who that customer is. Is that customer a paying customer or is that an internal colleague? While it's important to serve both the colleague and the customer, the mind shift that really needs to happen is that the customer -- those that drive revenue -- is where technology needs to focus. You need to focus on the experience that they need to have, and the job that they're trying to do, the problems that they're trying to solve. You think about those things and you think about how the technology services and capabilities that you're delivering to your firm, and ultimately to your customer, can help answer their problems, can help them do their job and ultimately allow them to serve their own customers more efficiently. It sounds like rhetoric, but it's very, very difficult because it almost always requires a fundamental mind shift change both within, but especially outside of, IT.

Q. It sounds like you and your team are spending more time dealing directly with external customers these days.

A: We are spending more and more time dealing with external customers, that's correct. We are, I would tell you, spending far less than we need to in the future. We have a lot of work to do and room to improve. Our customers deserve great technologies and capabilities from our company, because we deliver such important services. Our technology has got to step it up and we've got to interact and do more for them than we are today, and so there's plenty of room for us to improve and to continue to push this envelope.

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