by Martha Heller

CEO Says CIOs Need to Be a Source of Energy and Innovation

Dec 19, 20133 mins
CIOInnovationIT Leadership

Allstate's CEO says the CIO's office is only 20 feet away, so he can easily get thoughts from "one of the architects of our business innovation."

Martha Heller talks to Tom Wilson, the CEO of Allstate, about how CIOs can inspire innovation.

You distinguish between a strategy that is supported by technology and a technology-driven strategy. What is Allstate’s technology-driven strategy?

We divide our customers into four segments: those who choose local insurance assistance, handle insurance on their own, differentiate between brands and select on price. Allstate is the only company to serve each segment, which requires different products and processes.

We’ve pioneered many of the analytic approaches to insurance operations that are now common in our industry. We’ve also created global standards for processes and technologies, which gives us efficiency and effectiveness in our global operations. One customer segment wants a mobile offering to chat on-demand with a local agent; another wants to see a picture on their phone of their car being fixed.

Our single global architecture and sophisticated data analytics capabilities allow us to provide each customer segment with a unique value proposition.

What advice can you offer CIOs who are handling such high demand?

Suren Gupta, our EVP of technology and operations, sits 20 feet down the hall from me, and we interact continuously. He’s on our strategy and reinvention committee, which approves strategy for all our businesses. I walk down the hall to get his thoughts–not just on technology matters but also on business matters–because he’s one of the architects of our business innovation.

CIOs who aspire to Suren’s level of impact need to learn about the business, own the transformation and teach the organization how technology can improve customer satisfaction.

In addition to all this, CIOs have to be a source of energy. People undergoing great change require a constant source of energy and motivation.

How is energy a part of your corporate culture?

We all need something to keep us going from early in the morning to late into the evening. Our research shows that the best source of energy is your own individual purpose. What drives you? Is it growing your business? Providing for your family? Making money? Helping those who are less fortunate?

Know your purpose so that if you’re in a bad meeting, or you get that emotional punch in the face, you can say, “Why am I doing this?” and you will stay on course.

We have a program called Energy for Life, a workshop that helps you define your purpose and teaches you methods to achieve extraordinary results by focusing on your purpose. It teaches people how to use nutrition, exercise and emotional recovery techniques throughout the day. We’ve had over 7,000 employees go through the course in the last 18 months, and more are on the waiting list.

What is the payoff?

We need everyone’s energy to compete. Everyone must know about the business and the technology, because it’s from that nexus that we’re going to see the innovations that differentiate us.

That’s what we mean by technology-driven strategy: using our knowledge of technology and business to bring new options to the table. It is how IT takes a strategic role in the business.

Martha Heller is president of executive recruiting firm Heller Search Associates and author of The CIO Paradox.

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