The Hartford CIO Eyes Business Impact Of IT

Q: Is more money being spent for network security this year and have you hired a CSO post-9/11?

Spending is up a little but not a large amount. Information technology security has always been a priority for us. We’re a financial services organization so this is pretty critical and always has been. We’ve had a director of IT security who is now called the CSO and that really didn’t result from 9/11; it’s just a trend in the industry. What has changed is there’s a lot more visibility and senior management attention on network security. I spend more of my time on network security issues. Senior management, including the board of directors, spends more time looking at IT security issues.

Q: Are you doing anything different as a result of this added scrutiny?

We have a continual process assessing where we are and testing our security and upgrading our security capabilities. Every year we enhance our security capabilities. It’s a continual process and we’ve been doing that for years. It didn’t start last year.

Q: How large is your IT department and what skills are you in most need of right now?

Hartford’s IT staff is about 3,500. I have solid line responsibility for about half that staff and dotted-line responsibility oversight over the rest. We [also] have IT application people who report directly into line of business people. Candidly, we’re somewhat fortunate that we have pretty experienced and skilled staff. We have had a relatively low turnover over the years and a good reputation as a good place to work. Typically, people are looking for the opportunity to work on interesting and forward-looking projects, fair pay, and a good working environment, which has contributed to a relatively low turnover for us. Specific skills: we’re look for good architects, Web developers, and business analysts. We actually have done some things fairly innovative on the recruiting side. We have an internal consulting company, which operates much like an outside consulting company and what that has done is give us a vehicle to recruit people with good consulting experience. That’s been a great vehicle for us to bring people into the company.

Q: Who do you report to?

Right now I report to our CFO. I reported to the chairman for some time and there were some recent changes he made so now I report to the CFO.

Q: What else is occupying the bulk of your attention these days?

I think the interesting thing about this job is also the curse of this job, which is you’re involved in a lot of different things and that’s no different today than it has been. I’m involved in looking at new technologies and pretty involved in some of the technologies we’re using for our portal…I’m also involved in some of our operational strategies and how we’re taking our technology infrastructure work and how to make that more flexible and cost effective. I’m involved in finding and developing IT talent. I’m involved in most of our major vendor deals, so a pretty good variety of things on any given day.

Q: Which of your skills has served you best in managing IT?

I think it’s very hard and you probably can’t succeed in this role with a one-dimensional skill set. You have to be pretty well-grounded technologically. You’ve also got to understand the business you’re serving, and have good relationships with the business leaders. You have to know how to manage projects and get results and as you move up in the organization ultimately that becomes creating the environment where can succeed. Where they can run projects and be successful. Where they have the resources to do the job. Probably the thing that is most important at senior levels of IT is to be a good communicator. You have to be able to communicate to your people what you’re trying to accomplish, why it’s important and you’ve got to support them in breaking down the barriers and succeed in trying to get the work done. Really all those things you need to be effective at this level.

Q: What advice would you give someone looking to advance their career the same way you have?

I think you’ve got to find projects that are important to the company that are visible that have a meaningful, positive impact on the business and you’ve got to deliver results. I guess I would add, don’t shy away from the most challenging projects because that’s where you’re going to hone your skills and get recognized.

Q: What keeps you awake at night?

I put in a fairly long day so by the time I go to bed I sleep pretty well. Theoretically, there are a lot of things that could keep me awake. All these systems that need to keep running and threats of cyber attacks. To be honest, though, that doesn’t keep me awake at night because we have a really good team and because of that I’m pretty confident our systems are going to keep working well and serve the business well. Probably the thing I do worry about is a competitor coming to market with some technology-enabled business capability that we don’t have. We’re constantly looking at what our competitors are doing and we don’t want them to beat us to market with anything important. We have a lot of work underway in customer service and enhancing service we provide to distributors. So what we’re doing are more enhancements than anything breakthrough.

Q. What do you do in your spare time?

If you’ve been in this business a while, one of the things you learn is to keep a good balance in your life. One of the ways I get that is we have a place in New Hampshire on a lake in the mountains and I go there on my weekends and on vacation with my wife. And we go there with friends and family and do all those things that help you maintain that balance — boating, tennis, skiing, having friends over; I also love to read. It’s a great place to relax and gain perspective.

Know any CIOs or CTOs who might be good subjects for a CIN interview? If so, contact Esther Shein at [email protected].