Electronic Chat: Jag Randhawa
Robert Regis Hyle | February 09, 2016
This month we chat with Jag Randhawa, vice president and CIO of CAMICO Mutual Insurance. Randhawa is a technology executive, venture capital advisor, professional speaker, and author of the book, The Bright Idea Box. As CIO at CAMICO Mutual, Randhawa developed the MASTER Innovation program to engage employees and foster a culture of innovation.
He frequently speaks on the topics of innovation, leadership, and employee engagement and will be the keynote speaker at ITA LIVE 2016 from April 20-22 at the Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Marriott Harbor Beach Resort and Spa.
Prior to joining CAMICO, he worked as an IT consultant and engineer serving a broad range of industries. Randhawa lives in the San Francisco Bay area with his wife and two daughters.
How can CIOs change the culture within a company so the IT department can go from being an order-taker to a strategic component?
RANDHAWA: Let me start by first answering the second half of the question—IT is already a strategic component of the business. That said, it is often not perceived that way, which brings us back to the first half of your question. This perception comes from how IT collaborates with business units and participates in business goals. IT adds value to the business in two major categories: improving operations; enhancing business capabilities. So to change the model from order-taker to strategic partner, IT needs to actively solicit input from business users on how together they can leverage technology to improve business operations or build new capabilities. The opportunities are abundant. New technologies like mobile, analytics, marketing automation, and online service centers are example of a few technologies that add tremendous value to the business. Look for ways to leverage technology to improve business results and then collaborate with your business peers to build a business case.
What are some examples of ways CIOs can demonstrate their value to the enterprise?
RANDHAWA: CIOs, including myself, are not very good at tooting their own horns. We like to work hard, do good work, and hope the world will recognize us for our good deeds. Unfortunately, it rarely happens that way. We have to remind others of the good work we are doing. I recommend updating management on a regular basis on all IT initiatives. However, skip the new storage system, regardless of how expensive or big the project is, and spend more time talking about the CRM system and how it will boost sales. Whenever you can, email the entire company thanking all the project participants and how this project impacts company’s growth or bottom line. In short, never miss an opportunity to showcase the impact of the projects you are involved in.
How can a CIOs knowledge of the business side of the operation improve their standing as leaders within the company?
RANDHAWA: CIOs are positioned at the center of the organization and have a unique perspective on every part of the business, which presents a great opportunity to help their peers and the company. CIOs bring a breadth of knowledge to the table, but unfortunately IT doesn’t always get the due credit. In my view, the root of this problem lies in how IT approaches corporate initiatives and projects. CIOs are often put in a tight position where the CFO is squeezing them to contain costs, while business units want to increase the scope. My advice is to not view it as your problem, but rather the organizational problem. Instead of saying “no” because something does not meet security standards or creates problems for other parts of the organization, present the problem as a challenge and ask the collective for help to solve the problem. Shift the focus from “push back” to collaborative “solution finding.”
What suggestions do you have for CIOs to enhance their leadership position within the company over the next five years?
RANDHAWA: There has never been a better time to be a CIO. Technology has penetrated every aspect of the business, which creates a huge leverage for CIOs to take more leadership opportunities. The opportunity is there, so now CIOs have to figure out how to take the lead. The strategy may vary from organization to organization, but the universal theme I notice is soft skills. I highly recommend CIOs work on their communication skills, leadership presence, persuasion, and business acumen. Here are two simple action items that will take your career and leadership presence to a whole new level: attend public speaking classes; take your peers out for lunch on a regular basis.
How can CIOs enhance the leadership skills of the younger members of their IT staff?
RANDHAWA: A leader is only as good as his or her followers. Your success depends on the success of your team. As a leader you must develop your team. You must give them opportunities to grow, learn, and shine. The most effective strategy I use to develop my team members is to make them in charge of something. While your goal is to create conditions for them to succeed, make them own up to all the successes and failures of their projects. Encourage them to excel in both technical and soft skills. The number one issue that holds back technical geniuses is lack of people skills. Develop your team with the end in mind—they should be able to replace you when the time comes. This will help you take on more business responsibilities and create a good succession plan at the same time.
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The Email Chat is a regular feature of the ITA Pro magazine and website. We send a series of questions to an insurance IT leader in search of thought-provoking responses on important issues facing the insurance industry.
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