CIO James Knight: Leading Through the Recession

“Resourcefulness” is the one-word answer to what a CIO needs to have in 2009.

So says James Knight, global CIO of Warren, N.J.-based insurer
Chubb, in a telephone interview conducted while he was attending the
Society for Information Management’s annual SIMposium meeting in
Florida. Learning when to delegate and to be resourceful at all times
have been the keys to his rise in the company, and they continue to be
key attributes in good times and bad. Knight has more than 28 years of
experience in the property and casualty insurance industry.

“The more I was able to reach out across boundaries to get something
done, the better I performed,” Knight says. In 2009, he sees some
opportunities that would not be available if Chubb were facing many of
the challenges currently affecting some firms in the financial sector.
Because Chubb is prudent in its underwriting, Knight says, it has had
no exposure to the subprime mortgage fallout. “From an IT point of
view, I see demand ever increasing,” he adds.

With technology at the center of everything Chubb does, Knight finds
himself looking at “all the moving parts”–all the new technologies and
all the demands from the business groups, as well as sorting out the
priorities and projects that are most urgently needed and represent the
greatest investment payoff.

“For information-based companies, information and the need for
analytics around that information are paramount, and everyone
recognizes the importance of that,” Knight says. Despite that, Chubb
does not want to be the first to utilize a new technology. “A
comfortable second wouldn’t bother us at all,” he adds. In 2009,
Chubb’s technology investments will still require a robust business
case in order to proceed.

For CIOs who may not have experienced as many ups and downs in the
economic cycle, Knight advises that they build trust within their
companies by delivering on what they promise.

He adds that a high
degree of transparency of projects is also needed so that executives
supporting the project will have a clear understanding of what is to be
delivered–and at what cost. Finally, it’s crucial for IT executives to
speak about the business outcomes of their efforts, rather than simply
engaging in technology-laden descriptions.

One of the items that is high on the IT agenda is dealing with
information overload. Helping the company find the information it
needs, applying business intelligence systems to the information and presenting the information in the format that business managers need
are key requirements, and they can be addressed only through a
combination of processes and technologies.

“It’s all about synthesizing numbers down to the key indicators,” Knight says. “That tells you a lot.”

Regarding social networks, Knight says their most immediate value
may be in finding and highlighting skills within the company. He’s
considering using something like an “internal Facebook” to identify and
highlight the internal wisdom of Chubb’s employees.

Regardless of the economy, Knight says qualities such as
resourcefulness; the ability to understand “the business first and IT
second”; and the talent and skill necessary to take an idea, build a
project structure around it and then deliver on that project will
continue to be differentiators for CIOs and their companies.

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