Lessons from a Business Focused CIO

by Anurag Agrawal, CEO, Techaisle    Oct 23, 2013

anurag

I first met Jag Randhawa at Dell World. It was a meeting organized by Dell Analyst Relations to showcase Dell’s Cloud Business Applications. Unbeknownst to Dell Analyst Relations, we hardly discussed Dell. What struck me immediately was his smiling demeanor and an earnest desire to be a champion of business innovation and his views on what IT could do to spur growth through employee involvement and implementing new technology ideas.

We re-connected, ten months later at his office.

Jag Randhawa is the VP of IT at CAMICO Mutual Insurance Company, an SMB with slightly less than 100 employees. And he is the quintessential CIO who loves his job, his company and his fellow colleagues. He also showers high praise on Dell’s customer intimacy, likes VMware’s virtualization solutions and embraces Open source. He especifically uses Dell for Network, Switches, PCs, Servers, Storage and is purchasing Microsoft Software. From VMWare, he uses their server virtualization technologies and software like VMotion and inventory management software for managing all the VM servers. 

Cloud Focus

His is a Dell shop, to the extent that he has replaced all existing storage and security solutions with those from Dell. He and his IT team of twelve do not work with any channel partners. His philosophy – whichever applications that can be pushed to the cloud without compromising security of his customer data, just do it. And he has done it; CAMICO is using 12 cloud applications which are:

SalesForce.com – Sales Management SilverPop – Marketing Automation Nexure – Agency Management Solution Acuity – Legal Partners Expense Management DocuSign – Electronic Signature LearnLive – Webinar Broadcasting and Training ADP/HCM – Payroll and Human Capital Management Skype – IM and Video Paypal and Total Biller Solution – Credit Card Payment Gateways Concur – Travel Expense Management RingCentral – Telephony MailRoute – Email Spam Filter

Business Perspective Focus

To increase employee engagement and help grow the business, he created a Bottom-up Innovation Program at CAMICO, in which employees submit ideas to grow the top-line, increase operational efficiencies, improve customer service, enhance business processes, and reduce cost. This program has generated many valuable ideas, and as a result he is embarking on two of his most ambitious business focused IT projects.

Using Open Source for eCommerce solutions Developing a Big Data Proof of Concept

Both of the projects are still in infancy stage and they are both being developed using Open Source. To explain further on the eCommerce solution initiative, he says, “We currently host our website and members-only extranet using Oracle Portal, and now we are planning to use Drupal for our website and another open source software for extranet, which is yet to be determined. Our website and extranet also have eCommerce capabilities embedded in it, so we will be porting our eCommerce into this new Open Source portal”. He is most excited about the big data project which is his initiative to provide actionable insights and perspectives for the business management at CAMICO.

When I asked him about the key objective of working on a big data project, he said, “We are experimenting with Big Data using many of the Open Source software to analyze and find correlations among loss trends. The first objective is to find loss causes in our current data and subsequently use these findings to better underwrite future risks.”

Employee Engagement Focus

As mentioned earlier, The Bottom-up Innovation Program was his brain child. The program encourages all employees to submit ideas that could add value to customers or the business. Employees observe their environment, listen to customers, and bring their outside experiences as consumers to generate ideas that could benefit the company or customers.

These ideas are validated, refined and prioritized by a committee of fellow employees. For every accepted and implemented idea, employees are recognized for their contributions through intrinsic and extrinsic rewards. This program makes employees more an integral part of the company, thereby increasing employee engagement and retention. The program has become such a success that he is invited to speak at several industry events for the benefit of other organizations. He not only speaks about the concept but also explains the implementation mechanics and expected outcomes of the program.

Overcoming business challenges

Similar to most other CIOs, he and his team have a long list of IT initiatives but the top four initiatives for 2014 and beyond are:

Replace Website, Members-Only and eCommerce platform Use Big Data for analyzing current and future risks Move more infrastructure solutions into the cloud Build targeted Mobile solutions

But there are enough challenges that his team (he detests the word “staff”) has to overcome. As per Jag, the biggest challenge for any IT department is money and talent. He elaborates on his statement, “There is never enough money to do everything we want to do. However in my view, if there is a business justification for an expense, money is never an issue. The definition of business justification is, for every dollar spent how much money the new solution is going to make or save? There are times when you cannot find direct or immediate benefits, so you have to find creative ways to show value and sell new ideas.

Cloud applications make it easier to try new solutions without heavy upfront commitment”. To qualify, he quickly states that the big data project was unscripted and not budgeted but he was able to create a business value which catapulted it to be among the top four IT initiatives.

Business Focused CIO

He is very clear in his mind that there has never been a better time to be a CIO. And he has a message for other IT leaders, “Technology has become an integral part of the business. IT leaders should always be thinking of how they can leverage technology to create competitive advantage, grow the business and create operational efficiencies.” As if on cue, he recites what he practices:

Partner with business peers. Look for ways to help them achieve their goals faster using technology. There is no IT project; every project is a business initiative. If you want funding for any initiative, figure out how it adds value to the business. Find partners who will help you showcase the value of technology. Above all, build credibility with your peers by providing excellent service.

Way to go. Link to blog  here