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CIO returns to her financial roots, as CFO

Clint Boulton | Oct. 13, 2015
Alliant Insurance Services CIO Ilene Anders, who was promoted to CFO last week, discusses how she used IT to transform the insurance brokerage’s business.

"You can get overwhelmed with data and the simpler you can make it, the more valuable it becomes," Anders says. Her team is also turning analytics into products that directly serve its clients. In 2013, for example, the company launched a benchmarking tool to allow corporate clients to compare Alliant's employee benefits program with plans of other providers.

From tech ROI to returning to her roots

With the IT transformation in the rear-view mirror, Anders is returning to her finance roots, albeit with a deeper understanding of the technical operations underpinning the business, as well as the breadth of knowledge about Alliant's diverse customer base. She takes the CFO reins from Greg Zimmer, who has served as both president and CFO for many years. This will allow him to focus even more attention on the overall leadership and strategic growth initiatives of the company, which has expanded through several acquisitions and other strategic initiatives over the last two years.

In the meantime, Anders and Corbett are working on finding her replacement, interviewing both internal and external candidates to run an IT team that she says is sound. As she conducts the "delicate balance" of serving as CIO and CFO, Anders offered some advice for CIOs who seek to move up in their organizations.

  • At the end of the day, it’s about holistically understanding the business and understanding how you, as a leader, are creating return on investment. That’s the most important thing. There are many people out there who will try to convince you that you need to build or implement new technology to be effective, and they can be persuasive. No matter how cool the technology is, if there’s not a clear path to creating value for your organization, it’s not worth doing.
  • Ensure you have a strong team to support you. Otherwise you’ll spend all of your time in fixer-upper mode, rather than executing a strategy that creates value. Empower your team with the tools they need, a desirable work culture, and a solid understanding of your vision. Given those things, your team will work extremely hard to make you successful as well.

Finally: An effective CIO doesn’t stop at technology. They extend their leadership into other areas where there is a need. That might be operations, or finance, or some other area that technology touches, but is outside the traditional technology box. A good leader understands that lines are drawn but are not meant to be walls. It’s about leading beyond the discipline you’re in and keeping it holistic.

 

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