Simon Gregson

CIO,
Novae
3 February 2017

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your organisation?

Novae is a specialist insurance company affiliated to Lloyd’s of London and we provide high value/low volume insurance in specialist areas. We insure around 30 different classes of business across a wide range from satellite launches, to ships, to protection against terrorism, cyber risk, race horses and footballers. We are a staff of about 400 in London and 10 in Bermuda. Novae, as a company, has been in existence for about 10 years but existed before that under a different name. Recently Novae went through a period of growth, almost doubling our headcount in the past 2 years.

My position as CIO at Novae is my first role as a CIO. I joined from IBM where I held Architect/CTO type roles. I am thoroughly enjoying the role of CIO at Novae in what is a very friendly organisation. I have a long technical/leadership background rather than deep technical background.

Do you think that IT leadership should drive change in your industry? If so, what are the challenges?

That is probably a Yes/No answer. Fundamentally, no, you shouldn’t look at IT to drive change. However, in practice I believe IT should be in a position where it has more influence and that is best explained by the challenges faced. At Novae I am faced with the challenge of quite a wide distance between the business and the IT department. The engagement between the two is not poor or negative but there just isn’t much. So, one of the biggest challenges is making sure that the business takes the time to properly explain what it needs and we in IT take time to explain clearly what we’re providing. I need to bridge that gap before we can actually start helping with the leadership. We need to be clear that we can actually do what the business wants us to do before we take an active role in suggesting to them what they could do.

What potential opportunities does technology create for your industry?

It's limitless really. The specialist insurance industry is a little bit behind the time, compared to everyone else. There is still a lot of face-to-face business done.

Why do you think that is?

Specialist insurance is not about big data, it is about the quality of information and is very bespoke. A contract for insuring a ship can be very different from the other one in terms of the constraints, conditions and level of cover required. As a result it is quite bespoke and there is a lot of face-to-face activity and resulting in it being a challenge to put effective systems in place to support the activity. I refer to the problem as being a small data problem on a big data problem. We don’t have lots and lots of data to process. What do have is very good, low volumes of data from which we have to generate a lot of information.

I see opportunities for the use of CRM which perhaps the industry doesn’t recognise. The industry is very much based on relationships. There is some potential around data, regardless of the fact that it’s not big data, but helping the business by structuring it, accumulating it and reporting on it. Digital will then become more important but we are always going to be B2B and not B2C so it’s not top of the business agenda yet.

How siloed is the information across the different types of insurance? It must be very different between insuring a race horse and a satellite launch.

It is fairly siloed but there is core information that is common across them such as the customer, the broker, the premium but when you get into how you profile a risk of a satellite launch versus a race horse, obviously it is very different. As a result the data collected to make decisions is very different between the different lines of business. Our challenge is to put cohesive operational support across the organisation.

How important do you see supporting your IT team with learning and development opportunities, especially as they are under constant pressure to deliver more and faster?

I believe it is really important that as an IT professional you keep abreast of what is going on in your industry either broadly or in your own discipline. My view is that it is a lifelong learning concept so I want people to be engaged in more than what they are doing at the moment and think about what other people are doing. The development opportunity from something like the CITF is very important to me. When I worked at IBM and they had a culture of developing eminence within the organisation and the industry. It was beneficial for everybody and people were better known and were thinking more broadly than just the task in front of them. I would like to drive the same culture here at Novae.

Do you think that message is understood by the team?

I think the message is understood, but if you try and measure it by action, it would suggest not. So I don’t think it is a question of the message getting through, I think it is a cultural shift which everyone struggles with. How do you find time to look up from your screen and dedicate time on something else? It is a cultural shift in terms of finding time. Over time it will grow and increase but in the meantime we need to constantly remind and encourage the team.

Do you believe that, to gain full business benefits, organisations should be open to supporting further development, not only employees but also contractors?

I think the pragmatic answer is that if you don’t have the contractors with the right skills, you replace them. In reality, contractors generally are already more motivated to keep their eye on developments outside their current activities. They value their marketability and as a result focus on their ongoing development. I am happy that they participate and represent Novae whilst they are here but it is not really long term. If it helps make Novae a good place to work for contractors and as a result get better CVs presented to us, that is a good thing. I don’t consciously want to develop contract staff, but I think providing the opportunity can make Novae an attractive place for them to work.

What are your main focus areas for 2017?

My personal focus area is communication - bridging the gap between IT and the business. It isn’t just IT’s problem and I need to ensure the, business engages with IT on a more day-to-day basis whilst encouraging my team to engage more closely with the business. That is probably my biggest priority this year and it will significantly improve overall satisfaction between the business and IT. We need to make every member of the IT team understand that they have a responsibility for business relation management, regardless of their role.

Other objectives for 2017:

a) Improve transparency of IT Spend so that the business gets visibility on what IT Services and Projects cost
b) Improve the change portfolio and deliver more predictably as too many projects do not adhere to original timescales or budgets even though we have a reasonable handle on the change portfolio
c) We have an in-house service desk which scores very well from a customer satisfaction perspective, but we need to improve on our root cause analysis to avoid fault repetition
d) My role also includes some of the corporate governance policies that have a heavy impact on IT and also across the organisation. This is an area where perhaps we can demonstrate leadership in terms of how IT uses policies to manage and control what is being done.

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