How an insurance CIO brought a revenue focus to IT

AmWINS CIO Todd Atwood, named Global CIO of the Year by the Charlotte CIO Leadership Association, discusses his group's transformation
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Digital transformation ROI

The AmWINS IT department, led by CIO Todd Atwood, achieved a significant transformation during the past year, improving platform resiliency while completing a massive data center move, cloud migration, and hardware overhaul. In addition, the department increased its delivery velocity and time-to-market, and set plans in place to reduce operational expenses by more than 30 percent.

These improvements not only enabled the group to move from a single-mode service provider to a multi-mode valued business partner, but also laid the foundation for a new focus on digital strategies, innovation, and product development.

Atwood recently won the Global CIO of the Year award from the Charlotte CIO Leadership Association. We spoke with him about the changes to his IT team, his hiring philosophy, building strong relationships with the business, and more.

CIO_Q and A

The Enterprisers Project (TEP): You recently launched two industry-first solutions. Can you discuss the changes to your IT team that led to their success?

Atwood: The delivery of two new industry-first products earlier this year marks a significant shift in our technology team’s delivery focus. Nearly three years in the making, we have overhauled how we partner, design, build, test, and deploy solutions. It’s been a bit like the answer to the question, “How do you eat an elephant?” We have been improving our delivery methodology one bite at a time.

Initially, we focused on talent and tool investments. Next, we optimized team structures and organizational dynamics to best unify our delivery teams. Finally, we tailored and integrated several best practices from concept to post-deployment support.

The result was an end-to-end integrated delivery approach with three distinct modes that were focused on accountability, quality, and business-valued outcomes. The shift this year moves us from focusing on delivering flawlessly to focusing on outcome-driven business value: We’ve evolved from a provider to a partner.

While this is just the beginning, I am confident that our delivery approach, technology talent, and integrated tools will be delivering many new industry-firsts with our businesses for years to come.

TEP: When you joined AmWINS, you revamped your organization’s approach to hiring. Can you share some of the changes and benefits? 

Atwood: Perhaps the greatest key is our team’s ability to hire without bias by focusing only on best fit and talent. We also strive to achieve work-life balance and host activities that include our associates' families and friends. Whether it’s embracing the creativity of blue mohawks and award-winning beards or welcoming daily religious observations in our workspace, we want to celebrate and learn from our differences. Our IT team brings together individuals who wouldn’t typically mix in any other circumstance, and we all benefit from this diversity.

When we hire, we do it as a team and decisions must be unanimous. We often require a pre-work scenario that interviewees prepare and discuss during their interview. We want people who are passionate about what they do, who are engaged in their community, and who have an entrepreneurial spirit. We ask interviewees to describe their career objective and, if hired, we help build a career plan and coach them toward their goals. We encourage achievement and pay for certifications, offer tuition reimbursement, and sponsor numerous internal training sessions, offering a safe environment for associates to try, grow, and thrive.

TEP: Strong partnership and collaboration with the business are key for IT teams looking to play a more strategic role. What is your advice for other CIOs trying to do this?

Atwood: Strong partnership and close collaboration with the business are certainly two key elements, but it may not always be enough. I’d encourage CIOs to take it a step further by focusing on building trust.

While consistent delivery and knowing the business will build some level of trust, being authentic, transparent, and empathetic are some of best tools to develop strong, trusted partnerships, knock down barriers, and encourage idea sharing.

You also want to be approachable. Take a genuine interest in your teammates and business partners. The trust you gain with your business partners by being genuine will help you remove any obstacles and execute faster than you could have ever expected. I believe it is one of the shared traits across our company’s leadership team that has enabled AmWINS to grow as fast and successfully as it has.

TEP: Over the next three years you want to establish IT as a partner to your business and as a revenue-generating division. Why is IT focus on making money an important goal?

Atwood: To establish IT as a partner and revenue-generating division, we needed to hold our technology organization accountable to our businesses and partners to ensure that we are providing competitive market offerings, pricing, and product delivery excellence.

Today, we consult many of our internal companies, customers, and partners on technology solutions. We own a tremendous scalable infrastructure, a robust vendor-partner ecosystem, and a talented technology delivery team. As we continue to mature these capabilities, one day we will bring them together and extend our offerings from what we own to those we consult.

TEP: You recently took a unique approach to team building at your last offsite event. What did you do, and how has that helped your team grow?

“Today, each director keeps their glove and ball on their desk.”

Atwood: One of my core beliefs is that humility, empathy, and trust are key traits to unlock potential. Leaders who can develop these traits must also exhibit them to encourage and grow extraordinary talent that’s self-aware and has integrity, unbiased foresight, empathy, intentionality, and positive persuasion.

I was fortunate to have worked for a few leaders with these tremendous traits who have showed me that the more I care about and serve others, the more I grow and develop myself, which increases my capacity to adhere to a regenerative style of leadership. Much like a coach that improves his or her own capabilities every season, they will improve the entire team.

Earlier this year, I rented the local baseball stadium, bought each of my directors a baseball glove and a ball, took them onto the field, and shared with them that message – that we each play an important role on the team. I asked each person to compare their role to a field position, describing their responsibility, critical plays, and errors. Each “player” tried many different positions on the field until their talent and responsibilities were somewhat analogous to their role at work. Curiously, we didn’t have any players in the same position. We then went to the batting cage for the discussion on humility.

Today, back in our offices, each director keeps their glove and ball on their desk. They are encouraged to throw the ball with their teammates whenever they need help, have an innovative idea, or a disagreement. From the perspective of being a coach, I am very pleased with their progress.

Kristin Burnham is a reporter and editor covering IT leadership, business technology, and online privacy and security. 


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