IT director evolves into e-businessman

As e-commerce redefines the role and responsibility of the IT director Julia Vowler meets a man who has taken the initiative and...

As e-commerce redefines the role and responsibility of the IT director Julia Vowler meets a man who has taken the initiative and made the transition

In e-commerce, the dependency on IT is so much tighter, it's complete, says Mark Hodgkinson, IT director of insurance company Terra Nova. The result is that, like it or not, the IT director must evolve into a fully paid-up e-businessman if the company is to make the most of the new opportunities.

"It's a real challenge for people in my position," says Hodgkinson. Equally, it is one they ignore at their peril.

"It's not a problem for me because I've always seen myself as a businessman first, and IT as a great way of enabling change," he says. "What attracts me about e-commerce is how it brings IT and business together."

Even so, it is not just a question of the IT director standing up and saying, "Hi guys, I'm your exciting new e-commerce entrepreneur."

"You have to earn acceptance by the business," says Hodgkinson. "It depends very much on your approach - I encourage my team to adopt a very business-oriented attitude and when e-commerce came along they were expected to respond. They need a different skill set from traditional IT professionals. They need to be able to think on their feet and be far more flexible about delivery - IT can't take two years to do a strategic plan for e-commerce, or the company will find its competitors have gone past."

Hodgkinson moved a lot faster. Since November he has been putting together a high-level business case for the company to have a more general e-presence, which will be ready this month. He was the prime mover in the launch of the new insurance product Internet Insure, which is specifically targeted at covering the risk which doing e-business can entail, such as legal liability in respect of possible libel and trading risks.

This is clearly a new line for Terra Nova, which has insured satellites and supertankers, and although Hodgkinson does not have responsibility for the new revenue stream, he says, "My principle responsibility is to put the business case together and realise it."

Terra Nova has already won the Financial Times Finance Sector Award for, in Hodgkinson's words, "articulating a clear strategy on how we are using the Internet and e-trade to support business".

He says, "The award established our e-commerce credibility. To be perfectly frank, I entered so we could get some kind of benchmark on how we were doing in e-commerce, so I was quite pleased when we won."

Read more on Business applications