CIO interview: Ian Cohen, CIO, Jardine Lloyd Thompson

Running a programme to transform the business is the wrong way to go about change, according to Ian Cohen, CIO at insurance broker JLT

Running a programme to transform the business is the wrong way to go about change, according to Ian Cohen, CIO at insurance broker Jardine Lloyd Thompson (JLT).

"Surely you work out what you want to be first and then you run a series of programmes or activities to get there," he says.

But he says these activities do not necessarily have to be linear. "You have to know where you are going."

The job of a good CIO, according to Cohen, is a bit like a painter. "Our job is fundamentally to get an organisation from where they are to where they need to be and then create the technology and capabilities to get there. The very best CIOs are a bit like a corporate Picasso, making an abstract IT capability very tangible and very visual."

Taking the artist analogy a step further, Cohen says: "If you can paint a picture showing how the things you want can be enabled through the capabilities you get from technology, then you are able to have a more credible conversation at the board."

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A business in turmoil

"Jardine Lloyd Thompson (JLT) is the largest risk and assurance company you've probably never heard of," says Cohen, who has worked at the company for almost five years.

JLT has three core businesses. The first is high-end insurance brokering, which Cohen describes as "a high value, low volume relationship" business such as insurance in the marine, aerospace and oil and gas industries.

JLT is also one of the largest pension administration companies and owns a product called Pro Fund for final salary pensions. This is the high-volume, low-value side of JLT. It also runs a small specialist retail business, which sells “Guard” insurance product, with brands like MusicGuard, PhotoGard and CycleGuard.

Cohen joined the company in 2009, having previously worked at the FT and Associated Newspapers.

His move to JLT in 2009 came at a time of immense turmoil in the business. At the time he joined, the company’s first generation IT outsourcing contract was failing the business. "JLT had to turn its technology capability in the UK around in to become a global connected and collaborative insurance company," Cohen adds.

The very best CIOs are a bit like a corporate Picasso, making an abstract IT capability very tangible and very visual

Ian Cohen, CIO, JLT

He says the business felt IT was holding the company back and in some respects, IT was actually disabling the business. "Like most organisations that go into first-generation outsourcing, it is easy to get things wrong."

The insurance business is generally not at the cutting edge of technology and he says JLT needed someone to stabilise the UK, rebuild the IT capability and prepare JLT for running globally. The project was earmarked for three years, but Cohen says: "We did it in two, and once the fires were out we could then talk about who we wanted to be [as an organisation]."

Building trust

At the time he admits the business did not trust IT. "There was huge mistrust in IT because there was zero transparency." So his first challenge was to rebuild the trust and the capability: the people, the processes, the technology and the relationships. “If people don't trust you and they feel you are hiding stuff from them it will kill the relationship. It is not about technology, but the impact of getting IT wrong is so profound," he says.

"The way you rebuild trust is by being absolutely transparent, take the kicking when the kicking are due and you robustly defend yourself when they are not, and you do it in an open, honest and transparent manner."

Clearing the IT plumbing has to work. "When people come into an organisation and the technology doesn't work, they blame IT. So it is easy for IT to become a disabler. But these failures can sometimes be turned around to make IT more open to the business. You have an opportunity to delight or exceed the expectations of an individual."

Finance and publishing businesses

Ian Cohen, CIO of JLT, has a background is in financial services, but spent almost a decade in publishing. Cohen was CTO of in 2001 where he oversaw the transition of the online site to a subscription service. 

"One of the highlights of my career was helping to turn the FT around. I am hugely proud of integrating digital and print at a time when other people were looking to see whether it could be done." grew from zero to 70,000 subscribers. He became global IT director for Financial Times, before moving too Associated Newspapers in 2006 as its CIO.

Along with the outsourcing issues, Cohen had to deal with a failed implementation, which needed to be resolved before he could talk to the board about IT enabled capabilities.

CRM was core to the business’ objectives. "We were talking about being client first, speciality driven, knowledge led and globally enabled," he says. These became the focus of the company’s Insight programme for digital transformation.

Salesforce CRM improves client focus

"If we say we want to be client first, we had better know our clients better than anyone else and anticipate their needs better than anyone else. We need to build deeper relationships with them better than anybody else – and, by the way, we better make sure our Salesforce implementation hums and sings."

He says the company also set about improving its data analytics capabilities, by providing better data visualisation.

Cohen worked with a digital agency from the retail sector to understand consumer journeys, which was used to build an equivalent insurance broker journey that could be enabled through the Salesforce CRM system. 

"To achieve our strategy we needed to be better at Salesforce, to stop [implementing] big data warehouses and start visualising [data] and think like a publisher in order to move content and knowledge around our company," says Cohen.

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