Episode 078 — The Digital Broker Podcast

The IT Dilemma: New Challenges, Old Habits


On this episode of The Digital Broker, Ryan Deeds and Mark Alberto talk about the role of an IT department at an insurance agency. By listening to this episode, you will learn:

  • How the expectations and responsibilities of the average IT department have grown even as the number of its employees has stayed the same
  • Which challenges, old and new, continue to affect an IT department
  • How information silos inhibit the spread of solutions and ideas
  • How to mitigate these issues with better hiringbetter leadership, and better training

In conversations about technology, experts like Ryan Deeds routinely draw comparisons between today and “ten years ago.” Indeed, technology has moved that fast, reshaping the role of the IT department. In previous times, when business was less intertwined with technology, IT professionals were more like plumbers, ready to intervene whenever a “pipe,” or a cable, burst. Nowadays, IT professionals are expected to innovate: discover ways to streamline operations, make customers happier, and help the organization meet its financial goals.

You would expect this to have kicked off a kind of IT renaissance—but whereas IT responsibilities have skyrocketed, IT staffing has not. The number of IT professionals at many insurance agencies has stayed pretty much the same. Worse, communication is weak among IT and other departments. Information that’s supposed to travel stays stuck in one place, making for horrible silos that inhibit the growth of the agency.

It is true that what was once complex has now become simpler thanks to technology, thereby requiring less oversight and staff. But that doesn’t mean that everything has gotten simpler. Cloud computing has taken data from “on-premise” server rooms and moved it into the cloud, securing it from hurricanes, tornadoes, and fires. But cloud storage is no easy thing to set up. Furthermore, new technologies are accompanied by new threats: data theft, hacking, ransomware, in the cloud’s case alone. Imagine being the IT professional responsible for selecting the best data security software out of literally hundreds of options, knowing that if you pick the “wrong” one, your boss will chew you out over why you didn’t pick any of the others.

We live in a time of unprecedented options: there’s a software for practically anything you can think of. This is great news for growth-minded agencies, but guess who is expected to keep up with every new software, how it works, and how it will integrate with the other tools in use by the agency. Today’s IT professionals are counted on to be acquainted with all options and the regular product updates—this is on top of their already taxing responsibility to put out fires anytime they happen.

Brooks’s law teaches us that adding more people might backfire, but it wouldn’t hurt you to look at your IT-to-employee ratio. If it’s something like one IT professional for every 150 employees, it might be time to start putting out want ads. Talk to your team about it first, especially your IT team. Do they think you should bring on more help? What kind?

IT professionals are very motivated people who get no bigger rush than when they help a customer or colleague discover an easier way to do something. It’s a shame when these solutions don’t travel as far as they should because of poor communication. But it can’t be an IT professional’s job to come up with a new solution and to single-handedly ensure its adoption: part of that responsibility falls on the leader. Leaders are the ones who see the whole picture and can leverage their top-down authority to align the departments. By spending more time with IT, finding common ground, and refining a shared language, Leadership and IT can smooth interdepartmental communication, raze those information silos, and free the information therein to benefit the entire agency.

Finally, we suggest increasing your agency’s technical literacy in areas outside of insurance. Your IT people will still be the experts, but they’ll have to put out fewer fires if everyone else has a working knowledge of everyday IT issues. Take the time to train your staff on tools, software, and procedures that can make their jobs easier: Outlook, conferencing tools, a whole host of mobile apps, etc. You might be wondering, “Well, where would I go to find out more about those things?” We have some ideas.

First, you could go to more conferences, especially Insurtech conferences; you can usually expect to meet Ryan there and ask him questions. Another way would be to join the Digital Broker LinkedIn group—where, incidentally, you can also meet Ryan and ask him questions. You will also meet other agents and brokers who are putting on a united front against contemporary IT challenges. Join us and let’s talk about some of yours.

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