Guardian CIO on how innovation and collaboration work together

When Frank Wander took over as CIO of The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America, he was faced with several challenges in his quest to transform IT. At the time, innovation and collaboration could have seemed like long off goals -- but instead, Wander used them as the basis for turning the IT department around.

In this CIO Innovators video, Wander discusses his philosophy for creating a culture of innovation, which comes down to building a "culture of collaboration."

"People can make a difference," he says, adding that he knows the model works because everyone is contributing to the company’s success.

"We don't try to measure [innovation]," he explains. "The business is measuring its goals, and if we are working well together and deciding on all the right things to do … all of this has to show up on the bottom line. At the end of the day, we are growing and the results are the results we need to achieve as a business. We are getting the business results from a collaborative model where people are sharing in the outcome."

In a recent profile of Wander on, he delved further into the human side of the innovation equation, acknowledging that the knowledge worker is central to success.

“We have a set of management practices in corporate America that are tied back to the industrial era. We still use the term human resources, as if our people are interchangeable resources like steel or energy," he said. "People are the furthest things from an interchangeable part. In the area of knowledge work, it is the amount of knowledge that they’ve acquired over time and how well they are able to fit into social working environments that make them productive.”

Read the full transcript of this video below:

Guardian CIO on how innovation and collaboration work together

Chris Gonsalves:    I'm executive editor Chris Gonsalves. I'm here at the CIO Synergy event, New York City talking technology innovation as part of our CIO Innovator series. Joined now by Frank Wander, senior vice president and CIO at Guardian Life Insurance Company. Thanks for joining us today Frank.


Frank Wander:   Yeah. Glad to be here. Thank you Chris.


Chris Gonsalves:   With all this discussion of innovation and business leadership, I'm curious what you see as the role that the CIO plays in effecting innovative change in their organization.


Frank Wander:   You know, at the end of the day we know and understand technology. And because we've grown up we understand what is possible. We see what's coming, we understand how to use it, and we can see capabilities because of how close we are to this that our business partners wouldn't be able to see.


So what we do at Guardian is we have a highly collaborative environment where we work with the business, we discuss what's possible, and when there's an idea that resonates with our business partners and they want to make it a part of the strategy, then we go forward and then we build that together.


Chris Gonsalves:  Help out your colleagues and competitors here play academic for me.


Frank Wander:   Sure.


Chris Gonsalves:   How do CIO's make themselves more effective? What's the key? I mean, they need culture of innovation, right? So how do they build the culture of innovation and how do they evangelize business use of technology?


Frank Wander:   I would say that we have a culture of collaboration. You know, we have at Guardian, there's really three corporate values. People count, we do the right thing, we make a difference. That's a relatively good foundation to build the collaborative environment on.


So we can take IT and we can embed it in the business. And with IT embedded in the business my folk know what's going on in the business and they understand what technology's available. They have a seat at the table, and then we can have, or they can have, a very good discussion about what's possible, make sure it is centered into the strategy in the plans.


The good thing is, because we have an environment where it’s embedded in the business, we don't really run IT projects. We actually run business projects where we share joint ownership in the outcome. And with that level of buy-in we get all the right people working on it and we make it happen. So I think you know, we want people who know and understand technology, they know the business well enough to be a business partner to bring things to the table that makes sense for business folks and we've been able to do that effectively.


Chris Gonsalves:   So once you establish a culture of collaboration what is the best method to manage it and to measure the effectiveness of this innovation that you worked so hard for?


Frank Wander:   Well you know, look we don't go out and try to measure innovation, right. The business is really measuring its goals. So we have sales goals and all the typical goals you would see in a company. And if we are working well together and we are deciding on all the right things to do some of which could be increasing operational effectiveness, some of which could be innovating a new solution for the business, some of which, some of which could frankly be building the many products and services that we built to bring to market.


All of those at some point have to show up in the bottom line. You can try to look at the ROI of every single individual thing we do, but it's a mix. Some go a little bit beyond what we thought, some may be don't achieve everything we thought, but at the end of the day, we're growing. What we are deciding on doing collectively frankly is achieving the results that we need to achieve as a business. So I would say that's the parameter. Are we getting the right business results from a collaborative model where everybody you know is sharing in the outcome? And I think in fact we do. And I think the model works great.


Chris Gonsalves:   We talked about a number of different technology here and the earlier session Cloud, Mobility, Social networking. What are the technologies that are on your radar and should be top of mine for CIO's who themselves are trying to get some business success under their belt?


Frank Wander: When you look at technology changes and evolution, they come in major waves. And as those major waves show up, we can go back to mainframe computing, right, with the advent of OS/360 in 1964, we can go to the desktop PC and local area networking. We can take a look at the internet revolution that really allowed companies to put their front ends out to their customers and ultimately have social networking solutions with them. This is the next wave, mobile ubiquitous computing, and at the end of the day it is going to produce a lot of business value like every other one of these revolutions. I couldn't tell you where it ends up. These tend to go for seven to eight years of innovation and another seven to eight years to digest them.


The reality is, you've got to be in it to win it, right? And we're in there, we tend to go with the trend. We use it, we evolve with it, and we build business solutions that make sense over time. We're not here to predict the future and pick winners or losers. We're in the game, we want to be able to use it in a very finely collaborative way where it makes sense. And we don't make the big bet, right? That we're going to pick the winner and bet the ranch on. That never makes sense in this business. There's no picking the winners, never has been.


Chris Gonsalves:   We've been talking to Frank Wander, the senior vice president CIO at Guardian Life Insurance Company as part of our CIO innovator series. Frank, thanks so much for chatting with us today.


Frank Wander:  That's it. Chris, it’s been great. Appreciate you having me on and I very much enjoyed it. Thank you.


Chris Gonsalves:   For all of us at I'm executive editor Chris Gonsalves. Thanks for watching.


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