CIO-plus Series: Interview with CIO and Chief Innovation Officer of Marsh & McLennan, Ben Allen

There is really no such thing as the perfect path to becoming a CIO. Ben Allen, CIO of Marsh & McLennan knows this first hand. In his interview with Forbes contributor Peter High, Allen notes that a great deal of his success as a CIO was due to the fact that he fostered an environment of collaboration. Furthermore, Allen suggests that sometimes enthusiasm can make up for a lack of experience:

Peter High:
As the role of CIO was your first formal role in IT in your career, how have you gone about becoming more tech savvy?

Ben Allen:
I have to admit that I am a technology enthusiast at heart, so I have always been interested in technology personally and professionally. Therefore, the topic is not brand new to me, and I am probably not as intimidated by it as others who make this leap might be.

Second, I am blessed with a solid chief technology officer, David Fike, and a great worldwide infrastructure team who have been very patient with me in bringing me up-to-speed on the most technical aspects of what we manage. As an outsider coming into IT, having someone who is a deep technologist as a complement to my traditional business roles is key to success in my mind.

When asked what was the purpose of establishing him as the first chief innovation officer at Marsh & McLennan, Allen responds by saying that, like any older company, Marsh & McLennan needed to be continuously innovative so they would remain relevant. Innovation is also the reason Allen gives for being given the roles of chief information officer as well as chief innovation officer. Forcing these two parts of the organization to work together yielded great benefits and kept influences in check.

Allen also explained that the fact that best determines the structure innovation should take within a company is the velocity of change in the business and the source of competitive differentiation. While change at his company does not have to move at the speed of a company such as Apple, but they do feel the pressure to update frequently so as not to be considered old news. According to Allen, discipline research, strong communication and collaboration, and active learning programs are three things always to keep in mind for anyone who hopes to walk in his footsteps and have his success.

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