Nationwide’s Technology is On Your Side, with CTO Jim Fowler

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In the IT world, and throughout life in general, there are always going to be jobs that no one else wants to do. They’re hard, time-consuming, and starting them might only lead to more problems and questions. But according to Jim Fowler, those are the jobs you always want to take. Jim is the CTO of Nationwide, and he says that by taking on those tough jobs, he was able to build skills to become a technology leader. He explains that, and discusses all the technology and innovation going on behind the scenes at Nationwide, on this episode of IT Visionaries. 

Best Advice: “Start your job out by learning how your company makes money. If you understand that it puts the rest of what you have to do in perspective.”

Key Takeaways

  • Doing jobs nobody wants is a smart career move
  • The term “digital transformation” is both overused and misunderstood
  • Technology is a bridge to help you connect with and keep your promises to customers

Doing the jobs no one else wants

In a LinkedIn article Jim wrote a few years back, he gave the advice that you should always take the jobs that no one else wants. He says this because if you look at the job, you will see that there is a reason no one wants to do it, and most of the time that reason is that the job is hard or it involves solving a tough problem — this is especially true in IT. By taking such jobs, you force yourself to learn something new and provide useful skills or knowledge to your organization. 

“For the jobs I look back on that nobody wanted, it was typically a problem that needed to be solved with technology. And it was typically a hard change to an existing set of processes that nobody wanted to tackle because they knew they were going to find problems underneath. And what’s really important is you had no authority to do all the work that needed to be done and so you found that you had to build the ability to influence people.  You had to be a good communicator and you needed to be able to explain, in very simple terms, how technology was going to make their life better in such a way that you got their buy-in because they had the authority and you didn’t. And I’d say that for me, when I look back at my career, it is probably the skill I’ve had to use the most.”

Jim’s current role

At Nationwide, Jim is responsible for all technology, which he narrows into three focus areas: traditional IT, the associate digital workplace and providing a modern set of tools, and the transformation of products in a digital world. And at the heart of all of his responsibilities is the need to optimize business processes so that Nationwide, its employees and its customers all have a seamless experience. 

Thinking about digital transformation

Jim believes that the term “digital transformation” is both overused and oft-misunderstood. To help the leadership fully understand Nationwide’s digital transformation, Jim breaks the process into three buckets. Those buckets are:

  1. Using automation to create more efficiency
  2. Creating a digital workspace with productivity tools
  3. Changing products and services to use technology to better protect the customer

Jim also says that it’s important to not become precious about your role because in a digital transformation, everyone should be working together and can cross over in job functions. At the end of the day, it’s about putting the customer first.

“We’ve got to change the culture to say all of us are working toward the same outcome, which is how do I help protect individuals, businesses, and futures with extraordinary care? That’s what we do. And it shouldn’t matter that we’ve got people who cross organizational bounds doing similar work. As long as we’re all focused on the customer and providing them a better experience, then let’s forget the organizational nonsense of who reports to whom.” 

Every company is a technology company

It is a cliche at this point to say that every company is becoming a technology company. But at Nationwide, Jim looks at technology as a way to help everyone in the company fulfill its mission to protect people. Whether it’s through automated record keeping, transforming the selling process or building platforms and opportunities to meet customers where they are, technology has served as the bridge. 

 “One of the things I was really intrigued by when I came to Nationwide is that our mission is pretty simple. It’s a promise. We promise to protect people, businesses, and futures with extraordinary care. And at the end of the day, that’s what we sell. We sell a promise. We promise to make it right….and the reality is that technology has really changed the way in which we make and keep those promises.”

“The reason that we’re as much a technology company as anything else is technology is allowing us to make and keep promises in a much more efficient and productive way than we could in the past.”

Finding and implementing new technology

When it comes to innovation and bringing in new technology, Jim says the first step is to make sure you’re always aware of what is happening in the world and staying up to date on trends. And when you do want to bring in something new, what is the reason behind it? How will it help achieve business outcomes? And, how will you test and experiment with it? Those are the questions Jim asks whenever a new idea or opportunity arises. 

“You’ve always got to have an eye for technology. And I look at it with two lenses. One lens is more of a design engineering lens….But almost more important than the design side is the applied side of the engineering of the job. How do you apply predictive analytics with machine learning with a new database platform to be able to provide a new outcome that solves a specific business problem, for example.”



Episode 157