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CIO of CUNA Mutual Group talks on business-IT fusion

When Rick Roy came into CUNA Mutual Group’s IT shop, he wasn’t coming into a crisis or a turn-around situation. His predecessor, Steve Haroldson, retired leaving its IT organization with strong connections to the business and was delivering on its operational promises. As the new guy with big shoes to fill, Rick needed a sophisticated approach to build on these foundations.

Rick and CUNA both recognized that when you tie IT to financial services, the situation just gets more dynamic. Drawing from his experience with that combination, Rick brought an increased focus on benchmarking and on how IT is governed at CUNA.

“The number one leadership challenge is allocating the IT spend between ‘keeping the lights’ on and enabling new business capabilities.”
His managers were already active in the line-of-business leadership teams. The governance fundamentals were already taken care of in terms of good communication supporting alignment between IT and the business. But governance is a two-way street. In addition to responding to current business needs, IT has a responsibility to bring creative ideas for using technology to improve business capabilities.

Rick highlights how IT dollars are distributed over operations, maintenance, and new development. Operations and maintenance are where the business value gets delivered, but development is where new value gets created. He says, “The number-one leadership challenge is allocating the IT spending between ‘keeping the lights on’ and enabling new business capabilities.”

Looking beyond CUNA to the technology climate in Wisconsin, Rick is excited by the clustering of financial services firms between Milwaukee and Madison and the emerging bio-technology community. With that excitement comes some frustration. From experiences in the Silicon Valley, Rick feels that we could do more to build a culture of networking to take better advantage of those knowledge clusters. He lives near Milwaukee but drives up to Madison every day. It doesn’t seem like a big deal for Rick, and he’s still mildly surprised when people see the drive between the two cities as a barrier to cooperation.

Rick is watching “the standard three” new technologies: voice over IP, security, and wireless. Most companies have a significant investment in phone-related infrastructure. Voice IP applications have to find business needs and funding before they can replace that infrastructure.

Rick has a variety of security interests, including Sarbanes-Oxley and world events. There’s something of a security-technology arms race going on with hackers, business espionage, and acts of God on one side and companies, regulators, and legislators on the other.

On the wireless front, his interest is focused on all that “cache of cell phones, PDAs, and blackberries” that every organization has and how to use them strategically while, of course, maintaining security.

Rick isn’t just about business and technology. He has a family tradition of sailing and is pretty sure he’d be happy in an alternate career there. Not that he’s contemplating sailing off to a new job. When asked about high points of his work in IT, the first thing he mentioned was the CIO magazine Agile 100 award. He says receiving that award on behalf of the CUNA IT staff and being able to come back and complement them was very rewarding.

The changes in IT and in financial services aren’t going to slow down anytime soon, so finding the balance between “lights on” and the next new thing means Rick has a job at CUNA as long as he wants it.

Byron Glick is a principal at Prairie Star Consulting, LLC of Madison Wis. Prairie Star specializes in managing the organizational impacts of technology. He can be contacted via e-mail at or via telephone at 608/345-3958.

The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, & do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.

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