MEET THE TECH EXEC
American Advisors Group
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Michael Josephs presently serves as Chief Information Officer (CIO) and Chief Transformation Officer (CTO) for the American Advisors Group (AAG), a company at the top of its market for the provision of financial service for seniors.
As CIO Michael is responsible for the mission-critical technology platforms that support AAG, and for ensuring the safety and security of our systems and the data that runs on them. As CTO, he oversees execution of key initiatives that help further scale and optimize AAG, and the identification of transformative solutions for the continuous improvement of AAG customer engagement model.
Michael holds a BS degree in Computer Science from the University of Maryland, and serves on a number of technical advisory boards.
What’s the #1 area of focus CIO’s should concentrate on?
Balance. A contemporary CIO needs to balance the essential elements of fundamental business continuity with impactful innovation –Information Security, systems availability and accuracy, service redundancy are just a few examples. A business or organization that merely focuses on compliance every day will not last for long. Constant adaptation to the changing environment and continuous transformation are as crucial to business and organizational viability as the stability and resiliency of systems infrastructure.
What’s your take on public cloud?
We are on a trajectory for the public cloud to be as routine as any public utility or service (water, heat, gas, telephone…). Already cloud services meet many of our needs for smaller computing footprints, elastic utilization pricing, accelerated new computing resource availability, and in some cases overall cost minimization.
But information security and privacy standards are lagging, particularly in domains of high sensitivity and regulation. Certification and indemnification related to these key areas will be the key enablers to public cloud services becoming as routine as public utilities.
Do you feel IT still carries the title of a cost center rather than revenue driver?
Whether IT is a cost center or revenue driver totally depends on how it is managed. If it is managed purely as infrastructure, then it is either a traditional cost center or an allocated P&L cost for lines of business. Just as we think of facilities and other overhead costs. If on the other hand, IT is delivering transformative solutions that drive the creation of new revenue channels, optimize the way human-assets are leveraged, and change the foundation of customer engagement and retention, it is anything but a cost center. It is a strategic differentiator in this case.
We are hearing so much about the internet of things – what does or could the internet of things for your business look like?
IoT is a core aspect of AAG’s strategy for improvement of customer services. While the necessary standards for real IoT ubiquity are still emerging, services like Amazon’s Alexa create opportunities for simplified and timely engagement with customers. We see IoT as being highly disruptive to the manner in which we can service our senior customers.
Are there hiring challenges?
On the one hand, finding and retaining top technical talents that fits well in your organization’s culture is always a challenge for technology leadership. On the other, this challenge is significantly lessoned when your organization has (1) a critical social purpose, and (2) strong values that are constantly reinforced. AAG is exactly that kind of organization, which has made attracting and retaining top talent significantly easier than in many past professional experiences. AAG is routinely identified as a top Orange County Employer, and that, combined with our mission and values, significantly reduces the hiring challenges.
What superpower would you want most?
While Atmokinesis, Precognition, maybe flying are probably all trendy picks for this, I would choose the power to heal. To heal from injury, illness and all the associated physiological and psychological trauma that comes with it.
What did you want to be when you grew up as a kid?
Once I got past the “I want to be a nomadic circus performer” stage, I settled in to wanting to be a sports writer. But, when I was first exposed to software programming, pretty much everything changed for me.
What kind of messaging is coming down from the CEO/Key Executives about their partnership with IT? What are they expecting you to look at?
The CEO of AAG, as well as my peers on the executive management team that report to him have established a wonderfully functional and collegial relationship with AAG Technology. This relationship is based on deep mutual respect, and a fully aligned focused on our mission and values. AAG Technology cannot be successful if AAG Sales, Marketing, Lending Operations or Risk Management is not, and vice versa. While this co-dependency for success is pretty much true in any organization, at AAG it is reinforced constantly. The CEO and executive team at AAG know the AAG technology is managing to the priorities of balance between business continuity essentials, and impactful innovation and solution delivery.
Has the idea of using cloud changed your mindset of using outsourced/Managed Services?
Yes, to the degree that cloud makes a technology leader re-evaluate all services with respect to on premise/off-premise, in-source/out-source, it has changed the mindset. While off premise solutions reduce footprint and associated costs and complexities, there is that maturity curve and alignment with business continuity essentials (such as information security and privacy) to be considered. As relates to outsourced services, where it is truly a commodity, and not something within direct view of our customers, it is a valid consideration. However, we know that nobody cares about our customers as much as our more than 1000 AAG employees do, which makes these decisions pretty simple for us.
If you won the lottery, what would you do?
This would permit more time for working on getting those super powers I suspect. I am committed to a number of different causes, and would certainly channels resources towards those. I also find that my existing role with AAG positions me well to make significant contributions in areas I find critical.
If you could give guidance to any CIO, IT Manager Director about how they position their careers what would you tell them?
To any CIO or IT manager, I would say, think of your plumber. Nobody comes home, throws their hands in the air and says, “my gosh I have wonderful plumbing”. The only time you see or think about your plumber is when something pretty important isn’t working. If you are technology leader, don’t be that guy or gal. Be the one that is talking about how an emerging technology can positively disrupt your critical business relationships (employees, customers, partners…). Be the one who engages their colleagues with observations that can make their lines of business more successful or efficient. I would tell them to focus on balance.
Rank your top three IT concerns out of: security, mobililty, IoT, analytics, DevOps, advanced systems architecture, cloud, automation.
Information Security (should be true for all CIO’s as nothing will negatively impact your customers, business and brand faster than issues here)
Analytics (as informed decision making, improved customer service, and transformational engagement all depend on this)
Advanced Architecture (as this can provide a foundation of agility to act on opportunities in an accelerated manner)