Interview with Keith Sharp - IT director, CIGNA

Michael Rolland of Michael Page Technology Scotland talks with Keith Sharp, IT Director of Cigna International. Cigna is one of the largest health service companies in the world, operating internationally in 29 countries, and with approximately 66 million customer relationships worldwide. With nearly 30,000 dedicated employees. Cigna is listed on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE: CI) and has been operating in the UK market since 1983. Cigna has been traditionally viewed as an expert in the large corporate sector, but have been rapidly expanding their capabilities and have a growing portfolio of small corporate clients.
Keith joined Cigna in April this year after a successful career with Barclays where he started in Scotland as head of middleware and then spent nearly two years in Singapore heading up Barclays Capital Web and Database Services. Keith started his career in Glasgow working in public sector and spent eight years with Cisco Systems. We recently asked Keith if he would share his thoughts on the IT industry and leadership after his first seven months into the new role.

What attracted you away from Singapore to take up this role?

I had spent a good bit of time with Barclays and was enjoying the lifestyle abroad. I noticed Michael Page Technology were recruiting the position and was immediately interested. The role was an opportunity to move away from a functional IT role into a more general IT management role and a chance to move onto the board of a Plc business. It was a business that recognised the importance of IT, not just a support function, but as an imperative part the businesses functions and strategy.

What is your perspective on data governance and control?

A vital and important part of any efficient IT system, process and team.

What is your view of talent management in the current climate?

Developing talent internally is equally, if not more important. It is a competitive environment and if I can find someone who wants to develop their career and who are not just looking for a job then I can offer them something in return. I would also advise IT professionals to own their own development, especially when thinking of a move into management.

Contractors or permanent staff?

Permanent staff always. Contractors serve a purpose and that is great if you need something done or for a project specific role. I do use contractors on projects, though not necessarily for the actual project work because I like to give my current staff the opportunity to work on new developments and let the contractor’s backfill the BAU work.

How do you see the IT department serving a business?

You have to allow the business to do business and don’t let the IT get in the way of their day-to-day operations.

What’s the future in computing?

I really like the idea of cloud computing. Working in a heavily regulated environment, I am not sure how compliance with the various data protection laws would work though.

PC or Mac?

Mac, I switched a year ago.

What advice would you give to the ambitious IT professional just starting out?

Don’t be afraid to be a manager, manage your own career.

What do you do in your own time to relax?

Well, apart from spending quality time with family and friends, I enjoy hill walking and Scottish Football.  For better or for worse, I am a Partick Thistle supporter!

And finally, where do you see the future of the CIO role?

I would say it has to be services focused. IT technology is part of the development of every major business and the CIO role will be very much focused on the service the business receives and how technology can influence this.