Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company Vice President of Cybersecurity Mike Jones, who was recently honored by SP500 powerhouse Trace3 for leadership and innovation, said he sees the independent, vendor-agnostic advice from his Trace3 partnership as key to his success.
“I like Trace3 because they think outside the box, particularly with being innovative in the strategic aspect of the company,” Jones told CRN. “When I’m looking for a strategic partner, I’m always looking for someone who can tell me things that I don’t already know. Give me industry perspective.”
Jones, who became a client of Trace3’s three years ago, said he values what Trace3 brings to the partnership.
“Trace3 helps us from a strategic perspective because they’re able to give us an outside lens of what’s working for other companies and what they see in the market,” he said. “I always like to compare that to what we’re doing at Nationwide. It’s being able to balance that roadmap that we’ve created and have an external partner validate that for us. Trace3 has done a really good job of that.”
Jones received Trace3’s Outlier Award for innovation and leadership at the company’s annual Evolve conference in Las Vegas this past September.
“I felt like I overcame,” he said. “I had that feeling like maybe people around me have always been around this award and this company, and I hadn’t. I was new as a Trace3 customer, never been to this conference, never even heard of the award. I was just super excited, I couldn’t tell you how ecstatic I was.”
Jones has only been with the national insurance carrier since 2021 and is quickly rising to the top. Just four months ago he assumed his current position as VP of cybersecurity and quickly garnered the attention of Trace3 through the work that he’s doing.
CRN spoke to Jones further about partnering with Trace3, cybersecurity and AI.
What are you watching in the AI space right now?
AI can take a couple of different directions from a cybersecurity perspective. We’re looking at it from two lenses one, what can it do for us from an observability perspective, from a threat intelligence modeling perspective, but then also how can it harm. What do we need to do to protect ourselves from AI? But as a company, we’re looking at AI for the insurance industry in several different ways. We’re looking at customer acquisition, trends, how to actually gain customer insights through AI modeling, looking at AI from a data perspective and how to understand our data more.
What is your biggest challenge right now and how are you trying to overcome that?
Our biggest challenges are twofold. One is everyone’s combating the skill fight for associates. You’re trying to make sure you’re in front of the game to get the right skill set into your organization. So there’s a war on talent that we’re always fighting. I would also say staying ahead of technology since technology changes so fast and rapidly. It’s making sure we’re positioned to be ready for that next wave, whether it’s AI or various things.
Trace3 helps us from a strategic perspective because they’re able to give us an outside lens of what’s working for other companies and what they see in the market? I always like to compare that to what we’re doing at Nationwide. It’s being able to balance that roadmap that we’ve created and have an external partner validate that for us. Trace3 has done a really good job of that.
What cybersecurity trends are you currently watching?
The threat actor in that environment is constantly changing. From a data security perspective, how can we continue to make sure our data is protected? Our data is classified, protected PII (personal identifiable information).
The other thing I’m watching is the different ways, from a data perspective, to learn how to use data for cybersecurity. When you think about data modeling, think about trends and telemetry, how can we leverage our data to make sure whether it’s structured or unstructured to make sure we’re learning from that data? It looks for anomalies from a cyber perspective.
What do you want more of from Trace3?
I want to continue that strategic partnership. When I think about that area that Trace3 provides, it’s not a point-in-time situation. What I’m looking for is a strategic partner to be with me throughout the lifecycle of technology. Whether I’m making a purchase at that moment or making a technology decision that can change the landscape for the next two to three to five years, I like this strategic partner to be there regardless of the technology I’m looking at or embarking on. So for Trace3 it’s just continuing to know about Nationwide’s objectives and desired outcomes and be there for us when the time is needed to make strategic decisions.
What do you want more of from your vendors?
I want transparency. From our vendors, we always want to know what’s coming down the road the next one to three years. Sometimes that’s hard, but for me I like to get ahead of any potential purchases that I would make. I would say I look for art of the possible for my vendors. We may be in a certain posture today but what’s that look like in the next 12 to 18 months? It’s depending on them to always give me what’s coming ahead but also represent operational excellence in what we have in place today.
What will you be focusing on when it comes to cybersecurity in 2024?
Continuing to adapt to the environment, continuing to look at organizational alignment and continuous enhancement in observability. I would also say continuing to partner with external expertise, like Trace3 and our vendors, to make sure we are at the forefront of change that could come in the future.
And what separates you as a leader?
If I credit one thing that separates me from other leaders, it’s we’re all technically sound and smart but I really lean into leadership and leading people. It’s understanding motivational factors from the associate and providing that collaboration, communication and guidance in making sure associates feel valued and have purpose. I’ve always looked at leadership as no matter how high go, I put myself in the other associates shoes. It’s about making sure you always have time to ensure that the individual associate has direction, has purpose and feels valued.