Innovator of the Month: Robert Burkhart, Nationwide

Robert Burkhart

Name: Robert Burkhart 

Current Role: Technology Planner — New Technology Innovation 

Company: Nationwide Insurance

Background:Workplace technologies planning and engineering lead, giving him on-the-ground insight

Professional passions: Technology innovation and evangelism in service of empowered employees

Offline passions: Coaching football and basketball, playing golf and engaging in the lively craft beer scene

A relentless drive for improving the status quo is what makes Robert Burkhart so good at his job. In his role leading New Technology Innovation, Burkhart oversees endpoint solutions for Nationwide Insurance, a company with roughly 34,000 employees and even more external partners.

"I have the best job at Nationwide," he says. "I get to be a technology evangelist and talk to people about how we can make their jobs easier, better, more efficient... and have them love their position as much as I love mine." Of course, enabled employees doesn't just make for a happier workplace. It translates to better business results for Nationwide and an optimized experience for all the company's customers.

For all that he's done to innovate on the future of work at Nationwide, Robert Burkhart has been named Box's "Innovator of the Month" for August, a customer recognition award that lauds the accomplishments of IT professionals solving big challenges for their organizations with hard work and ingenuity.

Evangelizing for the users

Burkhart's yen for visionary technology decisions has helped Nationwide carve out an industry-recognized best practice program for mobile device management that allow employees to choose from a company-supplied device, use their own (with a stipend) or check out loaner devices from a mobile device library for use at trade shows, recruiting events and testing.

This sort of flexible program is a direct result of Burkhart's approach to technology change: "We talk to as many people as we can to get a wide perspective about what's really going on out there so we can base our decisions on analysis." Burkhart's typical day involves meeting with various business units to discuss their needs, wants and requirements, as with vendors and external partners to talk about new solutions to Nationwide's roadmap — things like single sign-on and identity and access management. 

"I've helped people transform what they do from what was a chore into something that truly makes a difference in their job, day in and day out."

Robert Burkhart, New Technology Innovation, Nationwide Insurance

Designing governance into flexibility

But only half of Burkhart's job is about enabling Nationwide employees. Equally critical are his efforts to provide content security. Building a digital workplace in the insurance industry is a formidable task. For an insurance heavyweight like Nationwide, collaboration tools connect a lot of users regularly dealing with sensitive customer data.

The support of cloud-based technologies allows users to share content in the cloud securely. And Burkhart has carefully put in place parameters and tools that support secure content access, including Box, giving users company-wide much more flexibility and eliminating the security risks that "Shadow IT" used to bring. 

For example, there's lots of information to aggregate onsite for car accident claims — photos, witness stories, police reports, the testimony of those involved. Burkhart's technology implementations enable Nationwide employees to quickly establish a portal for each case so all of the jumbled information can be uploaded, ingested into the organization and parsed for efficient use. 

"That might sound like something easy," Burkhart says, "but it used to drive us crazy all the different steps we'd need to take to view things. People now take it for granted that they can access case files easily and efficiently."

Inspiring higher adoption with versatile technology

Nationwide is a 92-year-old company, so sometimes, change is slow. "We're an insurance company," Burkhart says. "We do things in a low-risk way." His co-workers span the range of seasoned Nationwide veterans to young Millennials completing college internships. His job is to find tools that work for all, and use conscientious change management practices to make the transition an agreeable one companywide. 

Burkhart is constantly inspired by possibility. "Any time you can find a use case where you can add efficiency and decrease the effort it takes to onboard, that's a great addition to your organization." And with Box, he says, "We haven't even gotten to the low-hanging fruit yet. Box covers the gamut of everything. That's why it's so easy to use. There are some unbelievable use cases out there for us."

Once a mainframe programmer, Burkhart always felt a higher calling. "I realized that anyone can program," he says, "but I want to be the guy who comes up with things no one else is doing." At Nationwide, Burkhart has helped employees transform what they do, by overhauling the tools they work with.

There are plenty of exciting use cases on the horizon for the insurance industry, from machine learning to the Internet of Things. Burkhart looks forward to helping solve all these challenges.

Burkhart's advice to other technology leaders

"From a digital transformation perspective, you've got to bring together the right team," he says. "But that doesn't mean gathering a bunch of people into a conference room somewhere."

"Don't be afraid to bring together a virtual team made up of people from engineering and operations and architecture and legal and information risk-management. Bring all those people together to talk about the needs you have and how you can solve them together."