The broadening of the C-suite to include a chief digital officer has created a new, symbiotic relationship at the top of IT, says Aviva group CIO Monique Shivanandan.
With the rise of digital — and the opportunities it presents to transform markets and redraw competitive lines — the role of a CIO has been given a whole new dimension. IT heads are now expected to be digital thought-leaders, to spot disruptive technology trends, to educate business colleagues about their potential impact, and show how these might best be exploited.
As CIO at one of the world’s largest insurance companies, that is certainly a welcome development for Aviva’s Monique Shivanandan. “My role is to make sure that we have the best technology to run the business but it’s also to bring new technical capabilities to the fore so that we don’t miss an adoption curve, and in fact we’re ahead of adoption curves. Being a CIO or CTO is now less about being an order-taker for IT business services and more to do with driving how we’re taking our industry forward, where we’re taking our products and providing exposure to non-traditional innovation and thought-leadership that might inform discussions about our traditional products.”
That is demanding a difference skillset. Today’s CIO must have deep technical expertise in order to get the best out of developers and engineers, Shivanandan maintains. But, at the same time, CIOs need to be able to evangelize the power of technology at a corporate level, to understand how to apply technology to business problems and instigate new product ideas as well as manage the building of those.
But at the top of London-headquartered Aviva, Shivanandan is hardly the only digital evangelist. On joining Aviva in April 2014, she was asked by CEO Mark Wilson if a chief digital officer (CDO) would sit well within her organization. Initially her response was skeptical, because when she was CIO at financial services giant Capital One she had been convinced that CDOs were more at home as proposition developers within products groups.
But following the appointment of Andrew Brem a year ago as Aviva’s first CDO, she feels the two roles a a natural fit. “A CDO is a partner. The relationship is one where the CIO and CDO are constantly challenging each other, constantly thinking of how to do things better, then working together to get it done,” she says.
In her experience there is always going to be creative tension between the two roles because both individuals need to be passionate about formulating the right solution. The roles are also overlapping as well as synergistic, “with both constantly dipping into each other’s spaces.” At Capital One, the CDO was responsible for the pricing and marketing of digital products as well as the underlying P&L (not something that Shivanandan felt drawn to).
The roles at Aviva are also “very complementary,” she says. “Of course, we don’t always agree but it’s good to have contradictory views because we all get smarter as a result and build a better product in the end.”
Reflecting that, Aviva has made Digital First one of the three pillars of the business, and that means digital decision-making is now spread much more widely across the business. But that development is not viewed by Shivanandan as any kind of existential threat to the CIO’s position. “For me, I just love that technology is on the board table. I love that 60% of our goals are digital and technology-driven. Who, as a technologist, wouldn’t want to be at a company where technology is key?”
And she’s thrilled that her non-IT colleagues want to be part-time technologists. “What’s really great to watch is my business partners’ digital engagement, their drive and their zest for learning about things like big data, APIs or private versus public cloud — especially when you think these guys have spent most of their careers in insurance. But you’d have to have blinders on not to see that technology is taking over the world; 100% of my colleagues at Aviva are intellectually on-board with the fact that insurance is no exception and that we need to be really great at technology.”
In fact, Shivanandan reports that those individualsat Aviva who have high potential — whether actuaries, product definers or marketing people — now fully believe that they need a rotation in the technology organization in order to fulfill their ambitions. “There’s no way you can be a well-rounded executive today, unless you have done a stint in technology, because if you don’t understand that Aviva is a technology company whose product happens to be insurance, then you’re not going to be successful.”
• Photography: Greg Funnell