Chief data and analytics officers (CDAOs) are poised to be of increasing strategic importance to their organizations, but many are struggling to make headway, according to data presented last week by Gartner at the Gartner Data & Analytics Summit 2023.

Fewer than half (44%) of data and analytics leaders say their teams are effective in providing value to their organization. That’s from a survey of 566 data and analytics leaders globally that Gartner conducted online from September to November 2022.

“It was kind of an eye-opener that one-third of them felt they were not as effective as they could be,” says Donna Medeiros, senior director analyst at Gartner. “There’s so much going on, so many things they are compelled to do versus what they really want to do, know they need to do, know they need to prioritize. They’re spending a lot of time on things like data quality, data management, things that might be tactical, helping with operational aspects of IT. But that’s not helping move the value of the organization as a business forward.”

The responsibilities of data and analytics leaders are many and varied: Sixty percent of respondents cited defining and implementing data and analytics strategy; 59% said oversight of data and analytics strategy was in their portfolio of responsibilities; 55% pointed to data and analytics governance; and 54% cited managing data-driven culture change.

Organizations are still investing in data and analytics functions. Respondents to the survey reported their organizations are increasing investment in data management (65%), data governance (63%), and advanced analytics (60%). The mean reported budget among respondents was $5.41 million, and 44% said their data and analytics teams increased in size over the past year.

Key obstacles to data success

Despite that increased investment, CDAOs say lack of resources and funding are among their top impediments to delivering results, with 13% citing it as their top obstacle and 29% listing resource constraints among their top three hurdles.

The top impediment? Skills and staff shortages. One in six (17%) survey respondents said talent was their biggest issue, while 39% listed it among their top three. And the tight talent pool isn’t helping, Medeiros says. “CDAOs must have a talent strategy that doesn’t count on hiring data and analytics talent ready-made.”

To counter this, CDAOs need to build a robust talent management strategy that includes education, training, and coaching for data-driven culture and data literacy, Medeiros says. That strategy must apply not only to the core data and analytics team but also the broader business and technology communities in the organization.

Other obstacles to data and analytics success, according to Gartner, include:

Culture challenges to accept change (8%, top impediment; 26%, among top three)Lack of business stakeholder involvement and support (10%, No. 1 impediment; 26%, top three)Not enough authority to execute the CDAO responsibilities (9%, first choice; 24% top three)Poor data literacy (5%, top choice; 23%, top three)

“Their life is very complex,” Medeiros says of the current state of the CDAO role. “They have lots of areas of primary responsibility — implementing data and analytics strategy, oversight of data and analytics initiatives, creating and implementing information systems and data management — and the people side — workforce development, upskilling, making the organization data-driven, artificial intelligence, and centers of excellence. They’ve got a lot of complexity and a lot of people they’re answering to.”

This lack of funding for data initiatives echoes the findings of Foundry/’s 2022 Data & Analytics Study, which also found other digital transformation initiatives taking priority and lack of executive advocacy for data initiatives as other key roadblocks to data-driven success.

What it takes to lead data strategy

Strategic missteps in realizing data goals may signal an organizational issue at the C-level, with company leaders recognizing the importance of data and analytics but falling short on making the strategic changes and investments necessary for success. According to a 2022 study from Alation and Wakefield Research, 71% of data leaders said they were “less than very confident” that their company’s leadership sees a link between investing in data and analytics and staying ahead of the competition.

Even in the case where an organization taps a designated IT leader to helm data strategy, whether in a chief data officer or chief analytics officer role, the complexity of the role and how it interfaces with other business leaders needs to be addressed for success.

Medeiros likens the CDAO role to a combination of three personas: an orchestra conductor, a composer, and a performer. The conductor looks across the organization and conducts how data and analytics is done, both across business lines with the help of domain experts, as well as in a centralized function. The composer creates and sells the storyline of the value of data and analytics. And sometimes, data leaders must be performers: helping to implement data management, data quality, data trust, spending time on data governance, compliance, and risk.

“These three personas require juggling soft, people skills and technical savvy,” Medeiros says, adding that “the CDAO serves multiple stakeholders across the organization and cannot operate in isolation. They need to align with organizational strategic priorities, collaborate and sell the overall vision and strategy for data and analytics, and get buy-in for their initiatives.”

The most successful data leaders, according to Gartner’s survey, outperformed their peers by projecting an executive presence while also building an agile and strategic data and analytics function capable of shaping data-driven business performance and operational excellence, Medeiros says. Gartner asked respondents to rate themselves across 17 executive leadership traits. There was a strong correlation between those leaders who said they were effective or very effective across those traits and those who reported high organizational and team performance. For example, 43% of top-performing data and analytics leaders said they were effective in committing time to their own professional development, versus only 19% of low performers.

Prominence matters

How CDAOs are positioned in the organization also impacts data and analytics success. According to Foundry’s 2023 State of the CIO survey, 53% of chief data officers and 45% of chief analytics officers report to the CIO, while just 35% and 38% report to the CEO, respectively. Moreover, only 37% of CDOs and 25% of CAOs report having budgets separate from IT overall.

Foundry /

Medeiros concedes that CDAOs who report to the CIO and sit within the IT function can still be effective, but, in general, the higher CDAOs sit in the org chart, the better, she says, as this gives them more visibility and better leverage to work on organizational goals.

“It depends on their roles, responsibilities, and how much time they’re allotted for what we call business enablement — not just enterprise IT but actually helping the organization do what matters,” Medeiros says. “It can be things like cost efficiency, but it’s also new products and services that data and analytics supports and can call out.”

Foundry /

Indeed, Rita Sallam, distinguished VP analyst at Gartner, says that by 2026 more than a quarter of Fortune 500 CDAOs will have become responsible for at least one data- and analytics-based product that becomes a top earner for their company.

To get there, though, Medeiros says CDAOs must prioritize strategy over tactics. While tactical elements such as data quality and data security are important, improving effectiveness relies on aligning the data and analytics function with organizational strategic priorities and selling the data and analytics vision to key influencers like the CEO, CIO, and CFO.

“Most CDAOs are delivering on immediate-term business goals, but for around half of CDAOs surveyed, delivery against goals for future-term growth and sustainability is lagging,” Medeiros says.

She notes that the most successful data leaders are focusing on improving decision-making capabilities, monetization of data products, and cost optimization, as well as improving data literacy and fostering a data-driven culture.

Chief Data Officer, Data Management, IT Leadership

CIO Talvis Love has weathered a tsunami of rapid and significant changes at Baxter International over the past year — with little reprieve in sight.

In late 2021, the med tech company completed the $12.4 billion acquisition of Hillrom, the largest in its history, to expand the company’s digital health and connected care offerings. While Love and his 3,500-person IT team were working on that integration, the company announced in January 2023 plans to spin off its acute care and renal units, which is about a third of the business. One month later, Baxter began changing its operating model and restructuring the remaining company.

“Those are huge, significant changes that require us to pivot and adjust our approach, and tech is the linchpin to all of them,” says Love, senior vice president and CIO of Baxter. So he’s fast-forwarding his plan to embed IT within business teams to make these critical transitions. “The only way we can meet our goals is having the IT and business teams working close together as part of one team.”

Talvis Love, CIO, Baxter International

Baxter International

The need to strengthen business and IT collaboration tops the list of priorities that CEOs have for their CIOs this year, according to Foundry’s 2023 State of the CIO survey. As organizations face macroeconomic uncertainty and rapid changes to market conditions, collaboration between IT and business units are crucial to making those transitions quickly and smoothly.

Security, customer experience, and business and digital transformations also made CEOs’ top priorities lists for their CIOs this year. IT leaders describe how those priorities are playing out in their IT organizations today.

Foundry /

Upgrading IT and data security

CIOs always have cyber and information security somewhere on their priority lists, but global turbulence with China and Russia have many CEOs taking notice too. More than a quarter of CEOs want CIOs to upgrade IT and data security to reduce corporate risk in the next 12 months, according to the survey. 

Cybersecurity became a bigger issue this year for Josh Hamit, senior VP and CIO at Altra Federal Credit Union, due in part to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which touched off warnings about possible Russia-backed hackers stepping up cyberattacks on US targets. As a result, Hamit has brought extra attention to partnering with Altra’s CISO to perfect security fundamentals, cyber hygiene and best practices, and layered defenses.

More likely cyber scenarios have IT leaders increasingly concerned as well. For instance, three out of four global businesses expect an email-borne attack will have serious consequences for their organization in the coming year, according to CSO Online’s State of Email Security report. Hybrid work has led to more email (82% of companies report a higher volume of email in 2022) and that has incentivized threat actors to steal data through a proliferation of social engineering attacks, shifting their focus from targeting the enterprise network itself to capitalizing on the vulnerable behaviors of individual employees. This will require hardening email and collaboration tool defenses and response capabilities, but also securing the data they’re seeking.

Improving the customer experience

Customer and employee experience have become central tenets for successful digital transformation, and about a quarter of CEOs are continuing to invest in technologies and processes that improve the customer journey, according to the State of the CIO survey.

JP Saini’s top initiative at Sunbelt Rentals is “the obsession with our customers,” he says. For Saini, CIO and chief digital and technology officer, this means humanizing the business and technology aspects of each worker’s job and serving each persona — whether that’s the office workers, salespeople, equipment rental specialists in the stores, technicians, or even drivers, he says. Then he dissects each persona-based journey to understand what they go through in doing their daily jobs. That way “you’re designing a [technology or digital process] based on what they need,” to create greater efficiencies, he says.  

JP Saini, chief digital and technology officer, Sunbelt Rentals

Sunbelt Rentals

Leading business and digital transformations

Nearly a quarter of CEOs place business and digital transformations as a top-three priority for their CIOs.

CIO Max Chan’s digital mandate at electronic components distributor Avnet is driving improvement in the supply chain and design chain. As a distributor that sits between its supplier partners and downstream customers, “we have all the demand and supply signals that we can help navigate, and then we can apply that to solve these supply chain challenges that everyone is having,” he says.

Max Chan, CIO, Avnet


To that end, Chan’s team is working on machine-to-machine frictionless transactions between suppliers and customers, and creating a single pane of glass for suppliers to solve issues more easily. In the design chain, “we’re creating design capabilities where stakeholders can get together and come up with new designs faster to ultimately help enable customers to go more quickly to market,” he says.

New digital transformation projects will help foster more autonomy for employees at the Judicial Branch of Arizona in Maricopa County. CIO Charisse Richards wants to empower the business to handle some technical tasks on their own without IT intervention. So she’s prioritized a ServiceNow implementation to automate tasks and give employees more control.  

Charisse Richards, CIO, Judicial Branch of Arizona in Maricopa County

Judicial Branch of Arizona in Maricopa County

“We have a lot of people that call and email the service desk,” Richards says. “I want to see a reduction in the time that the helpdesk spends in those rote tasks — entering tickets and answering calls — and spend more time with our high-touch customers,” namely judges, she says. “We’re not getting more money for additional staff, so we need to be more efficient.”

Helping reach revenue growth goals

The CIO’s role continues to evolve from focusing only on uptime and availability, to cost-cutting and efficiency gains, to now holding a key position in the C-suite where technology influences every part of the organization. One in five CEOs now place corporate revenue growth as a top priority for their CIOs, according to the survey.

CIO Ajay Sabhlok believes his mandate is “to figure out how to generate revenue” for security technology vendor Rubrik. One example is the company’s lead-to-cash process. Data showed the company wasn’t closing expected orders, which was showing up as lost revenue in quarterly reports, Sabhlok says. So he and his team identified the need for a more advanced opportunity management process that has an engine for more accurate scoring of business leads, automates manual tasks that were holding up orders, and delivers data-driven insights through user-friendly dashboards. The result: more leads converted to sales, which boosted quarterly revenue figures.

Savvy CIOs should already be steps ahead of CEOs on these priorities and shouldn’t wait to be asked, says Baxter’s Love. “Create a deep understanding of what’s driving the business. Understand how your company makes money and how that’s changing over time, and what are the biz leaders’ goals and priorities,” Love says. “Don’t wait to ask to be at the table. Sometimes IT leaders wait to get asked to the party. I say invite yourself.”

IT Leadership

Covid-19 briefly immobilized the world, but as order steadily resumes, so do opportunities for those looking to advance their tech careers. For a specific section of that talent, immigrants have always been a key to the industry, and a source of inspiration for many. Yet career paths sometimes depend on networks and connections, and uprooting to a new country is an added challenge that involves many financial, emotional, and social sacrifices and setbacks.

Each story is unique in its transformational way of laying the groundwork to pursue successful career paths. But common throughout is a bedrock of empathy and effort in order to excel for themselves and the greater good.

Atefeh Riazi is CIO of the Hearst Media Group and former CIO of the United Nations, and has held other high-ranking positions throughout her career in tech. It’s a long way from where she was born in Iran, where women still fight for basic human rights and freedoms. “As a woman growing up in the Middle East, you were always told you have limited choices when it comes to careers,” she says. “You become a teacher or a nurse, but you don’t become an engineer.”

Riazi’s parents sent their then 16-year-old daughter to the US to study, joining her older sister already living in New York. Shortly after arriving, the Islamic revolution in Iran broke out, and the financial implications meant that Riazi had to take on multiple jobs at a young age to get by, which she describes as both tough and enriching.

“I was waitressing, washing dishes, and selling and repairing vacuum cleaners door-to-door,” she says. “I also made money fixing TVs and radios where I could. I even had my own radio program for over six years. I met amazing people who helped me greatly during this time, whom I will never forget. They understood it was a difficult situation for all of us. Of course, such struggles, uncertainty and upheavals make you resourceful and resilient. But they also make you grateful and humble, and encourage you to want to give back to your community and society.”

Atefeh Riazi, CIO, Hearst Media Group

Atefeh Riazi

Felix Quintana, CIO at MX Technologies, was born in Chihuahua, Mexico, and lost his biological father in a motorcycle accident when he was two. At 10, he and his family immigrated to the US. “My family sought a better life and opportunities,” he said, adding that the transition was grueling. “I had to adjust to a new culture and learn a new language. The most challenging experiences were probably fitting in. Our economic situation was below standards, employment opportunities were limited for my parents, completing schoolwork in a foreign language was difficult, and we experienced some discrimination.”

Elaine Montilla is the CTO for US School Assessment at Pearson, and was formerly CIO at The CUNY Graduate Center. Yet moving from the Dominican Republic to the US at 16 was fraught with challenges. “My English was very basic,” she says. “I realized I looked and sounded different to everyone else. I used to feel so ashamed of my accent. I became very self-conscious of it and didn’t want to speak.”

Today as successful tech leaders, all three, despite their different backgrounds, agree that CIOs who have experienced immigration have unique qualities to offer as industry leaders.

“I’m a firm believer that our past experiences shape who we are,” said Quintana. “Given the challenges of integrating into a new culture, I feel these leaders are more likely to have more empathy toward others, have a broader perspective, and be more accepting of diversity.”

Riazi agrees: “I cherish diversity. People with diverse backgrounds hold various views and have wide-ranging perspectives arising from their unique culture and history. These are invaluable in all aspects of work, but especially in leadership. A modern global workplace needs diversity of thought. After all, customers have diverse cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds, and employees bring their own diverse history and culture to the work environment. It’s only through embracing their uniqueness can we become a more holistic organization and better align with customer needs.”

Changes in the workplace

One of the aspects of the modern tech workplace that should be addressed, says Montilla, is recruitment. “We’re following very outdated hiring practices that keep minorities such as immigrants and women out of tech.” She cites examples such as job ads that are sometimes phrased to be more appealing to men rather than women. “Even at the interview stage, there’s a lot of unconscious bias,” she adds. “People hire those who look and sound like them. We need to change this practice.” Another is conscious or subconscious discrimination on the basis of a foreign-sounding name, she adds.

Elaine Montilla, CTO, US School Assessment at Pearson

Oscar Nolasco

Riazi observes that a key obstacle to having more women remain in the workforce—especially in leadership roles and in tech—and attract candidates with disabilities has been the 9-to-5, five-days-a-week office work requirement. Yet one unexpected outcome of the pandemic was the recognition that most work can be performed remotely, so the hybrid workforce model has helped level the playing field for many jobs.

“We’ve seen that more women with children and eldercare responsibility are staying longer in the workforce,” she says. “This is most critical in the tech space, as we already struggle attracting women and have an even harder time keeping them. We’re also increasing opportunities for people with disabilities, making it easier for them to work remotely.” 

Today, Riazi adds that this momentum needs to be broadened, considering how lopsided the tech sector is. Minority voices from a wide range of backgrounds are vital, otherwise industry leaders don’t get the broad perspective needed to develop, innovate and succeed.

“Most women are tech consumers, yet we struggle to attract girls and women to study engineering or computer science and contribute to the advancement of tech,” she says. “Our industry is truly lopsided. Diversity is vital to innovation, human growth and evolution, and essential for economic growth, good social policy and healthy democratic societies.”

The virtues of giving back

As a nod to their upbringings in different countries, Riazi, Quintana, and Montilla today mentor younger minorities who strive to get into the tech industry.

Felix Quintana, CIO, MX Technologies

MX Technologies

“There are many opportunities to help others,” says Quintana. “I’ve had the opportunity to lecture at a local university and talk to students about my career path, and several of these students happen to be minorities. I’ve met with Hispanic youth and their parents to discuss the importance of education and scholarships. Through service opportunities, I’ve been able to meet with refugees and other immigrants as well.”

Having role models or mentors has been vital in her career, says Montilla. “I used to watch my brother and it helped me,” she says. “He’s the one who inspired me to get into tech in the first place. Going into computer classrooms was intimidating because usually I was the only woman or one of very few, and I was still learning the language and translating everything in my head.”

Today, she tells her mentees that this vulnerability can also be a huge asset.

“I worked hard, so I moved up the ladder very fast,” she adds. “Of course, I felt insecure and suffered from imposter syndrome, but with time, I came to see that being vulnerable can be a superpower. Admitting that I’m not perfect relieved me from pressure and enabled me to get on with things. I teach this to all my mentees. Let the feelings be there; don’t fight them. The key for me was to learn to feel comfortable being uncomfortable. That’s not easy, but the more I practiced it, the more I saw the bigger picture. I always give more than what I’m asked. As an immigrant and a woman of color, I work twice or three times harder as others.”

As advice to others experiencing challenges, Quintana says to never just settle. “Take every opportunity made available to you to constantly learn,” he says. “Always challenge yourself. Treat others with respect and be kind to everyone. Your reputation follows you. Seek mentors and organizations that align with your values and will invest in you. Above all, don’t be ashamed of who you are and where you came from. This is part of your character and what makes you unique.”

CIO, Diversity and Inclusion, IT Jobs, IT Skills

If digital transformation was about driving fundamental change within the company, then its next chapter will be far more outward-looking. This is about being digital-first: to build digital businesses that are viable and sustainable in the long term. Rather than just leveraging digital technology to seize new opportunities, such organisations are poised to create operating models for meeting evolving customer needs. In fact, 95% of CEOs globally already see the need to adopt a digital-first strategy.

But what does it mean to be a digital business? Firstly, digital businesses embrace a digital-first enterprise strategy led by the CEO and other C-suite executives. They use technology to stay competitive, shifting their priorities from just driving efficiency. They are fixated on delivering business outcomes at scale with digital innovation programs. They create value through digital technologies.

This change can be seen in how most Asia/Pacific Japan (APJ) CIOs are taking up the role of strategic advisor and partner, collaborating with their business counterparts in operations and product development. And with revenue generation becoming an integral part of the CIO’s breadth of responsibilities, it’s clear that technology is taking on a leading role in value creation.

More and more businesses today have taken root in a digital business model to serve as their stepping stone towards becoming Future Enterprises. The Future Enterprise is the vision of International Data Corporation (IDC) on how enterprises should operate and invest not only to achieve measurable business goals and outcomes, but to participate in the new era of digital businesses. This is where forward-thinking organisations will thrive by attracting digital talent, improving enterprise intelligence, scaling digital innovation, and more.

To celebrate and recognise the APJ leaders and businesses who have challenged themselves to become a digital business, IDC has launched anew the APJ IDC Future Enterprise Awards. Last year, stand out winners include companies and individuals such as:

Midea Group (China), Future Enterprise of the Year, for deploying AI and advanced digital technologies to enhance its user experience with an end-to-end value chain while providing digital empowerment for all employees and partners to create a flexible and labour- and energy-efficient supply chain.Maria Beatriz A. Adversalo of Malayan Insurance Co., Inc. (Philippines), recognized as CIO of the Year in Asia/Pacific, for leading the company’s digital transformation program strategy which includes the deployment of web apps, portals, APIs, OCR, RPA, analytics, and cloud resulting in increased digitalised policy issuance premiums, savings in terms of manhours and software subscriptions.James Chen of CTBC Bank (Taiwan), lauded as CEO of the Year in Asia/Pacific, for his forward-thinking leadership to strengthen the bank’s digital technology services by investing over TWD7.67 billion to modernise its information core and transform its technology to better serve digital customers.Zuellig Pharma Holdings Pte. Ltd., Best in Future of Intelligence in Singapore, for leveraging data analytics to build a data superhighway that would connect all its current and future digital and data solutions. Anchored in the mission of making healthcare more accessible, it built three main pillars of service—commercial excellence, supply chain analytics, and business intelligence—to deliver actionable intelligence and insights. As a result of improved insights and services, the data analytics team has secured collaborative projects with over 30 principals and generated more than US$8 million in revenue in the last 18 months.

Entries will be judged against these critical capabilities of the Future Enterprise:

Future of TrustFuture of Industry EcosystemsFuture of OperationsFuture of WorkFuture of IntelligenceFuture of Digital InfrastructureFuture of ConnectednessFuture of Customer ExperienceFuture of Digital InnovationFuture Enterprise of the Year Award

To celebrate the innovative works of individuals and organisations, the Future Enterprise Awards also have these categories:

CEO of the YearCIO/CDO of the YearSpecial Award for Digital ResiliencySpecial Award for Sustainability

This year, to recognise outstanding organisations born in the digital-native era and smart cities projects, IDC will also hand out Special Awards for:

Digital Native BusinessSmart Cities – Best in Connected CitySmart Cities – Best in Digital PoliciesSmart Cities – Best in Citizen Wellbeing

The Future Enterprise Awards will also serve as a forum for sharing smart cities’ best practices to aid and accelerate development in APJ. As smart cities catalyse the digital transformation of urban ecosystems towards systemic environmental, financial, and social outcomes, they tap into emerging technologies and innovation to make cities more liveable, while offering new services and economic opportunities.

Nominations are now open for the awards across different regions—APJ, North America, Europe, and Middle East, Africa, and Turkey—with entries reviewed by a select panel of judges, composed of IDC worldwide analysts, industry thought leaders, and members of the academia. Each nomination is first evaluated by IDC’s country and regional analysts against a standard assessment framework, based on IDC’s Future Enterprise taxonomy. Winners of each country will then qualify for the regional competition.

Visit IDC Future Enterprise Awards to learn more. To submit a nomination, complete this form by 16 June, 2023.

Digital Leader Award, Enterprise

Since the onset of the pandemic, IT has risen in prominence as an engine for business sustainability and growth across all industries. The subsequent demand for enterprise IT talent has led to a sharp spike in salaries CIOs must pay to staff their teams.

“Demand for tech talent was up by 50% to 60% in the last two years, mainly attributable to industry-spanning hyper digitalization. Companies across verticals were ramping up digital functions with the increasing demand for innovation in products and service offerings, especially since the onset of the pandemic,” says Sachin Alug, CEO of talent solutions company NLB Services. “As companies strive to transform their business models specifically in manufacturing, supply chain, project management, and sales, the uptick in hiring IT talent was seen as a natural progression.”

While the rise in salaries for technology roles has bode well for IT professionals, it has posed challenges for CIOs in effectively managing their budgets with the increased demand on their IT departments.

“In response to the demands from business, the strength of our IT department has gone up from 20 to 50 in the last two years,” says Ranganathan Iyer, CIO at auto components manufacturer JBM Group. “The new resources have come at a 30% to 40% additional cost but there has only been an incremental y-o-y increase of 10% to 12% in our budgets.”

Iyer was expecting the massive layoffs taking place in the US to reflect in India too, which could have eased salaries. But while Big Tech in the US has retrenched thousands of workers since the pandemic as recession looms large over its economy, that hasn’t happened in India.

Describing India as a “bright spot” in the global economy, Kristalina Georgieva, MD of International Monetary Fund, has said the country will contribute 15% of the global growth in 2023. According to recruitment and staffing services company Randstad, Indian technology firms are expected to buck the global trend and start hiring in 2023. It is this Indian growth story that is causing high salaries to hold up, at least for the time being.

“Today we are getting resources with half the experience at the same salary as an employee with over 20 years of experience in the company. In such a scenario, it is tough to retain senior employees,” says Iyer, who has no choice but to hire when it comes to next-generation technologies such as AI and ML. “We can upskill existing resources in other areas but not in these.”

Iyer is finding it tough to get cost-effective resources even though he doesn’t hire from top institutes such as IITs (Indian Institute of Technology) and NITs (National Institute of Technology).

“We expect the situation to ease by October as the impact of the global layoffs will be felt by then. Indians being retrenched in the US could return home. But the new benchmark in salaries has already been set. It is 30% higher than pre-COVID levels,” says a senior technology leader from the travel industry, on condition of anonymity.

A top IT decision maker from the BFSI vertical is feeling the heat too. “Our outsourcing partners faced a lot of issues in the last two years. There was high demand for coders, and skilled resources left them at 100% to 120% salary hikes. Some of our contracts with them, which were very old, exhausted in months because of churn in these vendors,” he says, not wanting to be quoted.

With the situation reaching a climax, CIOs have no choice but to find innovative solutions to tackle the situation.

Managing talent costs through outsourcing

To control costs, most CIOs are taking recourse in outsourcing. As the CIO from the BFSI vertical says, “There was a 30% increase in salaries, but it was absorbable as we had already outsourced most applications such as mobile banking and internet banking. The freed resources were diverted to other areas such as infosec, VPN, and networking. They are also being upskilled on next-gen technologies as we look to set up a center of excellence in a specific technology.”

Similarly, the technology leader from the travel industry has outsourced both the company’s core IT infrastructure and its security operations center. However, he kept other areas, such as DevOps, inhouse. “Although we have hired 50%-60% more resources, our overall budget hasn’t exceeded. As a result of outsourcing, we haven’t disturbed the balance sheet. We have also entered long-term contracting to insulate ourselves from price rise,” he says.

Iyer has already outsourced 90% of the company’s IT — everything from the network to the hardware maintenance. Only the ERP and the AI divisions are inhouse. About five years back he thought of outsourcing the ERP division too but then realized it would end up costing more. “The outsourcing partner would only take care of the maintenance. For any new testing, development of business, they would charge extra. We also thought of setting up a shared SAP competency center with other big auto ancillary players, but it didn’t materialize,” he says.

Embracing skills-based hiring and upskilling

Eliminating role-based hiring and making skill-based hiring the mandate can be another approach that CIOs across verticals can adopt amid turbulent times.

“As technology continues to evolve and change the business landscape, the focus needs to be shifted to expertise rather than experience when it comes to hiring IT resources,” says Alug, of NLB Services. “Studies have shown that employers today are more inclined to hire skilled candidates rather than experienced candidates. Many high-tech organizations have resorted to hiring freshers in numbers higher than experienced professionals as the former comes with updated domain knowledge in the emerging technologies.”

Iyer too is banking on upskilling as he looks to implement SAP HANA by the end of the year. He is planning to upgrade the skillsets of resources within the company instead of hiring expensive ones from outside.

“Today, the list of IT and non-IT companies axing redundant roles is growing. In such a situation, employees must keep their skills in check to prove their indispensability within the organization. When it comes to tech and digital expertise, the most impactful means to raise productivity in tandem with the evolving technology is constant upskilling,” says Alug. “In a digital world, the list of certifications for IT courses is endless. However, there is an increased demand for skill building in certain areas such as cloud, data science, DevOps, AI/ML, and cybersecurity to keep up with the progressing technologies.”

Shifting IT strategies to curb costs

In another initiative, the technology leader from the travel industry has “reengineered his enterprise’s operations.”

“The travel industry has lots of legacy applications and APIs. We looked at those applications that were non-revenue generating and shut them down. Overall, 30% of the applications were done away with. With all these initiatives, we are today working at 60% less operating cost,” he says.

The CIO from the BFSI vertical says his enterprise kept costs down by shutting 30% of its regional offices and persisting the company’s work-from-home policy.

Meanwhile, his outsourcing partners have adopted an innovative approach to manage the situation. “Rather than laying off employees, their salaries have been cut and they have been given ESOPs [Employee Stock Ownership Plans]. As the company’s P&L moves, so would their benefits,” he says.

Vendors are also offering innovative schemes to help CIOs manage costs better. “Vendors such as Dell and HP have launched an innovative plan. Whenever a new employee joins, we had to give them new laptops. Now these vendors take back old laptops and return after refurbishing them by replacing their old parts such as keys and screen. This has extended the life of a laptop from 18 to 20 months to 64 to 70 months, helping us save 40% costs on a month-on-month basis,” says the BFSI IT leader.

Navigating what’s to come

Few IT leaders anticipated a spike in IT salaries to this extent. Still, as the business and technology environment continues to remain unpredictable, CIOs must learn from what is transpiring with talent costs today to be better prepared to handle such scenarios in the future — especially as the CIO’s strategic becomes increasingly more important.

“They must use their expertise to anticipate future changes and work towards keeping the employees up to speed,” Alug advises. “Times are uncertain with the looming fears of recession and the ongoing geopolitical scenarios. In such situations, there’s no specific blueprint for CIOs to follow to predict upcoming changes. That said, their reliance on data and emerging technologies does take the driver’s seat to make calculative steps that can stave off any impending challenges.”


Generative AI has become a top priority among businesses even though IT leaders are expressing concerns about potential ethical issues posed by the technology, according to a new Salesforce survey.

Sixty-seven percent of senior IT leaders surveyed said they will be prioritizing the technology over the next 18 months, and 33% claimed it would be their top priority, the survey said.

Despite its perceived benefits, however, respondents to the survey remain skeptical about some of the ethical challenges currently surrounding generative AI, in particular that its output could be biased or inaccurate.

Various forms of AI have been used by businesses for decades. Generative AI is the latest major development in the field. According to IDC, it is a form of artificial intelligence that uses unsupervised and semi-supervised algorithms to create new content from existing materials, such as text, audio, video, images and code.

The Salesforce survey, which asked 515 senior IT leaders in the US about their thoughts regarding generative AI, comes a week after CEO Marc Benioff told analysts that the growth of AI presents an opportunity for Salesforce. It also precedes the launch later this week of the company’s EinsteinGPT, which Benioff said will complement the company’s Einstein technology.

Launched in 2016, Salesforce Einstein is an integrated set of AI technologies that brings artificial intelligence into all Salesforce products, which the company says ultimately provides customers with more personalized and predictive experiences.

Although 33% of respondents to the Salesforce survey think the technology is already “over-hyped,” 57% said they believe that generative AI is a “game changer.” According to the report, better serving customers, helping to take advantage of data, and allowing organizations to operate more efficiently were cited as the top benefits of the technology by 87%, 80% and 79% of respondents respectively.

In addition, 79% of senior IT leaders said generative AI will help reduce team workload and thereby reduce burnout, and 77% believe that the technology will help their organization serve their customers faster. Seventy-five percent of respondents said generative AI helps their organization sell efficiently.

IT leaders express concerns about AI

However, as recent events have shown (Microsoft’s Bing chatbot recently professed its love to a New York Times reporter and told him to get a divorce), generative AI is not without its problems, a concern reflected by a significant percentage of the senior IT leaders surveyed by Salesforce. Seventy-nine percent of respondents believe that the technology has the potential to be a security risk, while 73% are concerned it could be biased, and 59% of respondents believe generative AI outputs are inaccurate.

Furthermore, 66% of respondents said their employees don’t have the skills to successfully leverage generative AI, while 60% believe the technology won’t integrate into their current tech stack, and 59% don’t have a unified data strategy to implement generative AI successfully.

Consequently, 99% of senior IT leaders surveyed believe their business must take measures to better equip themselves to successfully leverage the technology.

The importance of acknowledging the technical and ethical concerns regarding the implementation of AI was further highlighted by the fact that 83% of respondents to the survey think businesses must work together to ensure generative AI is used ethically.

In comments posted along with the announcement of the survey findings, Clara Shih, CEO of Salesforce’s Service Cloud, said that generative AI represents a change in how organizations across industries will analyze data, automate processes, and empower different departments to improve customer relationships. However, she also warned that the technology is not without new risks and challenges.

“Whether generating a tailored sales email or customer support chat response, an ethics-first approach grounded in trusted data and human-in-the-loop workflows is what will allow enterprises to safely and responsibly use generative AI to deliver against today’s growing customer expectations,” Shih said.

Artificial Intelligence, Enterprise Applications

For many IT leaders, taking on an IT opportunity abroad can be a boon for career and life experience alike.

When Richard Ventre got an opportunity to move to India from the Netherlands, he latched on to it. “We live in a world that is more global than ever before and it is important to experience different cultures, customs, and traditions,” he says.

Ventre, who quit his job as director of global IT at Maersk Group port operation subsidiary APM Terminals in The Hague to join Ahmedabad-based Adani Ports and Logistics as its CIO in December 2019, is part of a growing group of IT leaders embracing the “expat CIO” experience, taking their expertise to foreign countries in search of new cultural opportunities and challenges — and, in the case of Bhupendra Pant, larger global leadership roles.

“I had spent more than two decades working for multinational companies such as L&T and Welspun in India and already had exposure to international projects. It was time to step out of India,” says Pant, who quit his position as CIO of Mumbai-based conglomerate Welspun Group to join automotive distributor and consumer electronics company OTE Group as its CIO in Muscat, Oman.

“Oman offers a good work culture, lifestyle, and the salary is not taxed,” Pant says. “It is easier [for Indian IT leaders] to switch to Gulf Cooperation Council countries than Europe and Australia. With lots of Indians here and not much of a time difference, change management is less, too.”

For others such as Brian Ferris, chief data, analytics, and technology officer at loyalty, marketing, and data analytics consulting firm Loyalty NZ, leading IT abroad was about “gaining huge value in seeing different issues and learning different ways of approaching problems, something that can’t be learnt out of a book.” He moved from New Zealand to Amsterdam, working with Nike and Heineken as their global enterprise architect for data and analytics.

Whatever may be the driver for going international, relocating to a different country is a big decision that needs to factor in risk as well as reward. And, as the strong focus on digitization and globalization increasingly presents new opportunities for CIOs to go global, IT leaders must evaluate each variable carefully before taking the leap. spoke with top IT leaders who have taken up international roles about the key challenges they encountered and the strategies they adopted to become successful abroad.

The challenges of managing IT in a foreign land

Adjusting to a new environment, motivating team members, and earning trust are challenges all expat CIOs confront. But differences in levels of technology maturity, project management, and governance can also present issues for foreign CIOs in fulfilling their core responsibilities.

Brian Ferris, chief data, analytics, and technology officer, Loyalty NZ

Brian Ferris / Loyalty NZ

Assumptions about technology development being at the same level in different countries, for example, often prove wrong. “When I landed in Europe, I was surprised to see that New Zealand was ahead of it in cashless transactions. In terms of technology expertise, New Zealand has around half a dozen SAP experts. In Europe, the pool is huge, and the specialization is massive,” Ferris points out by way of example.

As New Zealand doesn’t have nearly as many historical buildings as Europe does, Ferris was also in for a surprise when he was denied permission to run a new cable into an old building in the Netherlands. “There were huge changes in my perspective. I would say the first three months were the hardest,” he says.

Governance is another area that can vary vastly from country to country. Ventre realized this when working on a large cloud migration project for Adani Ports as part of its strategy to digitize ports and logistics.

“The levels of process maturity in India were low as compared to Europe. The entrepreneurial spirit burns bright in India and technology execution and adoption can move quickly but in an unstructured and less controlled manner. In Europe there is a tendency for governance to stifle agility, but you feel that you have more control and confidence in the outcome. I don’t believe either extreme is right, and that somewhere between these two extremes lies the answer,” says Ventre, who has since returned to the Netherlands as group CIO of SHV Holdings.

How technology is consumed can also vary. Joe Locandro moved from Australia to Hong Kong to take up the role of CIO at CLP Group. From there he moved to Cathay Pacific Airways and then to Dubai to become VP of business technology services at Emirates. He experienced a high propensity for bespoke developments outside Australia.   

“While other global airlines used Amadeus or Sabre, Emirates had built its own ticketing and reservation system. Similarly, CLP had a lot of custom development for its transmission and distribution business. It could be because the companies wanted to be self-reliant rather than be controlled by western software companies or the fact that there wasn’t enough support of packages locally as compared to Europe and North America,” says Locandro.

Whatever the reason, getting acceptance for off-the-shelf software packages was a challenge for Locandro, despite the fact that their total cost of ownership would be better in the long term compared to developing and maintaining solutions in house.

In moving to the Middle East, Pant found the lack of a vibrant startup and partner ecosystem difficult. “PoCs take a lot of time,” he says. “Skill sets needed are not readily available or are available at high price points, all of which prevents us from getting results fast.”

As a foreigner, building trust with the IT team is extremely important, an aspect that proved to be “the most important and challenging issue” for David Berry, CIO of apparel and accessories manufacturer Boardriders, when he shifted from Häagen-Dazs in the US to become VP of IT at Grand Metropolitan Foods Europe in France.

“How do you get people to trust you that you’re not just going to impose an American view on things and [instead] respect the international side of things. If you can’t get over that you can’t settle down because you’re only as good as your team,” he says.

Building trust becomes even more difficult in countries whose cultures differ widely from your own. For instance, as compared to the Dutch, Indians are less direct, more polite, and more respectful of position and authority, Ventre says.  

“As a leader you want to be challenged, you want to be told that your idea is stupid and that there is a better way to do it but there is very little dissent in India. In such a situation, it takes a lot of time to build trust,” he says.

Dealing with business stakeholders

Business expectations of IT can also differ from country to country. For example, according to Ventre, expectations in Europe focus on the ‘how,’ whereas in India they concentrate on the ‘what.’

He felt that taking the time to improve the maturity of the IT function and setting it up for future success was less valued in India than delivering the next project, regardless of how the project was delivered.

Differing corporate structures can also pose challenges, especially when it comes to issues of collaboration versus hierarchy.

Joe Locandro, CIO, Fletcher Building

Joe Locandro / Fletcher Building

“It is very challenging to work in corporate Australia and New Zealand where everybody wants to have a say in technology. Some business units want to share some solutions while others want to build their own fiefdoms and have shadow IT,” Locandro says. “The poor CIO gets pulled from pillar to post because every business unit has a different philosophy. There is a necessary overcomplication of collaboration.”

The Middle East and Asia, however, have more of a hierarchical setup, Locandro says, with implicit trust in specialists, who are allowed to get on with their job, which results in speed to market.

“The downside is that if you try to do that in Australia or New Zealand, you wouldn’t get business buy-in and therefore you wouldn’t achieve your objectives. Similarly, if you tried to use the Australian approach in Asia or the Middle East, you’d never get anything done,” says Locandro, who returned to Australia from Dubai in 2018 and has since taken the CIO role at Fletcher Building in Auckland, New Zealand.

As for Ventre’s experience, business leaders in India expect their CIOs to have an in-depth knowledge of technology and a hands-on approach to it, he says.

“I remember being in meetings and being asked very detailed technical questions and expected to have the answer,” he says. “In Europe, if I was going into a meeting with the board about cybersecurity, I would have my CISO by my side, but in India you find that doesn’t happen as much. The CIO is expected to have the answer and if he/she doesn’t then the fear is that it might reflect on his/her ability.”

Because of this, Ventre says, European CIOs have been able to evolve their careers into business leaders first and IT leaders second. “I am not the expert in cyber, architecture, cloud, project delivery, or data, nor should I be. I have an amazing team of domain experts around me for that. My job is to develop the technology strategy that underpins the business strategy, and to orchestrate my people to achieve our goals and the right outcomes for the business,” he says.

Culture clashes

Aligning with the new culture might not be easy or to everyone’s liking but IT leaders will have to go the extra mile to do so if they seek success.

For example, Europe offers lots of opportunities and people can carve out careers and climb the professional ladder quickly, Ventre says, but India, with its large population, is far more competitive. To get ahead people feel compelled to work harder than the next, often putting work before family, he observed.

Richard Ventre, Group CIO, SHV Holdings, with his family at the Taj Mahal in Agra, India

Richard Ventre

“I had a real challenge to convince my team that I did not want to see them in the office past 6:30pm. It was like a battle of the wills to see who the last person in the office could be. As the working week ended on a Saturday at 2pm, I lost the ‘Friday feeling.’” Ventre says of his time in India.

In some countries, an expat IT leader’s communication skills can be put to the test, as top management may seek advice not from people of position but from those they trust.

“In Australia I can directly tell someone I’m not happy about something. However, in Hong Kong and in the Middle East, you sometimes need to convey messages to your suppliers or to other departments through a trusted third party,” says Locandro.

The Iron Rice Bowl, a Chinese term for employment security, is yet another cultural challenge, typical of Asian countries, that an expat CIO will have to contend with, Locandro says, adding that most people prefer to have a full-time job in these countries, which is opposite to Australia and New Zealand where lots of people, because of tax and other choices, want to contract and consult. For Locandro this was a major hinderance in infusing fresh talent into CLP as the company’s churn rates was as low as 5%.

Over time, Locandro addressed this issue by shifting CLP from being Hong Kong-centric to Asia Pacific-centric, expanding into India, Cambodia, and Thailand, as well as launching projects offshore. “Some people self-selected out as they couldn’t handle the change. For those who stayed back, I did a lot of skill development,” he says. “I started doing such a reorganization exercise every two years, and those who didn’t want to change generally left. Coupled with people retiring, the churn rate increased to 8 to 10%.”

Changing jobs regularly can also be considered suspicious in certain cultures, something that Ferris encountered when he moved to Europe. “It’s typical in New Zealand to move to a new role every three years but in Europe changing jobs frequently is viewed with suspicion. It was a real challenge for me early on because it was seen that there must be something wrong with me where I couldn’t hold down a job. I had never considered my CV from that perspective and had to explain to people that it was very, very normal where I came from,” he says.

Building business value abroad

To address the myriad challenges of leading IT abroad, IT leaders must leverage their communication, collaboration, and relationship-building skills. 

One key area where an expat IT leader’s soft skills will be tested is in establishing an effective relationship with business stakeholders. In this aspect, Pant’s experience of “working with very demanding stakeholders in professionally managed companies as well as family-owned businesses in India was very helpful,” he says.

Bhupendra Pant, CIO, OTE Group, in Muscat, Oman

Bhupendra Pant

“As IT leaders, you should initiate a few things that add value from the management’s perspective. While they are expected to keep the lights on and secure the crown jewels, they should quickly understand what is being appreciated and what isn’t. For this, CIOs must constantly take feedback from the stakeholders by setting up good communication between business and IT,” he says.

To accelerate this at OTE Group, Pant made the CIO’s office and IT department more accessible across the company’s grades and locations. For example, when his team was working on its OTE Connect mobile app for customer service, the IT team was transferred to the vehicle service location where it not only worked closely with the business but also interacted with external customers.

“Initially there were teething troubles but there was no argument or justification on any adverse feedback, and we would immediately rectify it. We would also not shy away from asking what we needed from the business. This also helped in improving the participation from business,” Pant says, adding that the approach of proactively seeking feedback was much appreciated.

To successfully bring business on the same page as IT, Locandro organized a yearly innovation day during his stint with CLP. On this day, business leaders were invited to talk about the successes of their IT projects and how it helped them. He also set up an innovation center and organized walk-throughs for business units.

Ferris made sure he spoke short, crisp sentences with very clear meaning with his bosses who weren’t native English speakers, even though they could be incredibly fluent in the language. “People get lost in long sentences, and when senior leaders get lost they don’t admit it; they just say no. Give them something they care about, but make sure they could understand it,” he says.

To deliver value and break down silos between business and IT, Ferris leveraged a distributed model — embedding squads into other business units rather than grabbing all the authority himself. “I found if I held the budget and the reporting line, giving away operational control was a powerful tool to build trust. Also, my embedded resources could learn about a business unit far better than I ever could from a conversation. They are in team meetings, hearing the vibe and seeing the opportunity. This approach helped us in breaking down silos delivering value in a big way,” he says.

Staying on the right side of risk and compliance are critical for any technology decision maker, but for foreign IT leaders the need for help may be more pronounced. For Berry, it meant working closely with the human resources and internal audit team. “Dealing with HR is extremely important because they know the law, they know the regulations in the country. Working with internal audit is important from a financial point of view. I stay close to them to make sure what I do follows whatever the regulations are,” he says.

Making connections

Not recognizing subtle cultural differences can lead to a CIO treading on toes without knowing it. For a better understanding of the local culture, Locandro studied Chinese history and took Mandarin classes when he was in Hong Kong. Similarly, he learned about Muslim culture when he went to Dubai.

“In Spain everyone goes out to lunch together. If you are eating alone at your desk, which is very normal in many cultures, it is considered very rude and you’re really thumbing your nose at the team when you do it,” says Ferris, who also recommends CIOs to use websites such as Hofstede Insights to compare countries on key dimensions before making the switch.

Brian Ferris, chief data, analytics, and technology officer, Loyalty NZ, at Nike headquarters in Amsterdam, Netherlands

Brian Ferris

When in India, Ventre ended his team meetings with “theek hai, chalo” (it’s fine, let’s go), a small indication that he understood some Hindi and was trying. “I would never have been able to hold meetings in Hindi, Gujarati, or Dutch but I understood some words/phrases and it is important to show a willingness to learn,” he says. “The reality is that in most global organizations the business language is English, but that does not mean you should be ignorant to the fact that you are working in a different country with a different language.”

Another area where making an effort is vital and can pay off is in developing a professional network.

Locandro, for example, had to map out a network of trusted third parties to get his messages across to business and technology stakeholders within the company and outside. “The trusted people needed to reach out to stakeholders in IT were mostly inside the organization. In case of suppliers, they would be people in business or in chambers of commerce and for government, I had to go through other government departments,” he says, adding that it took him two years to create a social-professional network to break into the inner circles and get accepted.

“Eventually, I ended up being one of the thought leaders and got invited to a lot of Chinese events in mainland China, in Hong Kong and government and advisory,” he says.

While at Heineken in Amsterdam, Ferris formed a peer network “to get together away from everyone else and share learnings and problems.” Under this non-competitive peer relationship initiative, he set up a technology architecture group comprising IT leaders from big companies such as Shell and Phillips, which proved to be “valuable for everyone.”

Embrace the challenge

The decision to go international brings a steep learning curve for IT leaders, but the transition to a new geography has its rewards.

“There is enrichment of thought, diversity, and insights. CEOs look for resilience, adaptability, and clarity in thinking. The experience you gain offshore gives you those dimensions, and when you speak in the job interviews, you can draw from a whole range of experiences,” says Locandro, who credits his entry back into New Zealand to his ability to apply global best practices over other candidates.

Ferris says his international exposure has made him aware that “technology won’t always come out of the US Silicon Valley. Eindhoven and Hilversum are hotbeds of innovation. Culturally, I think it’s really helped me in understanding and building my teams better. I have more empathy and respect for people working and operating in another language,” he says.

And the peer networks built while abroad are invaluable. As Berry says, “I still have contacts in virtually every country I’ve worked in. When I have any business or technology issue, I can call somebody up in any country and seek a solution. This is the power of networking and collaboration.”

Careers, CIO, IT Leadership

Abhi Dhar has had a rich career journey, from serving as chief digital officer of a Fortune 50 company to co-founding a tech startup. In his current role as executive vice president and chief information and technology officer at TransUnion, he’s responsible for all aspects of the company’s technology, including strategy, security, applications, operations, infrastructure, and delivery of solutions that support its global information systems and associates.

Just as notable as Dhar’s career credentials are the quiet calm and genuine humility that mark his leadership style. When we spoke for a recent episode of the Tech Whisperers podcast, we explored his vision around transformation and his ability to operate with a business-first, customer-first, and people-first mindset. Afterwards, he shared some more advice for up-and-coming digital leaders and explained why it’s worth choosing to do the hard things. What follows is that conversation, edited for length and clarity.

Dan Roberts: You’ve been a C-level executive for a Fortune 50 company, a startup founder, and on the board of airline. What are the benefits of these diverse experiences, and how have they positioned you to be a better CI&TO for TransUnion?

Abhi Dhar: You look at business from all different sides and you realize that businesses are just these contraptions that are supposed to generate cash and cover their expenses and create profit and pay back their owners. And hopefully the contraption itself is of value so the owners get more value out of it. That’s capitalism.

When you’re in a Fortune 50 corporation, you realize that it’s this enormous contraption, but it still does the same thing. And when you’re raising a million and a half in seed capital, and you’re trying to build this contraption, it’s still the same thing, just at scale. That just burns an owner’s or a founder’s mindset into you, and it gives context to decision-making. So does being on a board. This whole notion of ‘Somebody’s money created this thing and you owe them something back’ becomes very important.

It also has helped me spot talent. There are people who, when you have a conversation like this, they get it. Then there are people who are just compliant. They’re an organizational component. They’re not mission people. You need them, but they’re componentry, not value creators.

What are some of the challenges startup founders or those working in small companies have when they move to big, legacy corporations?

Big corporations, especially public corporations, have an established business model. You have risk and audit and all of these people trying to make sure that nothing wrong happens. This thing is working, it’s generating money, let’s not mess with it.

A lot of startup founders, when they join a corporation, get frustrated. They’ll criticize it constantly: ‘I can’t do this, I can’t do that, I can’t innovate.’ Yes, it’s a tanker. You were on a speedboat. They’re two very different things. Don’t criticize the tanker for being a tanker. It does something. It creates a value. If we want to change something, let’s be very considerate about it.

You mentioned your ability to spot talent. You also have a reputation for developing talent and growing the next generation, including many leaders who’ve moved on to become great CIOs in their own right. Why is that a priority for you?

At this point in my life, I’ve realized that if you can harness the strange, undefinable characteristics of human beings, when they get fired up and work together, they can do magical things. That’s how great things happen. So that’s what I’m focused on.

The greatest joy I get is when I hear stories about people like Greg Michelini, who was one of the people who asked a ‘mystery question’ during the podcast. There are 20 or 25 people in my career who are now CIOs of large companies, and as I look back, it’s those stories I think about. It’s this person who didn’t think they could do something, and they did it and they’re now a CIO and they look back fondly on what you did. Except you didn’t really do anything; they did it.

The most successful CIOs make ‘people’ the first pillar of their strategy, and it seems like that is deeply engrained in your approach to leadership. How do you make it part of the culture of your organization?

I’ve never forgotten how hard it is to be a technologist. When there is a crisis, when a site is down, when a system is down, when a release is not going right, it feels like the end of the world. It is extremely stressful. And the people who deal with that stress the most are junior- to mid-level executives. These are people with small children. These are parents who are just grinding it out. And sometimes the systems we work on are used by people who are also going through these same things. This is humanity. That’s what we’re doing, and that’s why it’s so important for us to think about the culture and say people are not expendable.

As engineers, if we can’t avoid something that’s going to create troubles for ourselves later on — where we’ll have to jump on a crisis call or do something that would cause a colleague to jump on a crisis call — we shouldn’t do it. I can’t write do’s and don’ts and FAQs about it. But I can appeal to people’s desire to do the right thing and to work as part of a collective.

Your senior vice president of global technology platforms, Deepika Dugirala, has described software development as a creative process, comparing it to “creating a painting, carving a sculpture, writing a symphony or making pottery.” What’s your take on that?

If you look at those people like Elon Musk and Steve Jobs and others who have created an insane amount of value, nobody would argue with you about whether or not they’re creative. The people who become engineers, they’re the fixers and the tinkerers — because they’re creative. They want to make something. If we’re not careful, we’ll kill their creativity. Part of it comes from refusing to acknowledge that they’re engineers. We keep referring to them as IT — not that anything is wrong with IT, but the function of IT is not engineering.

You’ve said that the first time you became a head of technology you wrestled with imposter syndrome and had to prove to yourself that you could actually be the head of technology. How have you dealt with imposter syndrome over the years, and what’s your advice to the rest of us?

Imposter syndrome is a real thing. I used to think, I have to go to all these CIO meetings because now I’m the CIO, and I need to remind myself that I’m the CIO. It’s that constant worry of, am I good enough, can I do this job, what if something happens? Thankfully, I’m sort of beyond that.

I think one way I’ve managed it is that, given choices, I choose the harder thing. And then I’ll think, oh my God, I’m done. But somehow, some way, some force carries me forward. People around me support me and I make it to the other side. And once I’ve made it through, I’ll say, I’m never going to do that again. I’m going to take the easy path. And sure enough, two days later I’m back at it. And I’ll be thinking, why did I do that? There was an easier path! Why would I join a board? Why did I do a startup? Why would I go to a financial services corporation when I’m a retail guy — I don’t know anything about financial services. This is so hard!

But somehow, we make it. And somehow, slowly, that little voice that says you can’t do it starts feeling less important, because now you’ve done it. The most important thing is, if you’re completely devoted to the service that your role is supposed to provide to the organization and overly focused on it, then it’s kind of like you’re not even in it. It’s not about you at all.

You are intentional about pushing people beyond their comfort zones. Could you speak to those across our profession who are climbing the ladder but can’t seem to break through to the next level?

I am an immigrant. I came to the US, didn’t know anybody, and constantly wondered if I was good enough. By happenstance and luck, I ended up in situations where I needed help, so I sought out mentors and they helped me. Because of what happened to me, when other people are stuck and don’t see how they can really progress as professionals, I’m able to spot it.

I remember having this conversation with Greg, telling him he needed to take the job at this Fortune 10 company and be responsible for our pharmacy systems, from a tech point of view and from a customer point of view and from a business point of view. I said, ‘You’re the best of the best. What are you doing running around here being like a bureaucrat? Go do this.’ He was like, ‘That’s crazy. That’s so risky.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, but you’ve got it, man. If I did it, so can you.’

There are multiple people like that, and it’s not because I have some great foresight. It’s just that I made a lot of stupid mistakes, and I can point out to people how that’s going to end. So it’s very important that I do that. That’s also where I talk about ‘flipping the script,’ because a lot of people will say, this is the script. And I keep telling them, no, you’re none of those things. You are this person who can do this by generating this much value because you understand this. Once you provide that clarity to people, they do great things.

The biggest success in my life outside of my family is all these great people. They are amazing CIOs. If they worked for me, and they’re a CIO, I’m telling you right now, I give you my reference: You send them into any battle, and they will win.

For more wisdom and insights from Abhi Dhar’s leadership playbook, tune in to the Tech Whisperers podcast.

IT Leadership

Daryl Hammett saw the continued underrepresentation of Black leaders across industries — tech in particular — and decided to take action.

Hammett, general manager of global demand and operations at Amazon Web Services, in 2022 founded Enable, a mentoring and leadership program that creates “an environment where Black leaders could know that they are not alone.”

Enable, which currently has 100 members, provides Black executives in technical and non-technical roles at AWS and Amazon an opportunity to mentor and coach one another in an effort to foster growth and create more exposure to opportunities. The group has several touchpoints throughout the year, including a yearly Enable community workshop, bimonthly leadership council meetings, quarterly all-hands meetings, and monthly regional gatherings.

“We’re investing in creating space for Black executives to have unique experiences and address the knowledge gaps and needs of Black executives,” Hammett says.

Daryl Hammett, general manager of global demand and operations, AWS


“My goal was to begin a journey of relationship building and connection to elevate and promote Black executive leadership, as well as development. We believe that strengthening our leadership is essential to building better leaders for present and future opportunities in Amazon and AWS. We can help each other grow through networking, mentorship, and leadership opportunities that bring us together and provide a sense of community and belonging,” he adds. “In essence, we’re trying to increase the number of Black mentors at Amazon/AWS that will hopefully transpire to increasing the number of Black leaders in the future.”

Mentorship is a longstanding feature of professional life, with both formal company programs and informal connections instrumental in helping individuals advance their careers.

Given the value of mentorship, companies, advocacy organizations, educational institutions and individuals like Hammett are using mentorship to serve Black technologists as they move up the ranks and into senior positions.

Moreover, they say mentorship programs are critical not only because they’re helpful for individual career advancement in general but also because they create a support system — or, a community, as Hammett puts it — that’s intentional about helping to end the underrepresentation of Black IT professionals.

The 2022 Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in IT: Breakthroughs and Barriers report from ITSM company TEKsystems calculated that people of color make up 41% of the IT population but only 8% are Black or African American.

And according to a 2021 Pew Research Center report, Black workers make up 11% of the US workforce but hold only 7% of computing jobs and only 5% of engineering jobs. Leadership and advancement statistics from a range of research surveys also show how challenging it can be for Black IT professionals once they do embark on a career in IT — something that executives like Hammett and organizations like Enable are working to correct.

The value of mentoring

For Hammett, mentoring speaks volumes, delivering the message that “you are not alone.”

“It’s crucial to have someone who can guide you through the journey,” he adds. “Am I making the right decisions as a manager? What can I do to get to the promotion path? Can I convert from a non-tech to a tech family?”

That connection and guidance, Hammett and others note, is often even more important to groups who are underrepresented.

“For people of color to be mentored by someone who looks like them allows these leaders to have a truly vulnerable and safe environment,” Hammett says, noting that Enable also has minority within minority mentorship programs such as one for Black women in tech.

Christopher Lafayette, founder, GatherVerse

Black Technology Mentorship Program

Enable is only one example of mentorship programs supporting Black IT professionals. The Black Technology Mentorship Program (BTMP) is another one. Christopher Lafayette, a humanitarian, emergent technologist, and founder of the GatherVerse, founded BTMP in 2020 “out of a desire and what I saw as a sense of duty as a Black leader in tech” to contribute and effect change in a profession that lacks diversity, he says.

“I had an opportunity to force-multiply and build a platform that would draw people in and really serve as a meeting place,” he adds, noting that he took a startup approach to the organization.

Lafayette says BTMP, which pairs mentees with mentors, is “hyper focused on individual development,” noting that professionals who apply to become mentees are seeking “to understand what’s next; they come to us and say, ‘I need steps to go forward in my career path.’”

Lafayette says mentorship can help Black professionals better navigate the universal issues as well as those unique challenges they could face when advancing in their tech careers.

“The No. 1 obstacle that they confront is [issues around] inclusivity, not just inclusion of self but ideas. We let our mentees know that you will not be heard a majority of the time. But when you do have a single moment to be heard, make it matter and prepare ahead of time with relative information and in concert with the narrative at hand. Stay ready to engage,” he says, adding that he believes the lack of inclusivity in tech “leads to more attrition and churn with the Black community than anything else.”

Uplifting IT careers through shared experience

Although much of the advice offered through mentorship is universally applicable, Lafayette highlights the value of having mentorship programs specifically for serving Black talent.

Dwana Franklin-Davis, CEO, Reboot Representation

Reboot Representation

“People feel alone within these corporations. When they look around, others don’t look like them. They want someone to talk to, who understands how they can grow in this environment, and to give them a sense of community,” he explains.

The Reboot Representation Tech Coalition also offers mentorship.

“Mentoring is part of what we know is important as a building block,” says Reboot Representation CEO Dwana Franklin-Davis.

Reboot Representation’s main objective is to double the number of Black, Latina, and Native American women receiving computing degrees by 2025. Its mentorship program matches the college students participating in the programs it funds with professional Black, Latina, and Native America women professionals.

Participating students benefit from the advice and perspective shared by mentors who have a shared experience. Mentors also are role models; like others, Franklin-Davis points to the power of having role models, using the oft-quoted saying “If you can see it, you can be it.”

Robert Scott, vice president of the Global Institute for Professional Development, ITSMF


The Information Technology Senior Management Forum (ITSMF) also offers mentorship as part of its broader portfolio of programs, with mentoring programs aimed at growing and developing Black professionals from the mid-career level to the C-suite ranks and beyond

“We focus on two things: to help them understand how to be successful in the corporate environment and, two, to be resilient in that,” says Robert Scott, vice president of ITSMF’s Global Institute for Professional Development.

ITSMF President and CEO Johanna Jones says 14 Black tech executives (five of whom were women) founded the organization in 1996, at a time when diversity in IT ranks was even lower than today. The intent, she says, is to “be for others what we struggled to find.”

Johanna Jones, president and CEO, ITSMF


Statistics are difficult to come by, but a study from the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission from nearly 10 years ago found that whites made up 83% of the executive ranks in the tech sector nationwide, and 80% of executives were male.

Such figures, advocates say, show why mentorship and other DEI initiatives are needed.

Jones adds: “Our organization creates fertile ground for relationships to be created, developed, and cultivated.”

The personal impact

Professionals say such programs make a difference.

Diya Wynn, senior practice manager in responsible AI and senior practice manager for the ML Solutions Lab at AWS, now serves as a mentor at both AWS and through other channels, including her alma mater, Spelman College, a Historically Black College and University (HBCU).

Diya Wynn, senior practice manager in responsible AI and senior practice manager for the ML Solutions Lab, AWS


Wynn says she mentors in part to help increase diverse representation and career advancement for women and people of color in tech, particularly in the areas of AI/ML and data science where the demographics are even lower than tech overall.

“If I rise, I want others to rise with me. If I learn something and it’s something that can benefit someone else, I want to share. That’s why I do it,” she says.

Wynn says she also serves as a mentor because she didn’t have mentors — and more specifically mentors who looked like her — during the earlier years of her career.

Wynn says she did, however, cultivate sponsors as her career progressed. Some looked like her and shared her background, she says; others did not. Similarly, some of her current mentees are Black; some are Black women, and others are not.

Wynn says she’s strategic about mentoring relationships, seeking out mentors who can help her advance and working with mentees who can benefit from what she can teach them. She values all those relationships, but she believes mentorship programs that serve underrepresented groups remain a vital part of that overall mix.

“So often I was the only female on the team, and certainly the only Black female on the team, and often the only Black leader,” she says. “So having connection with people that look like me, who understand the experience, that just didn’t exist for me. I now want other people to have that opportunity for guidance and support.”

Next step: Sponsorship

Advocates continue to press the importance of mentorship for career advancement, particularly for Black technologists and other underrepresented groups. But they also stress that mentorship gets professionals only so far up the ladder; it takes sponsorship to get into the executive ranks.

Sponsors are “in the room you’re not in and advocating for you for opportunities” before they are even publicly disclosed, explains Jones.

Finding sponsors can be even more challenging for groups who have historically been underrepresented and, in fact, nearly absent from the executive ranks — as had been the case for Black IT professionals.

“Moving to the senior ranks is mostly about sponsorship. But if you’re talking about a woman or person of color, do they have the same access to executives to build those relationships? Data says no,” Franklin-Davis says.

Yet Franklin-Davis and others say it’s more difficult to create formal sponsorship programs, as sponsors must have a much deeper, more personal connection with their proteges than mentorship requires. That’s because sponsors basically vouch for their proteges, championing them; mentors may do that, but the role really only requires them to coach and guide.

Here, aspiring professionals and organizational leadership can succeed by being intentional. Franklin-Davis, for one, says she compiles “a career board of directors,” with mentors and sponsors from various roles and backgrounds.

As Jones observes: “Mentors and sponsors don’t have to look like you, but they have to believe in you, trust you, and respect you.”

Still, advocates say enterprise leaders must step up to counter trends that have historically made it more difficult for underrepresented professionals to find sponsors.

Franklin Reed, executive director of global DEI, TEKsystems


“No one moves through an organization without mentors and sponsors, but we tend to have networks that are made up of people who look like us. So the only way the room is going to change is if we’re intentional about changing [the demographics of the room],” says Franklin Reed, executive director of global DEI at TEKsystems.

He says senior leaders need to be engaged and they should look for accountability, tracking whether their programs and work actually make a difference. That approach should apply to sponsorship efforts, too.

Reed acknowledges that sponsorship doesn’t lend itself to a formal program. As he says, “People shouldn’t feel they’re being forced to represent someone they don’t have a genuine relationship with.”

But organizations, through DEI leaders or current executives, can advocate for connections, activities, and outreach that create those authentic relationships with a more diverse collection of professionals than has been the case in the past. Reed is doing just that at TEKsystems.

“It became clear to me that there was an unintended gap between diverse high-potential talent and our senior leaders,” he says.

He created the Information and Access Program to foster connections. The first meeting brought the president and two of his senior leaders together with about 20 high-performing Black women from the company’s business development organization.

“It created a direct line of connection and communication,” Reed says.

It also started a positive chain reaction, with the president so impressed by one woman in particular that he texted another company leader to make an introduction while still in the meeting.

That story illustrates the impact of intentional efforts, Reed says, adding: “All she needed was access and visibility for others to see the talent she brought into the room.”

Diversity and Inclusion, IT Leadership, Mentoring

The insurance industry is undergoing a sea change, with IT playing a crucial role in rolling out digital customer experiences for policyholders and agents, as in-person meetings all but vanish in the post-pandemic era.

This pivot to digital customer experiences has become a new insurance industry imperative, as John Aflac, Liberty Mutual, MassMutual, MetLife, and a host of other insurers have embraced digital strategies for interacting with and delivering new services to customers — in some cases, integrating advanced cloud technologies such as analytics and machine learning to design new insurance policies.

Bill Pappas, who joined MetLife as head of global technology and operations three years ago to drive the CEO’s customer-first strategy, exemplifies the new insurance CIO ethos.

“We are paying very close attention to trends from a customer perspective. We call our approach high tech and high touch, because that takes into account the very clear feedback that we’re getting from our customers — that they want digital solutions to take the transactional nature from our relationship away in a way that is intuitive and secure, but they want us to be there when it matters the most,” he says.

For Pappas, the customer has become the “North Star” in the digital era, and other insurance CIOs concur, as improving the customer experience and operational excellence — not revenue growth — tops the list of insurance digitalization initiatives in 2023, according to a recent Gartner survey of CIOs across 81 countries.

“The customer experience in life insurance has not been very digital,” says Gartner analyst Kimberly Harris-Ferrante, noting the very traditional human-to-human interactions in the industry. “Now it’s really more about [digital] customer experience and operational efficiency, particularly given we’re just coming out of COVID.”

The seismic shift toward digital services during the pandemic served as a wakeup call for the insurance industry, which by and large lagged other industries in technology modernization, analysts say.

“In the last few years, the [insurance industry] has taken us in some new directions, being more remote and virtual and changing behaviors than we would have seen in 2019 or before,” Harris-Ferrante says.

And for insurers like MetLife, digital customer-centricity means new approaches to serving agents and policyholders alike — without straying from the heart of the insurance relationship, the human touch.

“In some cases we are b-to-b; in some cases we’re b-to-b-to-c,” Pappas says. “We will digitize mostly the transactional nature of the product, but we do want to safeguard that ability for a person to be there for the customers where that matters the most.”

IT as industry differentiator

Insurers and financial services firms like MassMutual, of Springfield, Mass., are substituting face-to-face meetings with advanced, value-added digital interactions with customers. But the impact of IT in revitalizing what insurance companies offer their customers goes well beyond facilitating video meetings and digitized documentation.

Tara Long, MassMutual’s newly appointed CIO, points to the company’s patented enterprise data application platform and enhanced cybersecurity as integrated digital services that add significant value to its digital customers. For example, digital customers may use biometric login with Touch ID and Face ID for security.

Other key resources that benefit the customer experience include BI and analytics for anything from actuarial pricing to risk selection and customer intelligence, the CIO says.

“There are a lot of self-service capabilities and new digital portals that are going to help service our policyholders as well as our financial advisors,” Long says. “There’s a lot that goes into our digital transformation. It’s a journey with lots of components to it.”

Acrisure, of Grand Rapids, Mich., for instance, uses artificial intelligence to build custom insurance policies and financial services for businesses as well as consumer policies. Matt Marolda, the company’s chief innovation officer who came on board in 2021, has played a key role developing AI models for “custom-tailored” insurance packages, for example.

The COVID wakeup call

For most insurance companies, the global shutdowns that followed COVID-19 were the tipping point.

When the pandemic hit, Aflac CIO Rich Gilbert felt like the firm’s insurance agent business could be a dead duck. Yet Gilbert tapped the company’s Hatch Innovation Lab to build a new virtual enrollment system that had its origin in the data center but was quickly redesigned for the cloud amid the pandemic.

“COVID was the digital disruptor. Our agents sell to small, medium, large businesses at their work site and now there was no work site,” says Gilbert, who signed on as CIO at Aflac in 2019. “So we had to kind of rethink and reimagine our whole model of engaging with policyholders or potential policyholders.”

Aflac’s Virtual Enrollment Experience fully utilized the cloud and SaaS solutions in its construction, Gilbert says.

“We needed the speed of the cloud to assemble a new experience for agents to work remotely. The Virtual Enrollment Experience is fulfilled via a microsite customized for each account and is hosted in the cloud (AWS). Each microsite is composed of several components, including product information and videos to inform, a decision support tool to help decide, a calendaring tool to schedule a virtual consultation with an agent, a virtual collaboration platform via Webex to consult on product offerings, and a connection to enroll and e-sign to complete the process,” he says.

Aflac also expanded its marketing outreach to direct customers to microsites where they can learn about Aflac’s supplemental cancer insurance, set up a virtual meeting with an agent, and use the homegrown system to sign on to policies. “We actually built a whole new enrollment platform that is much like an Amazon capability,” Gilbert says. 

John Hancock is another insurance company that overhauled its operations to be more digital-centric by integrating SaaS services such as Clareto to simplify the insurance purchasing process and reduce underwriting times, while using its homegrown JH eApp to streamline the overall life insurance process.

Building for tomorrow

With new platforms evolving, insurance CIOs are eyeing new possibilities for the future.

Liberty Mutual, which has been an industry leader in digital transformation, operates a hybrid cloud infrastructure built primarily on Amazon Web Services but with specific uses of Microsoft Azure and, lesser so, Google Cloud Platform.

Roughly 60% of Liberty Mutual’s data runs on the cloud and taps into an array of business applications and analytics dashboards that yield real-time insights and predictions, recently-retired CIO James McGlennon told last year.

The insurance company under his direction spent 17 years developing a robust platform that today enables consumers to access an automated claims system that uses chatbots, cameras, and e-mail to initiate a claim and rent a car while a machine learning model analyzes the photograph of the damaged vehicle to detect whether its airbag has been deployed, for instance, and to determine immediately whether a vehicle is totaled or the damage is limited to a fender bender.

That’s today. The platform will enable data scientists to build the next generation of applications for its consumers tomorrow.

“We’re really trying to understand the metaverse and what it might mean for us,” said McGlennon. “We’re focused on augmented reality and virtual reality. We’re doing a lot on AI and machine learning and robotics. We’ve already built up blockchain and we’ll continue with all those.”

These new customer digital experiences extend well beyond requiring customers to fill out policy applications digitally or use chatbots for answering basic insurance questions. When designing modern policy applications for digital customers, data scientists at insurers will continue to use the cloud, advanced data tools, business intelligence, and machine learning models that will change the entire business practices — not just the method of communication, insurance CIOs point out.

Digital Transformation, Insurance Industry