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The art of balancing digital and traditional IT

Kenny MacIver — January 2016
Aviva group CIO Monique Shivanandan argues that technology leaders need to help their organizations embrace the digital revolution while still delivering rock-solid run-the-business services.

The greatest modern challenge of CIOs is to drive digital innovation while also ensuring the operational IT that underpins their organizations runs smoothly 24x7.  For Monique Shivanandan, group CIO of insurance giant Aviva, those twin pressures have had a transformational influence on the IT leadership position.

As she outlines in our exclusive video interview, “balancing this role is what makes it so exciting to be in technology today. You have the responsibility of keeping this engine running, making sure you have good practices, making sure your security is robust, and making sure your different customer channels are running every day. It’s just all got to be there.”

But that’s now only one side of a much-expanded remit. “The other side is taking responsibility for changing the way the business is going, changing the products that the business offers, changing the culture of your organization, changing the way it interacts with customers and the brand that we want to present to them,” she says.

In the case of 320-year-old Aviva, with its 34 million insurance, pension and savings customers spread across 16 countries, that means supporting a multi-year effort designed to transform it from a classic insurance provider to “an edgy tech company,” ready to support the new world of risk that is evolving from the digital disruption in areas such as automotive, travel and building monitoring.

Servicing both operational needs and that digital journey is what makes the job so compelling, says Shivanandan. “Every day there’s a different challenge.  One day you’re running a disaster recovery drill, making sure you’re resilient. Or you’ve had a big software release on some exciting new capabilities and you need to make sure that it all worked as planned. The next you’re thinking about what the business’s digital offering is going to be for the home of the future or how we are going to make sure that when people have a health examination they can talk to their doctor over a video screen and the experience for both is highly positive.”

Maintaining IT equilibrium
Maintaining a balance between the two sides, though, is critical, she argues, and that comes down to one factor — people. If CIOs are to ensure operational responsibilities don’t overwhelm their time or they don’t get seduced by what might be seen as the more energizing digital side of the role, they need to be surrounded by highly skilled and motivated people — and to spread their focus equally. That’s important, says Shivanandan, “because they all have to succeed together” to create the desired outcome.

“The digital product isn’t actually going to be all that effective if the back-end systems are falling over, and the back-end systems won’t have a place to offer their great capabilities if the front-ends aren’t there,” she says. “So it’s a very interesting balance.”

It’s not just interesting, it is transforming the IT leadership role and making it one of the most dynamic and fulfilling in business, she argues. “This is the best time to be in technology. There’s no other business that you would want to be in.”

That’s because  digitalization is putting  IT at the center of every business — and in some cases making it the business itself. “Whether they realize it or not yet, every business is a technology company,” says Shivanandan.

• Photography: Greg Funnell

First published
January 2016
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About: Monique Shivanandan
Having led IT strategy at Capital One and BT Retail as those giants of banking and telecoms successfully navigated technology revolutions, Aviva group CIO Monique Shivanandan is preparing the insurance multinational for the digital transformation of its sector.

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