Narrowing the Search for Exceptional CIOs

By George Westerman

The fast-moving digital economy is making one thing clear for technology leaders: There’s never been a better time to be a great CIO, and there’s never been a worse time to be an average one.

Average CIOs manage IT well. They have consolidated messy infrastructure, reduced IT costs, and even moved applications to the cloud. But that’s not enough. Better CIOs aim to be strategic business partners, working closely with their peers to identify opportunities and deliver value. The exceptional CIOs think even bigger than that: They see the power of technology to rethink the business, and they steer the conversation so that their business colleagues share that vision.

Those big thinkers are the CIO leaders we will recognize with the 2017 MIT Sloan CIO Leadership Award at the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium on May 24. The backgrounds of our four finalists, representing the worlds of health care, banking, insurance and energy, reflect the qualities that every company should look for in their IT Leaders today.

Vision and determination may be the assets shared most by these diverse leaders. They have built on extensive experience to identify opportunities and drive transformation in their enterprises.

Stephen Gold

David Gledhill speaks unabashedly about “re-imagining banking.” Stephen Gold is helping to reinvent the way a CVS treats its corporate and consumer customers across many different lines of business. Julia Davis brings a fresh perspective to tradition-bound insurance practices, including radically accelerating the way her company pays for many claims. And Carlo Bozzoli is reinventing operations and business models in a giant utility enterprise. For each, digital technology is a key to solving familiar problems in new ways, and to identify opportunities for their companies.

Julia Davis

“Digitalization is not an ambition; it is a necessity,” said Bozzoli, Head of Global Information and Communications Technology at Enel, an Italian multinational producer and distributor of electricity and gas. “We are deeply convinced that it’s not only a matter of technology, but a widespread digital culture [that must] be fostered all over the company.”

Carlo Bozzoli

Bozzoli and his team are using Internet of Things technologies in the company’s smart grid, along with machine learning capabilities, to rethink maintenance, fraud detection, and other processes in the €70 billion company.

David Gledhill

Gledhill is Group CIO and Head of Group Technology & Operations at DBS, a leading Singapore-based bank. He has 25 years of experience in the financial service industry, including more than 20 years in Asia. Gledhill has helped his senior executive colleagues to recognize “the importance of building a strong innovation-led mindset to re-imagine banking” through digital transformation. For example, DBS has launched a successful digital-only bank in India while also finding many opportunities to improve existing banking processes.

Davis joined Aflac as Senior VP and CIO in July 2013. She has cultivated a strong IT Division by leading Aflac’s IT Apprenticeship program and an innovative “reverse mentoring” plan that pairs young employees with senior team members. However, she and her team are working far outside the boundaries of their unit. “Aflac has a strong commitment to finding innovative ways to serve our customers who, when injured or ill, need their benefits fast,” she said. A major success is offering one-day turnaround for many claims — a goal that would have been unimaginable only a few years ago.

CVS Health is far more than just a drugstore chain. It has many other businesses, but they tend to work in silos. Gold and his colleagues are linking the company’s huge pharmacy benefits management, specialty-care businesses, and retail business so that patients of one can be served by all, where regulation will allow. Gold’s team is also investigating leading-edge technologies such as wearables and remote diagnostics to expand the range of patient care options far beyond traditional retail pharmacies.

All four will be panelists at the CIO Symposium and join a long list of highly accomplished CIOs who have been finalists — and award winners — in prior years. For example, last year’s winner, David Neitz of CDM Smith, used virtual reality technology to transform his company’s engineering design processes, and even its customer experience. And the 2015 winner, Michael Nilles, is helping Schindler to transform from selling and maintaining elevators to providing an integrated, digitally enhanced service that includes integration across manufacturers, predictive maintenance capabilities, and personalized rider experience.

This year’s finalists already reap rewards: They are not just IT leaders, they are business leaders who understand how to transform their businesses via digital technology, and they have the talent to make it happen.


George Westerman is a Principal Research Scientist at the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy. He is co-chairman, with Ray Chang, of the MIT Sloan CIO Leadership Award.


Note: At the May 24 event, David Gledhill, Group Chief Information Officer and Head of Group Technology & Operations at DBS Bank Ltd., was named the award winner. Read more details here.