CIOs Should Adopt a Digital Mindset to Lead Teams Through Change

BrandPost By Alysse Anderson and Uzair Hussain, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC)
Apr 21, 2021
Digital TransformationIT Leadership

Learn how technology leaders can play a pivotal role in driving business transformation.

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Credit: metamorworks

Digital transformation has taken the front seat in companies across the globe as business leaders adapt to rapidly shifting consumer needs. In the wake of COVID-19, companies saw their digital transformation plans accelerate by six years on average, with many of these same companies increasing their digital budgets by almost 80 percent.

Customers, consumers, and employees alike are looking to CIOs and other technology leaders to address new challenges brought to the fore by the pandemic, with innovative solutions designed to empower workers and facilitate valuable relationships between companies and their stakeholders.

Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) has been enhancing the role of digital in client experience for years, but, as with many other organizations, the pandemic accelerated this financial institution’s digital transformation. Alysse Anderson, VP of Frontline Tools & Enablement, and Uzair Hussain, VP of Client Relationship Infrastructure, are leading conversations about how CIBC can continue to use digital resources for growth and innovation, whilst nurturing client and organizational relationships.

Here, Alysse and Uzair discuss how organizations can adapt their digital strategies with speed and agility, and how technology leaders can play a pivotal role in driving business transformation.

Q: How has COVID-19 affected digital transformation at your organization?

Uzair: Digital transformation has long been a part of our business strategy at CIBC, however, the pandemic accelerated things as we adapted to a new work environment and evolving client needs. Ninety-two percent of banking transactions are now performed digitally, which surpassed our expectations for 2020.

Our team looks at digital as a vital tool in building and strengthening client relationships. We ask ourselves, “How can technology help deepen relationships and support more meaningful interactions?” In many ways, digital is now at the forefront of client experience. While our banking and advice centres act as a hub for education and specialized financial matters, many of our clients are finding solutions to their everyday needs online.

COVID-19 has also impacted how we collaborate. As more and more of our team members transitioned to working from home, we needed to lean into digital collaboration tools to ensure our teams had the resources they needed to help our clients. The foundational investments we’d made in platforms and tools equipped our teams to be cross-functional when the pandemic hit, supporting them to streamline the client experience and ensure quick and easy access to important information about lending, loans, and more.

Q: COVID-19 highlighted the importance of speed and agility. How do you think about speed and agility for your organization?

Alysse: At CIBC, we’ve worked to create agile teams across the organization. But widespread adoption of agile practices became mission-critical when the pandemic began. Our technology leaders looked at how we could further ramp up digital transformation and determine the technology we needed to invest in to support both our employees and our clients.

The most important part of this transformation for us was ensuring agility was embedded in our business practices. We began to look at projects through the lens of “crawl, walk, run” to get valuable products and services into the hands of stakeholders faster, while also thinking about how we could encourage long-term growth.

When it comes to speed and agility, it’s important to remember that foundational investments are not “one and done.” Instead, CIOs and technology leaders have to prepare for constant evolution to meet the changing needs of all of their organization’s stakeholders. 

Q: How have you maintained and improved the customer experience during COVID-19?

Uzair: One of the best examples of improved client experience during COVID-19 is the recently launched CIBC GoalPlanner. We had a great opportunity to modernize and simplify the financial goal planning process to support our clients as they adapted to new realities and potentially economic hardships brought on by the pandemic. We created CIBC GoalPlanner to help clients begin their financial goal planning process and work with an advisor to create a plan, plus track progress towards their goals.

Further, our investment in an enterprise CRM in partnership with Salesforce supports our ability to get a 360-degree view of a client, allowing our teams to provide tailored services seamlessly, and respond to a clients’ varied needs

Q: What challenges are technology leaders facing as we turn to a post-pandemic world?

Uzair: One of the biggest changes for CIOs and technology leaders is helping employees adapt to the new work-from-home environment. At CIBC, we focused on supporting our team members to get comfortable with new resources and ways of working, so they could continue to meet client needs and offer a high level of service, even though they were no longer meeting in-person. Prior investments in collaboration technology made it easier for us to pivot quickly and avoid any major disruptions in client service.

Alysse: Employee well-being is also a really important consideration for CIOs and other business leaders as we settle into our new work environment. When the pandemic began, we knew CIBC needed to adapt quickly to continue serving our clients, but we also had to consider the safety of our team members — especially those working in-person at our banking and advice centres. The well-being of our team members is critically important, and by providing resources to support them, we were able to cultivate positive morale during a challenging time, which also created a better experience across the board for our clients.

Q: More and more technology leaders are being asked to lead change within their organization. How have you embraced this role within your organization, and what advice do you have for other leaders?

Alysse: Digital transformation comes down to leadership. CIOs and other technology leaders have to lead by example, and establishing a clear purpose and creating a culture that’s accepting of change and “failing fast” upfront can do wonders when leading through change. Team members and clients are looking to those in charge for reassurance and guidance as we all work to navigate change together. Consistent and frequent communication about your plans can help alleviate any anxieties or uncertainty your team members may have.

Leaders must also rethink the way their teams work. Change can be difficult and take its toll on your employees. Encourage your teams to take breaks and take advantage of the resources and support available to them. You should also consider adapting to different work styles and hours to accommodate your employees’ needs as they work from home — it isn’t just about building operational resilience, but also about supporting your team to build personal resilience and creating a culture of engagement and support for clients and teams alike.

Q: As we prepare for the post-pandemic world, what advice do you have for other CIOs and IT leaders?

Uzair: CIOs and technology leaders should integrate digital into the broader business strategy, not just treat it as another channel for communication. Digital can be used to enable all kinds of experiences, but it’s important to remember that people are still at the centre of client experience, and digital acts as a support for meaningful human interactions.

I like to think of digital transformation as a spectrum with high-tech on one end and high-touch on the other. Successful technology leaders can find the balance between these two to meet the diverse needs of their clients or customers, and employees.

Alysse: Working with the right vendors is also a very important part of digital transformation. CIBC is currently on a multi-year journey in rolling out our enterprise CRM with Salesforce. By partnering with a company like Salesforce, we not only have access to innovative technology, but also a team of experts to collaborate with, who challenge us to push boundaries.

As we look to a post-pandemic world, our team at CIBC will continue to balance speed, technology, business processes, and a constant focus on client experience to better serve our clients and teams – and keep building the bank of the future.

To learn more about how Salesforce Professional Services can help CIOs lead through change, visit our website.


Alysse Anderson is Vice President of Frontline Tools & Enablement at CIBC, a leading North American financial institution. Alysse is responsible for the strategy and delivery of the bank’s retail sales and advice platforms and their user experience, as well as servicing platforms for front line team members.


Uzair Hussain is Vice President of Client Relationship Infrastructure at CIBC, a leading North American financial institution. Uzair is responsible for the strategy and direction of the bank’s enterprise-wide client relationship programs, including CIBC’s enterprise Client Relationship Management (CRM) platform.