How to break the CIO mold — and become a business leader

CIO, reinvent thyself: Here’s how forward-thinking tech leaders are shedding the back-office order-taker role to become bona fide digital business leaders.

How to break the tech exec glass ceiling

Like at many companies, Aflac’s IT department used to be focused on quick wins and proving it was making a difference. Until the day CIO Julia Davis was asked by CEO Dan Amos to implement a system for paying claims in one day as a competitive differentiator. 

The idea was doable, Davis replied, but not right away. “We had 20 number one priorities, and I said it would take 18 months. Needless to say, he didn’t like that answer,’’ she recalls. Then came a phone call from Amos asking her to have lunch. “We have an expression in the south, and that meant I was getting called to the woodshed,” she says.

While driving to meet Amos, a lightbulb went off, and Davis realized that “I have to get rid of all the noise. I can’t have 20 number one priorities. So I said to him, ‘I can do it for you, but I need your commitment to make this the number one priority for the business’” with all of her peers in the C-suite.

Amos did, and IT delivered the project in five months. Since it was deployed in 2015, Aflac’s One Day Pay initiative has paid out over two million claims in one day through its proprietary SmartClaim online submission process. For Davis, it was the project that catapulted her through the so-called glass ceiling and cemented her place as a valued business leader at Aflac.

Meet the CIO of 2018. Davis is one of a new breed of CIOs who are proving once and for all that not only can they transform their organizations to digital businesses, but they are transforming themselves as well. In the process, they are putting to rest the age-old perception that IT is a cost center that exists to keep the lights on as its leaders are increasingly becoming more integral members of the business.

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