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CIO or chief digital officer role? Why not both?

What is the CIO role in digital transformation? For Gail Evans, who, until June 20, was the global CIO at consulting firm Mercer, the role was two-pronged: optimize the consulting firm's core legacy systems and lead digital transformation efforts. In this video appearance at the 2018 MIT Sloan CIO Symposium in May, it's clear Evans wouldn't have had it any other way. Earlier this month, however, the firm saw otherwise, promoting her to the global chief digital officer role.

While she had not yet assumed the chief digital officer role when this video was recorded, Mercer sounded very much like the firm's digital leader: Here, she talks about building the "Mercer OS," a new agile operating system where business people are brought in as product managers, working side by side with technologists to deliver results at digital speed. She also stressed that when pursuing a new digital frontier, organizations must find ways to bring the core IT team along for the journey.

Editor's note: This transcript was edited for clarity and length.

Were you hired at Mercer to lead the digital transformation effort?

Gail Evans: Well, I was brought in as a CIO and then my CEO double-hatted me, and so I am now leading both. I am also optimizing the core. You can imagine over the years, we have many applications, but they are still very valuable. And so, we are thinking about what is digital-ready for our core, what does that mean and how do we go after the most important applications? We're landing in API management and really trying to figure out how do we connect value differently for our clients, because our clients are customers. At the end of the day, those are the people we need to ensure are getting value, a better experience, a better partnership to go on this [digital transformation] journey because they are going on the journey as well, and who better to take them on it than Mercer?

So, you are CIO and also taking on the chief digital officer role. Is there a clear delineation of duties between the two jobs?

Evans: I think it's a blurred line. Sometimes, when it comes to transforming a technology, it's a little blurred. But when you have the additional responsibility for revenue, for digital native businesses, that's where the separation occurs, right? And so we're looking at opportunities to figure out how we make that happen, because that puts me at a different place. Managing a P&L (profit and loss) or digital revenue business, digital native business is quite a bit different than a technology transformation.

But bringing them together, I think, in the beginning was the right move for the colleagues, because the colleagues see a journey that's not separated.

At first you have to build, like the Mercer OS, you have to build a capability that is Agile, that is continuous delivery that now you move from, 'Hey, I'll deliver that for you in a year,' to you can do it in six months. We have a few very large programs that we've transformed in that way, where the business becomes product managers and product owners and a scrum team and combine. All of that is very new. It is that operating model that we are replicating across the enterprise.

How do you replicate that new operating model across the enterprise?

Evans: Once you roll out a technology... -- a new set of technologies and a new skill -- everyone wants to be a part of it. But if you leave the core team behind, you create a separation. So, what they were challenged with is finding ways to apply Agile to their domain. You need to find a way to apply it. Hey, instead of writing a library, write a service and put that service on an API gateway and [embrace] reusability so the entire enterprise can take advantage of it. Everyone gets an opportunity to contribute. And that worked.

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