This content is part of the Essential Guide: 2015 MIT Sloan CIO Symposium guide: Digital disruption
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The digital CIO's dilemma: Balancing efficiency gains and innovation

Peter Nichol, one of the CIO Leadership Award Finalists at the 2015 MIT Sloan CIO Symposium, knows firsthand how strategic the CIO role has become in the digital age. As head of IT at Access Health CT, Connecticut's health insurance exchange, he implemented the organization's digital strategy, leveraging software as a service and launching a mobile app to ease the insurance registration process.

In part one of this three-part interview, Nichol talks to site editor Francesca Sales about the digital CIO's challenge of finding a balance between driving efficiency and innovating amidst digital transformation. 

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Let us know what you think of this story; email Francesca Sales, SearchCIO site editor.

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Transcript - The digital CIO's dilemma: Balancing efficiency gains and innovation

I'm going to jump right into the big topic of the conference, which is digital disruption. As you know, businesses are facing this wave of digital strategies that are disrupting traditional business models, sometimes even rendering them obsolete. How are you and your business dealing with this new wave?

Peter Nichol: Fortunately, we're kind of on the edge of technology and really leading a digital initiative across the exchanges. For Connecticut specifically, a lot of what we've done with our teams over the last year is try to position our businesses to be digital-based and really leverage software as a service, the flexible and elastic infrastructures that enable a faster speed to market and faster delivery. We've been fortunate that we're on the cutting edge and we are some of those disruptors.

I think part of the challenge is, as we look across other industries, trying to figure out how do we continue to innovate and stay competitive? Part of it is we try to become more efficient, but with efficiency we remove variability, and … that removes our ability to innovate. So, by the very nature of trying to be more efficient, we're kind of losing our ability to innovate, and part of the challenge is how do we build teams that are effective and can continually leverage and innovate and change and continue to disrupt the markets?

Can you go into a little bit more detail about how you're balancing those two things?

Nichol: Sure. It starts off with good people, right? There's a funny saying that there's no technology problems, there's only people problems. I think that you have to be a technologist and you have to understand the digital capabilities to be competitive and understand other industries that could impact yours, but you also have to have a very good grasp on digital humanism and how you're leveraging values and ideals to inspire people inside the organization to grow and be organic. That's really a part of changing the culture.

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