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Toughest part of the CIO role? Lighting the spark that changes minds

Gail Evans, as Mercer's chief digital officer since June 2018 and in her former role as CIO, has been instrumental in developing a business model that will enable the HR giant to thrive in a digital economy. The firm's digital transformation journey, as she often refers to it, is moving forward on many fronts. Evans' projects include modernizing Mercer's large legacy footprint with a new Mercer OS and using AI technologies to optimize business processes.

In this video, shot at the recent MIT Sloan CIO Symposium, we asked Evans to talk about the leadership traits required of great IT execs today and to let us in on the toughest part of her job.

Editor's note: The following transcript has been edited for clarity.

The CIO role is front and center at the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium. What is the single most important trait needed today to be a great technology leader?

Gail Evans: In order to be an inspiring CIO, you must know the trade. You've got to really understand the core and emerging technologies today. It's a nonstarter if you don't. You can't sit in the corner office and dictate. You need to be in the game.

Leadership to me is being able to speak the language of the teams you will lead. If you're unable to speak the language, understand the tech and be a part of the party, then it's hard to gain the credibility of the technical team.

You also have to gain credibility with your business partners. You have to be able to build and strengthen relationships and take them on journey, because it's a journey for them as well.

[People in the CIO role] have two very big opportunities to transform the way the business will deliver technologies and solutions to its clients, and knowing both the business side and tech side will help you.

But mostly, though, I think you should have fun. If this is not something you are passionate about --because there are highs and there are definitely lows -- if you don't find that purpose and that passion and that fun [in the CIO role], it will be a difficult job. It will be a difficult journey, for sure.

Events like the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium highlight how critical the CIO role is -- in your case, the chief digital officer role -- in helping companies adapt to a digital economy. What's the toughest part of your job?

Evans: The toughest part of my job is when you see the bright spot in the future of applying the solution, changing the business model, and [you realize] it's a very slow process to change the minds and hearts of your people. That is definitely the biggest challenge.

You wake up every morning and you think, 'What can I do differently to spark [that change]?' Because all you need is a spark. Once you get that spark, you can run with it, but that spark is very hard to get sometimes.

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