Puneet Bhasin, EVP, Global CIO & Chief Digital Officer, Unum Group: Measuring and Delivering Value to the Business

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One of the top focus areas for CIOs and business technology leaders is delivering value to the business, according to research conducted by HMG Strategy with its 500,000+ practitioners.

As part of this, it’s critical for business technology executives to not only measure and track the value that IT is delivering to the business but also to be able to effectively communicate this to the CEO, the Board and other stakeholders.

HMG Strategy Founder and CEO Hunter Muller recently spoke with Puneet Bhasin, EVP, Global CIO & Chief Digital Officer at Unum Group in an HMG Spotlight interview about his approach to delivering value as well as his perception about the differences between the CIO and CDO role.

The following is a condensed version of their discussion.

Hunter Muller: Puneet, great to see you again and congratulations on being named as a 2023 HMG Global Leadership Institute CIO of the Year.

Puneet Bhasin: Thank you Hunter. It’s a pleasure to be here, and it’s always great to talk with you.

HM: We’ve been studying visionary leadership for some time, but in these highly innovative and highly disruptive times, being a visionary leader and demonstrating visionary leadership is more important than ever. Talk to us about your leadership style and what’s working for you now.

PB: I have always believed that you need to adapt your leadership style to the company you work for, the different situations at hand, or the problem that you are trying to solve. Many talk about different leadership styles – whether it be visionary leadership, collaborative leadership, a coaching style, an autocratic approach, or command and control – whatever it may be; what I fundamentally believe is that you need to adapt your style to the issue that you are trying to address or the specific problem you are trying to solve.

HM: Great insights, Puneet. Working with the CEO and the board is critical, and I’m sure there are a lot of lessons you’ve learned over time. Talk to us about those.

PB: The critical lesson I have learned is there has to be alignment, and it has gotten much, much better over the last several years. In the past, there was always this notion that the IT department and the business were two distinct entities. Having alignment with the company’s strategy, goals, priorities and objectives is most important.

If you think about it, historically IT was measured by projects that were delivered on time and on budget – to me, that is table stakes.

What’s more important is the value that we are generating. This value could be a growth objective, a productivity mandate, or a customer experience goal. It is all about realizing value from IT initiatives. Alignment comes from driving customer engagement, improving customer service, finding new avenues for your products, growing geographically – and most importantly, managing the change associated with it.

What I find is that whether it’s the CEO or the Board, you have to make sure that you have the execution and delivery fundamentals in place. Once you have that, then you can focus your efforts on all the other things that I talked about. That is what builds the relationship between the technology or digital leader and the CEO and Board.

HM: Well said, Puneet. You know, being both the CIO and the CDO have different implications. What does it mean for you at Unum?

PB:  I haven’t figured out all of these titles, and it seems like they are always changing. I couldn’t tell you what a CIO does versus a CDO versus a CTO versus a CDIO or whatever else.

But if I were asked to make a distinction, I think the distinction between a CIO and a CDO is to what extent is the individual externally focused – on building experiences, driving growth through existing customers or adding new customers, building platforms, and building new products. This is what fundamentally  distinguishes a CIO from a CDO in these highly innovative and disruptive times.

HM: Interesting. Where are you focusing your investments?

PB: We are primarily focused on two specific areas in our innovation strategy. One is digitization of our operations, and the second is building analytical tools that are AI and ML based, and now include Generative AI. We are embedding AI into almost every technology solution that we are building.

Puneet Bhasin will be a featured speaker at HMG Strategy’s 2023 Houston CIO Executive Leadership Summit on November 16th. To learn more about the Houston summit and to register for the event, click here.

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