SunTrust CIO: Your CDO is an ally, not a threat

Anil Cheriyan explains why the CIO and CDO complement each other on a digital team
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CIO Ying Yang

There is a notion believed by some that if a company brings on a chief digital officer it indicates that someone else isn’t doing his or her job. I wholeheartedly disagree. In fact, I think hiring a dedicated digital leader is in line with the ongoing evolution of what a CIO should be doing. Creating this role is a great way to deepen business alignment and build better experiences for clients. Here’s how we have made this relationship an asset at SunTrust.

Last year, we created a position for head of enterprise digital and payments to provide each of the businesses with strategic guidance on our overall digital journey and to direct where we need to be heading. The position was developed to also handle enterprise coordination, ensuring we have a common, shared set of capabilities – such as digital alerts, payments hub, UI, UX, etc. – and administer the digital investments we make across the enterprise.

[ For more on CIO career paths, see our related article, From CIO to CTO: My transition, with Aptean's Jenny Peng. ]

Before bringing someone into this role, digital was a core group under our consumer segment, but it wasn’t confined there. We had digital capabilities sprouting out in all other parts of the business in response to competitive pressures across the digital technology landscape. We saw the opportunity to better control and coordinate these efforts and build common utilities. And, capitalizing on this opportunity required a key leader to articulate where each of the businesses should be going, and then work with them to deliver.

"As digital became increasingly important to our core mission, the need for additional leadership also became apparent"

As digital became increasingly important to our core mission, the need for additional leadership also became apparent. Without this function to unite various capabilities in each segment, the client experience would have started to suffer. Each of our digital experiences would have a different look and feel, different capabilities, etc. Yes, we would have eventually brought all of those experiences together, but we recognized the need for leadership in digital at an early stage. 

SunTrust’s continued transformation into a more digital-focused bank has benefitted from the addition of a leader and a team to build a defined roadmap with a prioritized set of client journeys, capabilities, and shared componentry. With that in place, anyone can look at the investments in our transformation into a digital bank under one umbrella.

Rather than thinking of a digital leader as a threat to anyone else’s leadership, we think of this role as the encapsulation of what it means to be digital at SunTrust. Our digital leader and team is bringing all elements together, from UI and UX on the top end, segment-specific transactions in the middle, all the way through the ways in which we work with our clients, whether they’re consumer, commercial, private wealth, or mortgage.  

As a result, we’ve been able to have more revenue generation conversations with the business. We’re able to talk about digital in the context of the client experience, their journey, and how they interact with our products and services. And we’re talking about how our world and business is changing in direct response to the digital ecosystem.

These are conversations that CIOs need to be having, and bringing on a dedicated digital leader can provide you with an expert and ally in those discussions.

Anil Cheriyan
Anil Cheriyan is Cognizant’s Executive Vice President, Strategy and Technology. Overseeing all aspects of Corporate Strategy, Global IT and Global Security, Anil is responsible for Cognizant’s strategy, alliances and business development, and for strengthening the company’s global IT and security capabilities.