CIOs need to look at more than just their own company’s IT systems, but how the wider ecosystem contributes to the business. Source: Shutterstock

Shifting focus: CIOs need to understand more than just IT

DIGITAL transformation impacts everyone in the way they work. This is especially true for the Chief Information Officers (CIO), who are typically tasked to oversee and implement these changes.

Traditionally, CIOs are in charge of ensuring the IT systems of an organization works smoothly to facilitate business operations.

Today, CIOs are required to expand their scope beyond the organization – they have to understand the entire digital ecosystem, including technologies from other industries.

This was highlighted in Gartner’s latest CIO Agenda, an annual report geared towards helping CIOs navigate the changing digital landscape.

“Top performing CIOs are typically people who take the lead in adopting new and emerging technology. They are willing to evaluate and experiment,” Adrian Lee, Research Director at Gartner, shared with Tech Wire Asia in an exclusive interview. “Not only do they seek input from within their business and stakeholders internally, the good CIOs are sharing this across industries.”

In Southeast Asia, CIOs are split on what their priorities are. Gartner found that while Malaysian CIOs are focussed on growth and market share, their peers in Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines, and Thailand (Gartner refers to them as VIPT) tend to be more focused on IT performances.

This is vastly different from global top performers – where most are focused on digital transformation.

Generally, across Southeast Asia, CIOs are expecting job functions to change by next year to include digital transformation efforts using data and analytics.

However, there is a disparity in the expectations and actual work that is done – many of them are still tied to IT performances. In fact, CIOs in VIPT spend on average 98 hours per month on IT functions.

This issue becomes exacerbated by the fact that Southeast Asia is being hit hardest with a talent shortage. Although in the short term, companies can use external service providers to backfill the shortage; but it’s not feasible as a permanent solution.

“Strategic IT function should be kept in-house as much as possible,” Lee suggested. “Purely relying on a third-party service provider isn’t sufficient for your needs.”

He advised CIOs to delegate operational IT tasks to subordinates, in order to dedicate more time in executive functions. Rather than an IT executive, they must learn how to lead like a business executive.

“To truly own the role, you need to not only have a seat at the table. You must have more involvement with executive leadership tasks,” he said. “CIOs should focus on business priority and shift IT from a support role to a growth-oriented and growth driving function.”

It is important for CIOs to extend the scope beyond the enterprise, to explore opportunities in the digital ecosystem.

Lee drew on the example of retailers. Today, retailers have to ensure their digital platform speaks to existing infrastructure, while also managing warehouse and inventory, as well as understanding last-mile fulfillment in different countries.

Although these are not traditional areas typically undertaken by retailers, brands are responsible for overseeing the entire ecosystem and ensuring these operations work well with each other.

“The key thing to emerging tech – it’s about experimentation and scale. That’s a luxury but you can experiment in a very small scale now because emerging tech typically are cloud distributed and well productized, so you can test in a sandbox before going live,” Lee commented.

However, he warned that not all projects are sustainable; it is important that projects can be self-funded to capture value for the organization. “Projects and don’t fund themselves, don’t go live and can’t scale,” he noted.

He added that technology deployed should focus on transforming products and services, ideally in a customer facing function. They should also help accelerate the business rather than just for optimizing operations or cutting cost.

Ultimately, CIOs need to embrace growth and be open to learning about new technology areas and be proactive in deploying emerging technology. IT should drive business operations and add to the bottom line, not become a cost center.