Asia's IT agenda for change

How have the status of IT departments and their power to influence changed over the past decade, and what lies ahead for them?

commentary When I started my IT journalism career in 1995, most Asian trade publications carried tech news that revolved largely around the vendors, their technologies and products.

By 2000, the focus had somewhat shifted to the companies that bought and implemented IT. The industry suddenly realized the real value of IT was about the application and the benefits it brings to the organization implementing it, rather than the technology per se.

Overnight, reporters had another important goal: to cover IT from the perspective of the buyers or IT decision makers. Interviewing IT directors about their latest IT projects, lessons learnt and budget woes, became almost as important as speaking to the technology vendors about their strategies and product launches.

Today, IT has moved up the business agenda and found its way into the boardroom.

In Asia, a growing number of IT department heads have distinguished-sounding titles like chief information officer (CIO) or chief innovation officer embossed on their business cards. And for most of them, it's more than a fancy job title.

Joining the rest of their organizations' C-level elite, these IT head honchos sit in boardroom meetings and enjoy greater access to the top management such as the chief executive officer (CEO). Depending on the organizational structure, some CIOs have equal influence as, say, the chief operating officer (COO) and report directly to the CEO. This speaks volumes of the CIO's growing influence in the overall business.

There are several other examples that reflect IT's growing influence and status:

  1. Tech news have made front-page news on major daily newspapers.
  2. A CIO has an equal chance, as a COO or CFO, at becoming CEO.
  3. IT is seen as the change agent or catalyst for business transformation.
  4. IT is the engine of growth for Asian economies, such as Singapore and India.
  5. IT has spurned new industries, such as digital media.
  6. Ministerial speeches describe subjects like IT innovation, wireless and the Internet as disruptive technology.
  7. Computer geeks are "in" and many young students are inspired to become successful technopreneurs like Microsoft's Bill Gates or Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin.
  8. Logistics companies want to be known as supply chain management (SCM) companies. They don't just move boxes; data and information have become the lifeblood of the business.

But just as IT has grown to become pervasive and highly influential, claims of its ability to improve a company's returns on investment, service levels and bottom line, have resulted in IT being put under the microscope.

But just as IT has grown to become pervasive and highly influential, claims of its ability to improve a company's returns on investment, service levels and bottom line, have resulted in IT being put under the microscope.

According to a Gartner report last October, as technology becomes more critical to a company's ability to run its routine operations and fulfill its strategic goals, IT's contribution will come under greater scrutiny. Businesses that master the art of exploiting technology to their advantage will enjoy success, but those that fail will put the blame on technology.

Gartner also predicted that by 2011, IT's contribution will be cited as one of top three success factors by at least half of the best-performing businesses, while IT barriers will be cited as one of top three failure factors by at least half of the poorest performers.

This trend will have a major influence on IT leaders and the role and organization of IT, according to the Gartner report. The research company went on to predict that at least 75 percent of IT organizations will change their role and 10 percent will be disbanded by 2011.

"A new organization is emerging--one that will take the lead on information and process," said John Mahoney, Gartner's chief of research for IT services and management. "While IT will grow from an IT base, the primary focus of the new organization will be business transformation and strategic assets of information and process. When mature, it may no longer be identified as an IT organization."

Looking to IT's future
So, what's in store for IT between now and 2011? There is still has a long way to go for IT departments.

For one, there is still much to learn, improve and share, particularly in Asia. Although more IT case studies are now being discussed in public, we need greater dialogue and exchange of ideas. Sharing experiences--successes and failures--help increase IT service levels and deployment standards. This also helps raise the level of professionalism and grow Asia's community of IT professionals.

A great catalyst for this is to introduce some kind of industry-wide recognition of success stories in the industry today. I believe this will also help spur greater IT innovation in Asia.

It is time we acknowledge the outstanding contributions of IT innovations in Asian businesses, and give the companies and their IT departments the recognition they deserve.

To kickstart this momentum, we've launched the ZDNet Asia Smart50 Awards 2006--the industry's highest accolade recognizing the top 50 organizations in Asia that have implemented IT to drive business efficiency and innovation.

We'll also be handing out special awards such as the Public Sector Technology Project of the Year, Financial Services Technology Project of the Year, Supply Chain Management Project of the Year and Communications Project of the Year.

We're also giving you the opportunity to nominate Asia's CIO of the Year and SMB of the Year for 2006.

In today's corporate world, individuals and companies have to rely on their ingenuity and innovation to stay--and succeed--in business. Therefore, winners of the ZDNet Asia Smart50 will no doubt exemplify the entrepreneurial spirit and leadership in balancing economic aspirations and creativity--the key ingredients of success.

So, don't wait--nominate today! It's time IT departments are noticed for other reasons other than when something goes wrong.

Isabelle Chan is senior editor of ZDNet Asia.