Philippine CIOs see 'traditional mindset' as biggest hurdle

Country's IT heads express frustration over reluctance of both employees and business owners to fully embrace technology in the workplace, which remains entrenched in doing things the old way.

Despite technology's role in driving the local economy, particularly in the outsourcing sector, IT heads in the Philippines are frustrated that both business owners and employees are still reluctant to fully embrace technology in their organizations.

Top IT executives of local enterprises told ZDNet Asia that introducing new processes and concepts remain a challenge unique to the country where most businesses are still "traditional" in the way they run their operations.

"By and large, enterprises in the Philippines wait around for other aggressive players before they adopt certain processes, concepts and technologies," said Michael Lim, CTO of software development company, Exist Global.

"This is one of the reasons why our competitiveness, as far as IT capabilities are concerned, persists as being less advanced [when compared against] regional counterparts such as India," Lim said in an e-mail interview.

Alan Bornas, senior vice president and head of the technology management group at government-owned Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP), shared the same view and added that there is a need for local managers to appreciate the benefits of technology.

According to Bornas, an effective CTO is someone who is not only knowledgeable in IT but also has the ability to communicate with and convince stakeholders to use technology. Successful IT heads should also be able to help others in their organization understand emerging technology so everyone can contribute to the company's growth.

He pointed to the fast turnover rate of IT personnel as a major problem because most skilled employees do not stay long enough in the Philippines, choosing instead to work overseas where there are more attractive offers.

"Aside from the fact that we still do not have a sufficient skilled labor market, we're also competing with foreign demand," Bornas said in a phone interview.

Even for a populous country such as the Philippines, human resource appears to be a major concern. To address this challenge, open source vendor, Orange & Bronze, tries to harness the core competencies of its employees.

CEO Calen Legaspi explained: "Our CTO and our team of software architects need to try out different emerging technologies as they come. As much as possible, we try to avoid assigning managerial or otherwise non-technical work to these people so that they have the time to take different technologies for a spin."

Identifying most suitable technology
According to the IT executives, there are no specific technical skills required for CIOs to be effective in their job.

For Bornas, managerial skills are more important as well as the ability to discern the best technology strategy best suited to meet the needs of the business.

Jerry Rapes, president and CEO of Exist Global, said apart from the regular requirements such as having strong technical skills and experience, a CIO or IT head should also be adept in managing change in the organization.

"Advancements in technology come very fast, therefore, the ability of the CIO or IT head to discover, adapt and implement the right technology path is very critical," Rapes told ZDNet Asia.

Orange & Bronze's Legaspi added that he expects the company's CTO to pick the right technologies and methodologies and ensure that skills are passed down to the rest of the organization.

Bornas noted that CTOs should be able to contribute to a company's bottomline by increasing revenue through the use of technology, streamlining operations, launching new products and services faster, and leading the company's transformation.

Alex Eckelberry, president of GFI, said foresight is a crucial trait of any CTO because the IT head's job entails seeking out the right technology for an organization. The U.S.-based antivirus software maker recently expanded its global R&D center in Makati City.

"I expect my CTO to make sure we're ahead of the competition and that we're prepared in advance for other [emerging] platforms and technologies," he said.

Melvin G. Calimag is a freelance IT writer based in the Philippines.

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