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Study: Asean CIOs more aligned to biz, CEO priorities

update Compared with global peers, CIOs in Southeast Asia share more business priorities with CEOs, new IBM study finds.
Written by Jamie Yap, Contributor

update SINGAPORE--Compared with their global peers, CIOs in Southeast Asia are more closely aligned with the priorities of chief executives and the corporate strategy, according to new region-specific findings under IBM's 2011 Global CIO study.

Conducted between October 2010 and January 2011, the study consisted of face-to-face interviews with more than 3,000 CIOs worldwide--out of which 168 are from Southeast Asia--across organizations of all sizes in 71 countries and 18 industries. The global results of the report were released earlier in May.

Nearly seven in 10, or 68 percent, of all organizations interviewed ranked technology as "totally critical" to business success, but CIOs were also aware of the priorities that CEOs have, IBM said Wednesday. In that aspect, IT heads in the region scored higher than the global average in terms of how aligned their priorities are with the CEO's mandate in three areas: Gaining insight from data, developing employee skills, and strengthening customer relationships.

The priorities of Asean CIOs were most closely aligned with their CEOs in the area of business insights--the region's IT chiefs scored 89 percent, compared with 79 percent globally. In the area of workforce skill development priorities, the similarity between CIOs and CEOs in Southeast Asia clocked in at 79 percent, 13 percentage points higher than the 66 percent globally. When it comes to strengthening customer relationships, the alignment of business and tech leaders stood at 76 percent, while that of their global counterparts was 71 percent.

Giuseppe Bruni, strategy and transformation lead at IBM Global Business Services, Asean, who discussed the findings at a briefing here Wednesday, explained that since Asean was one of the emerging growth regions surveyed, it was likely that CIO respondents there experienced greater direct involvement and leniency in IT investment decisions with their chief executives. The CIO and CEO in Asean "simply see each other more often", he said.

In comparison, in the West, including Europe and North America which were affected by the earlier recession of 2008, IT decision-making has shifted back to the CFO, and CIOs are told to "check back with the CFO", he added.

He also noted where there was close alignment of priorities between the CEO and CIO among the survey respondents, the "mutual understanding" went both ways. Just as CEOs now realize that technology is fundamental to overall business success, CIOs have become more mature and business-savvy, he said.

The study found that business intelligence (BI) and analytics were unanimously the top priority for the next three to five years for CIOs worldwide, as indicated by 88 percent of Asean CIOs and 83 percent globally. Bruni attributed this to a convergence of emerging trends.

Data is increasing in volume and importance for companies today, and there is wider availability of tools and bigger appetite from enterprises to mine such "big data" to gain better insights, he said.

Stick to what is deliverable
Bruni emphasized that any successful CIO must clearly identify what they will focus on and prioritize, then communicate and define that focus to the rest of the business to ensure consensus. And they should do this before embarking on the company's IT roadmap, he said.

With a clearly-defined mandate or mission, CIOs are committing to what they can achieve, rather than over-committing to new projects and implementations and falling into the trap of not being able to deliver afterward, he pointed out.

"Stick to what you can deliver," he said. "You have to hold your course [but also] allow flexibility."

According to Bruni, there are four types of CIO mandates based on how any given company views the role of IT and how IT should support and enable the business. These are classified as "leverage", "expand", "transform" and "pioneer".

Under the "leverage" mandate, the CIO concentrates on basic IT infrastructure and optimizing IT fundamentals to maximum organizational process efficiency, he explained. With the "expand" mandate, he said the CIO prioritizes refining business processes, such as customer relationship management (CRM), and improving collaboration.

The "transform" mandate indicates that CIOs look outside their own organization to focus on bettering customer, supplier and partner relationships with technology, while CIOs with the "pioneer" mandate seek to use IT to radically change their company's products and services, or its own business models.

Some 48 percent of Asean CIOs reported adopting the "expand" mandate, according to the study. Mirroring the alignment of IT-CIO and business-CEO priorities, Bruni said these Asean IT heads were focusing on enterprise-wide IT optimization for the best possible integration and effectiveness.

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