Asia Pacific CIOs face digital leadership challenges

Cloud clearing the way for CIOs in Asia Pacific region to be business change leaders.

CIOs in the Asia Pacific region need to become more strategic if they are to ensure that enterprise IT plays a leading role in the digital transformation of major businesses. Across Asia, the CIO role lags behind that held by technology leadership peers in Europe and North America, but the adoption of enterprise cloud computing is providing CIOs with the tools they need to be seen as business leaders and not just an internal IT service. 

In just two years' time half of the gross domestic product (GDP) in the Asia Pacific region will be digitally generated, says technology analyst house IDC. "2020 is the year where we will see the emergence of a new breed of digital disruptors," says Sandra Ng, Group Vice President for ICT Research at IDC Asia Pacific. She made this statement in late 2019 and wasn't to know that the region would be the first to experience the impact of the global Coronavirus pandemic. All regions have seen an increase in digital demand as a result of the pandemic, accelerating a trend Ng and IDC had already identified.

Just as in Europe and North America, Asia is experiencing demand for digital methods. Succeeding with CIO led Digital Transformation, a global report of 950 business technology leaders by IDC found: "Four in five survey respondents say business demand for digital initiatives and capabilities is on the rise. Yet only 40% of enterprises have a long-term company-wide strategy in place to coordinate and focus initiatives, and CIOs will be driving less than half of those."

"They don't have time, so the line of business is not going to wait," says Shanker Das, who was CIO for the fast food retailer Domino's in Malaysia and Singapore. "The pace of digital transformation required to catapult the business into the digital world is fierce, so sometimes CIOs are not able to compete," he says of the region. The CIO, who also has experience in the Middle East adds a note of caution: "When business units and functions lead transformation, compliance, governance and security become an afterthought rather than part of a framework." 

Lily Haake, Head of the CIO Practice at global technology recruiter, Harvey Nash disagrees: "Historically, some may have viewed the CIO role in Asia Pacific as being behind the curve of Europe and the US - perhaps leveraged more often as a service provider rather than a strategic business-enabler. However, our research suggests that technology investment in APAC is set to be a driver of growth in 2020." She adds that CIOs in the region are 12% more likely to receive an increase in budget than their peers in other regions.

The IDC study backs up Das' experience and reports that IT teams are not well placed: "Less than 30% of enterprise IT departments meet the IDC criteria for being considered business partners," it says of a global study. "Around 60% of enterprises struggle with technology enabled agility, making it difficult to keep up with industry expectations. They also struggle with creating technology driven experiences across physical and digital customer touchpoints."

The IDC report though, believes that CIOs in all markets should be taking the lead on digital transformation. "Orchestration must be central to digital leadership and how to handle the emerging complexity," Succeeding with CIO Led Digital Transformation reports. 

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