Next-gen CIOs are empowered to innovate (CIO Asia 2)

Recently I had an opportunity to write series of blog articles for CIO Asia magazine. I am posting those here since sometimes after a while these articles become unavailable from the publisher’s main site. Here is a link to the article,


Read Suhas Kelkar’s earlier blog: The innovative role of the Asia Pacific CIO.

Earlier this year, I saw an interesting article in a major business publication. It said that the position of the chief information officer (CIO) will disappear from the business landscape in the next five years. The same article went on to say that cloud computing and other technology trends would be at the heart of this demise, because of the way technology has dramatically changed the way organisations invest in and consume information.

In today’s competitive business landscape, smart businesses run lean and senior executives are under pressure to adapt and take on new responsibilities to remain competitive. CIOs can no longer be satisfied with simply “keeping the IT lights on”. CIOs must demonstrate value creation for the business.

Based on my experience at a recent CIO roundtable event in Kuala Lumpur, the common thread throughout all the discussions was the chasm between technology trends and the concerns of discerning CIOs.

The Freedom of Choice
For decades, vendor lock-in has been one of the fears that businesses, large and small, has faced. This concern has existed for a long time at various levels: hardware, platform components, and operating systems.

At the roundtable, several CIOs highlighted the importance of retaining the freedom of choice — in platforms, solutions and technology — without getting locked into a particular hypervisor. Although there have been many efforts to drive homogeneity in enterprises through consolidation and reduction of choices at some levels, new drivers in the form of integrated systems, mobile devices, and public clouds have emerged, creating a hyper-heterogeneous enterprise environment.

Vendor lock-in frequently occurs when a company purchases a proprietary solution that only one vendor develops and supports. This means that as long as the same company intends to use the same solution, it must go through the same vendor. If the vendor decides to change their licensing policies, vendors have these companies at their mercy.

This serious concern amongst CIOs, about vendor lock-ins, resonated with me. My organisation has always been an advocate of providing solutions that help businesses meet their both business objectives, and empower CIOs with the freedom of choice. We believe in complementing other services, and does not have an agenda which places preference around particular types of technology or platform.

The million dollar question
If there’s one question that’s been asked most often throughout my career, it’s the question of value versus cost of technology. As the pressures of IT budgets continue to increase, coupled with technology trends such as cloud computing, big data, social media, and the ‘consumerisation’ of IT, CIOs in Asia Pacific are facing similar challenges of articulating and justifying the value of a particular solution beyond mere costs.

I have had CIOs share with me, that making progress with tight IT budgets is no longer their top concern. Instead, the top priority for CIOs is to keep pace with the growth of their businesses through strategically leveraging technology. One CIO made a very insightful comment that CIOs should focus on value creation rather than cost minimisation.

CIOs need to look at becoming a strategic partner in the process of creating innovative solutions for the business. I have seen many wonderful examples of organisations doing so and in the process, pave a path for future success.

For example, one of our customers, a very large pharmaceutical and medical devices company, recently developed a device that enables consumers to test their own blood sugar levels. These devices seamlessly connects to a smart phone application that analyses the readings against medical benchmarks, provides recommendations, and even sends out notifications to your doctor. This is a perfect example of leveraging IT to innovate and extend business reach and impact.

BYOD — bring your own disaster?
Do a Google search on technology trends and you’ll most likely come back with results that run in the several thousands. As more employees expect their enterprise to support their own smart devices, CIOs are under tremendous pressure to deliver. In fact, this looks to be a trend that will only grow in popularity and CIOs will need to develop a cohesive strategy to not only cope with it but to maximise the opportunities.

One CIO mentioned that he was cautious to adopt various solutions due his lack of understanding of the benefits and risks in each one. He even went on to equate BYOD to “Bring Your Own Disaster”. Again, we’ve taken steps to address this important trend through our Mobile Device Management solution that keeps up with the demands of an increasingly mobile workforce.

Freedom to innovate
Earlier, I referred to an article that predicted the death of the CIO. Based on my interactions at the roundtable event, it was evident that there were a lot of questions and concerns around various technology and platforms.

Against a reality of constant and rapid change, especially in the field of IT, it would be futile for anyone to predict the next wave of dominant technology trends for businesses. CIOs therefore need the flexibility to be able to nimbly steer their companies towards dominant trends that can best add value and improve business competitiveness.

The role of Chief Information Officer needs to evolve into Chief Innovation Officer, a role that will prove very strategic for taking organisations to the next level.

Today, no one can deny that the role of the CIO has strategically evolved from setting up IT to value creation. For CIOs who are too quick to dive deep and get locked into homogeneous platforms, I believe that demise isn’t too far away. For those who think different, and think nimble, the role of the next-generation CIO has only just begun.



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