From Backroom to Boardroom: CIOs Driving Growth in APAC

As technology facilitates deeper customer connections and evolves as a business enabler, the role of the chief information officer (CIO) is increasingly being recognised as central to strategic development and growth.

Across APAC, CIOs are stepping out from behind their mainframes and into more frontline leadership positions – a trend that is only expected to grow. In a survey of 200 APAC CIOs conducted by software developer VMware, more than 60 percent of participants agreed they would become key decision makers for corporate strategy and head a profit centre by 2025. Further, 56 percent of respondents expected to become CEOs within the same timeframe.

“The days of shouldering all the responsibility for employee operational productivity, system uptimes, and the functioning of the office network are over,” says Nigel Dalton, a social scientist at global software consultancy ThoughtWorks. “New CIOs need to be allies of the strategy team, planning mergers and acquisitions with the same energy they used to plan interoffice network topologies with their telco.”

Customer data masters

Damian Madden, an Australian-based technology adviser and keynote speaker, says all businesses are digital businesses, but the truly innovative and customer-centric are driven to become data businesses.

“As a CIO, you are going to be responsible for the systems that hold and monitor customer data, so you need to take a leading role in transforming your business from a digital business to a data business,” Madden says.

According to Adobe’s “2020 Digital Trends Report,” APAC marketers said optimising the customer experience is their top opportunity for 2020 (and that was even before the pandemic hit). Nearly one in five respondents (19 percent) said a focus on the customer is their key opportunity for business success in the year ahead.

“Customer interactions are achieved through these mediums, so CIOs can push businesses from the inside to adopt a more innovative and technically creative agenda,” Madden says.

Dalton agrees and articulates the key function of the CIO in strategic planning. “Explaining what is possible through the strategic collection and connection of data sources, building partnerships for data exchange, and applying that insight to new product development and innovation is the main job of CIOs in 2020,” he says.

Organisational problem-solvers

Mark McGregor is the head of strategy at Signavio, which develops business process management software. McGregor has observed the changing role of the CIO at both his company and other organisations. He points out the capacity for CIOs to work with teams to address challenges and difficulties within an organisation as a means of gaining influence.

“Successful CIOs now know they have to move from managing IT systems to managing business outcomes,” McGregor says. “They need to invest their time in listening to business colleagues, understanding the pain points and issues the business is facing, and start to suggest alternatives.”

“The more the CIO focuses on addressing pain points, or maximising opportunities that the business teams see and face, then the more they will be seen as a valuable asset.” — Mark McGregor, Head of Strategy, Signavio

In his former role of CIO at digital advertising company REA Group, Dalton observed this shift in focus to business outcomes in relation to customers as a marker of success.

“Through spending time in the field with customers and being an ally of the sales organisation, technologists could learn more about the problems to solve,” Dalton says. “Technologists who care about the quality of their product in the eyes of customers are unbeatable. The new frontier for CIOs is joining forces with their executive colleagues by providing a ‘new’ outward focus in areas such as data science, tech-driven innovation, and security.”

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