This time last year, our State of the Asian CxO survey results showed a brightening trend that seemed to have cleared some of the gloomy clouds that had formed in 2011. This year's results, although still presenting a more or less similar trend in general, show some bright sparks in some areas, particularly where disruptive technologies are prevalent.

Like last year's, the 2013 State of the Asian CxO survey also spanned across seven countries, namely Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines and India.

First off, a bright spark for the year: the IT budgets indicated by the respondents this year again show a rising trend (see Table 1). Last year, 54.9 percent of respondents said their budgets would be increased, while 34.8 percent said theirs would remain unchanged, and 10.3 percent said they would decrease their budget for 2013.

That touch of optimism could likely be attributed to the better economic outlook for this year, considering that the threat of recession happening in Europe and the U.S. has somewhat abated. Nonetheless, organisations still remain wary of their own performance for the rest of the year, which again will depend on how the regional markets perform.

Table 1: Your IT budget in 2014 will ...

Be increased

63.8%

Be decreased

11.6%

Remain unchanged

24.6%

   

Next, let us look at the technology concerns of CIOs in the region (Table 2).

Table 2: Top technology priorities

2012

2013

Mobility/wireless

Business continuity planning

Business intelligence

Business intelligence

Business continuity planning

Mobility/wireless

Integrating/enhancing existing systems & processes

Integrating/enhancing existing systems & processes

Business process optimisation

Business process optimisation

   

As far as technology priorities are concerned, the same old issues still remain on the top of the Asian CIOs. While last year's key concern was with mobility and wireless, this year so far has been keeping CIOs busy with business continuity plans, chiefly because of the maturing cloud computing models that we have been seeing developing over the last two to three years. No longer is cloud considered an emerging technology; it is now a viable platform for some industries to seriously save some costs in terms of service deliveries.

Coupled with maturing service models and knowledge on the part of the providers, the early adopters are beginning to see the fruits of their cloud ventures, although some industries like the financial services and healthcare sectors are still hampered by compliance issues to fully embrace the cloud evolution.

Business continuity planning hence now plays a bigger role, in that CIOs are looking at ways and means to co-locate, or at least tap on public clouds to ensure some form of disaster recovery at lower costs. Vendors are also beginning to be more transparent with their offerings by going for certification and audit to show that are more willing to share their "trade secrets" in order to win new customers.

Business intelligence, and that includes business analytics and the tidal wave of Big Data, is still one of the top five priorities. Clearly, this area is likely to see a lot of changes and challenges are organisations grapple with exponential data growths, and new thinking to derive deeper knowledge out of the whole data deluge. It is an area that requires a new kind of skill sets, particularly in the area of statistical analysis and modelling.

According to a recent survey commissioned by storage solutions vendor EMC in Hong Kong, more than one third of Hong Kong enterprises do not have plans to implement Big Data technology despite their recognising its benefits. The company conducted a poll in July with 133 registered participants of Hong Kong's EMC Forum. The poll results indicate 83 percent of IT and business executives agree that big data will lead to better decision-making. Many also recognise that big data is the key to becoming industry winners (45 percent) and achieving competitive advantage (31 percent), while 51 percent agree that the technology helps protect their businesses by identifying and preventing cyber attacks.

Therein lies the dilemma: vigorous statistical analyses in the form of business analytics is a goal many organisations are aiming to achieve but success will depend largely on finding the right skills to unravel the statistical morass piling up in data silos.

How are we doing?

How busy have the Asian CIOs been so far this year? If Table 3 is any indication, the picture should be quite clear. CIOs are still very much involved in planning and strategising for their organisations. Perhaps they are doing this more than before, as they are required to deal with not just IT-related issues but also those that span across the entire company. In fact, spending time interacting with other senior executives and business counterparts has become one of the top five priorities. This is because of their facing pressure from other non-IT departments who probably are circumnavigating the IT department to have things done, or worse, implementing their own IT solutions without the prior knowledge of the CIO office.

This is entirely possible. With the commoditisation of IT and the ease of procuring cloud services, some departments are likely to take their own route to rapidly adopt usable tools without subjecting to cumbersome approval procedures done in the conventional IT procurement process.

Table 3: Top five activities where you spend the most time

2012

2013

Strategising and big picture planning

Strategising and big picture planning

Interacting with vendors/outsourcers/service providers

Budgeting

Designing/optimising business processes

Interacting with your company's CxOs and business executives

Budgeting

Leading projects

Leading projects

Interacting with vendors/outsourcers/service providers

   

Table 4: Are you a member of the executive team?

Yes

69.6%

No

30.4%

   

Nevertheless, CIOs do call the shots, as can be seen in Table 4. Almost 70 percent of respondents claim they belong to their executive teams. While they may be in positions of power, perhaps they should be spending more time not just communicating and exchanging ideas with their peers from various business units but also to close ranks with their superiors too.

Management issues

Two years ago, the top management priority was about aligning IT and business goals. Today, and just like last year, this is still very much the top concern of CIOs in Asia. In fact, the pressure to ensure that is alignment is felt even more strongly, as non-IT departments are already challenging the traditional role of the IT department, long the domain of the CIO, in procuring and utilising IT for their own purposes. In the grand scheme of things, such unilateral decision-making might not be acceptable to senior management but CEOs today has begun questioning the very role of the CIO in helping their organisation to grow as quickly as they can.

What went wrong? Disruptive technology is to be blamed, shouldn't it? Depending on who has your ears, the answers will be varied no doubt, but the gist of the matter is that, consumerisation of IT, coupled with mobility and the BYOD trend, is causing a lot of pain to the once well protected and well guarded wall of the IT department. At the very top, bring your own device route has an immediately gratifying effect on the powers to be, to be able to remain in touch at all times through their mobile devices wherever and whenever they are.

Interestingly, business continuity and risk management have climbed one notch up, compared to last year's findings. This is largely due to the risk exposure brought about by BYOD and mobility plans organisations have forced upon the IT department which now has to struggle to ensure the walled garden of security is not breached by increasing freedom other departments seem to enjoy more and more by the day.

What about the case for enterprise architecture? Again, the big deal is in coming up with one that can accommodate urgent but reasonable requests from top management while keeping processes under control so as not to be exposed unnecessarily to risks.

Underlying all this is again the need to improve on processes in the pursuit for higher efficiencies all round. This priority seems to be a perennial one, since that is what traditional IT is perceived to bring to the table.

Table 5: What are your top five management priorities?

2012

2013

Aligning IT & business goals

Aligning IT & business goals

Controlling costs

Business continuity/risk management

Business continuity/risk management

Controlling costs

Improving internal customer (user) satisfaction

Enterprise architecture

Process improvement

Process improvement

   

CIOs live an exciting life, judging from the challenges they face in their jobs. If Table 6 brings you a message, it has to be this: the role of the CIO needs to change to suit the new organisation. The top challenges are completely different from last year's (except budgets), and this essentially signify the difficult task CIOs face in ensuring that IT will still tick like a clock as before, yet malleable and flexible enough to meet drastically different demands coming from all angles.

Take proving the value of IT for instance. It's an old issue but given today's context, the value of IT has to be its adaptability to suit the needs of not just traditional IT users but also the businesspeople who want to be as close to their customers as possible. IT has to be seen as an enabler to help drive the business, not just for ensuring processes run like smooth silk.

Perhaps more perplexing is the issue of proving ROI on deployments like BYOD or Big Data, where risk management on the one hand poses great difficulties, and the dearth of analytical skills makes it hard to see where the money should be put. And on top of all this, the pressure to keep costs down, or worse, a tightened budget caused by funds flowing into non-IT departments.

The question about the lack of key technical skill sets with IT is another tough nut to crack. Technical training, especially in software development and project management, is widely available, yet CIOs continue to face a shortage of qualified personnel to join the IT department. Part of the reason perhaps is the changing outlook of the younger generation of workforce entering the IT profession. No longer keen to commit to long hours of training, they often lack the attention span nor the tenacity to stick around a job for long to gain the necessary experience for more rewarding jobs further down their IT career.

But who is to blame for unrealistic expectations of the IT department? As mentioned earlier, accessible technology is easy to procure and adapt, even without the blessings from the CIO. The perception gap is bound to grow wider so long as the IT department does not pander to demands from business or other users who want to possible improvements disruptive IT can bring.

Table 6: What are the five biggest challenges to your effectiveness in your role right now?

2012

2013

Increasing complexity of the business environment

Difficulty proving the value of IT

Difficulty in achieving IT integration

Pressure for cost management and reduction

Overwhelming pace of technology change

Inadequate budgets

Risk and uncertainty due to volatile economic conditions

Lack of key technical skill sets within IT

Inadequate budgets

Unknown/unrealistic expectations from the business

   

What do the CIOs have to say? Table 7 lists their five biggest concerns, and they are not surprising. At the top are the unrealistic expectations from superiors and possibly from their peers too who hold on to the belief that the CIO should be the one to enable possibly anything they want. CIOs too have to shoulder the blame to some extent, since they see increasing complexity of the business environment as a concern. They shouldn't.

Table 7: What are your five biggest concerns about your specific enterprise role right now?

Unrealistic expectations of my ability to further cut costs

Increasing complexity of the business environment

Inadequate budgets

Difficulty in achieving IT integration

Overwhelming pace of technology change

 

Close below these top five concerns are two others: the lack of executive teamwork and sharing of responsibility, and risk and uncertainty due to volatile economic conditions. Executive teamwork is possible only if there is good understanding of one another's roles--an issue that the CIO has to address. As for accountability, project sponsorships are a way to assign ownership and accountability, but this will again rely on how well understood are all the parties concerned in implementing a project to full success.

Table 8: What are the key roadblocks to IT's involvement in innovation at your organization

2012

2013

IT execs are involved too late in the decision making process

IT execs are too busy maintaining existing systems and infrastructure to innovate

The corporate culture does not give enough responsibility to IT to innovate

IT execs are involved too late in the decision making process

IT execs are too busy maintaining existing systems and infrastructure to innovate

Inadequate opportunities for IT to communicate innovative ideas

Inadequate opportunities for IT to communicate innovative ideas

The corporate culture does not give enough responsibility to IT to innovate

Lack of C-suite confidence in IT's ability to generate ideas and to innovate

Lack of C-suite confidence in IT's ability to generate ideas and to innovate

   

What hinders the CIO's path to success? Table 8 tells more or less the same story as last year's, except that the IT people are seen as being too busy to care about innovation. Again, given the plethora of issues they have to tackle--BYOD, security, mobility, consumerisation of IT--not to mention the push to keep costs down by migrating to cloud services, CIOs can hardly be blamed for not giving others the time of day.

The good news is, late involvement in a key decision-making process has come down a notch, and that augurs well for CIOs' more intimate relationships with their peers and superiors in the whole flow of things.

On the flip side, CIOs are also spurred on to excel by different factors. Table 9 lists five. Interestingly, interaction with other senior colleagues and business unit leaders is cited as the top catalyst to success, while interest in new technologies is a natural fuel to the CIOs' interest in all things IT. Only 15.9 percent say their CEOs are the ones directly aiding them forward.

Table 9: What is the primary catalyst for the IT department's most successful ideas for innovation?

Interaction with CxOs and business unit leaders

49.3%

New technologies

18.8%

Directive from CEO

15.9%

Industry or market forces/trends; competitive pressure

11.6%

Interaction with external customers

4.3%

   

The view ahead

Last year's survey was the first time participants were asked about cloud computing in the enterprise space. Table 10 lists the progress CIOs have made in their cloud journey. More than 40 percent of respondents said they would be adopting cloud solutions, since some divisions within their organisations are already cloud-enabled. Still about a quarter of the respondents are holding out on adopting cloud, perhaps because their businesses are of highly regulated nature.

Table 10: At what stage do you think you are at in the adoption of cloud solutions within your organization?

I will be adopting cloud solutions as some parts of the organisation are already using such solutions

41.2%

No plans to adopt cloud solutions at present

23.5%

I believe I am an early adopter and I am leading the organisation's adoption of cloud solutions

22.1%

Many parts of the organisation are using cloud solutions and I will be adopting cloud solutions

7.4%

Everyone - as cloud solutions are now common across the organisation

5.9%

   

Table 11 shows some agreement with the earlier findings on the challenges faced by CIOs and the reasons behind them. The cloud revolution has obviously been an impetus for CIOs to look for more efficient hosting solutions, while business intelligence and analytics remain high on the priority list. Mobile computing is the other, as can be seen with the disruption BYOD trend brings to enterprise IT.

Table 11: Which three technologies/solutions are you under the greatest pressure to implement?

1.

More efficient hosting solutions

2.

Big Data solutions like business intelligence and analytics

3.

Mobile computing for tablets and hand-held devices

   

Lastly, Table 12 shows the impact of social media on the enterprise. Not surprisingly, no one is denying the potential that it can bring to enhance the image of the organisation and its brands but legitimate concerns still abound. Security is still number one, and the potential adverse impact social media might bring due to misuse is also another major concern. As for staff productivity, that could be a double-edged sword, as any restriction to access to social media during office hours might backfire.

Table 12: What are your top three concerns in the use of social media (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, blogs) within your organisation by staff?

1.

Security

2.

Staff productivity

3.

Corporate branding

   

Conclusion

This year's survey has taken a slightly different path from the previous ones. As can be seen, cloud computing, social media, disruptive technologies have all contributed to the reshaping of the CIO's role which is increasingly perceived as less "IT-focused" but more "business-friendly", if that is the right term to refer to taking a bigger stake in how business should be IT-enabled.

So, given all the signs shown in this survey, the Asian CIOs and CxOs are likely to be facing another challenging year ahead, albeit a little more exciting and more rewarding--if and only if they could be sitting at the same table, seeing eye to eye with their counterparts and solving problems together.

Next year's survey will have another interesting story to tell. Definitely.