COVID-19: Challenges and opportunities for CIOs across Southeast Asia
By Aarthi Raghavan | April 13 2020, 3:20 PM SGT
Southeast Asia has seen a very diverse range of strategies to control the COVID-19 pandemic. Many countries have imposed a lock down due to public health concerns which has turned the situation into a great disruptive force. It is believed that every organization will face severe economic impact as a result. In addition to the huge losses incurred by firms, several industries will have to wait till 2021 to start operations.
Interestingly, this situation offers a unique opportunity for Chief Information Officers (CIOs) across the region to turn the disruption into an opportunity for growth. Following are some of the key recommendations that firms can adopt:
Clarify business strategy to better anticipate opportunities and threats
It has been observed that nearly one-third of the CIOs in the region believe that their organizations are resilient to disruptions. However, these firms lack experience in coming across major disasters, such as the one that we are facing today. Hence, business strategy remains a key area that firms need to work on. Surveys suggest that although most CIOs in the region are willing to take risk, they are unable to anticipate disruptions. They face internal challenges pertaining to forging a strong CIO and CEO relationship, providing clear and effective leadership, having a clear and consistent overall business strategy, making disciplined IT investment decisions and articulating a clear and consistent vision to employees, consumers and partners.
CIOs in Southeast Asia face severe cost pressures and weaker consumer demand. They also struggle to maintain their cost structures due to rising wages in the region and an increasing consumer base. Although CIOs are willing to take risks for long term growth, they find it difficult to anticipate opportunities and threats and hence are less agile. Firms should make use of this time to build trust with their stakeholders, which will increase their capacity for business continuity and help demonstrate their capability. Business strategies should provide actionable guidance on how to achieve the targets that firms have set for themselves and be consistent in their approach.
Gain a deeper understanding of emerging technologies before making investment decisions
Emerging technologies will have an impact on IT investments. Firms can make use of used cases toolkit to start conversations with CEOs regarding strategic investments. In addition, CIOs should also think through the evolution of new technologies while they plan their investments. Cybersecurity, artificial intelligence (AI) and robotic process automation are among the top 3 emerging technologies that can be considered. In addition, some of the game changing technologies include data analytics, AI and machine learning (including XaaS ). It is also a good opportunity to invest in cloud technologies which is seeing rapid growth in the region.
Firms should accelerate their data and analytics maturity to generate better insights. It is also essential to test how well-prepared firms are for disruptions. Data-for-good program can be channeled to develop better data analytics strategy and to drive better outcomes. It also helps the organization to enhance its digital resilience. Making data analytics the center piece of their strategy and using it in unique ways across the organization can guide firms to better invest and inculcate emerging technologies.
Address the digital maturity divide in Southeast Asia
Digital maturity is in advanced stages in countries like Singapore and Malaysia, however it is only starting to move in other emerging parts of Southeast Asia. Firms can thus expect higher than average increase in their IT budget. CIOs need to monitor market changes, job situation, and budget diversification between communication services and IT services.
Due to the impact of COVID-19, GDP of Asia-Pacific economies will be lowered by nearly 1% this year. As a result, it is necessary for CIOs to build agile support for new business models and ecosystem partners, while also enabling the enterprise to navigate change, and foster change of culture in IT. It is thus recommended that firms should enable new business models (digital business models) to increase their resilience.
In general, IT strategies of firms should follow an optimal blend of analog and digital. This is the time when they can plan to take their organizations ahead of the pack. Since a lot of IT outsourcing is shifting due to lockdowns in China and India, it is a great time for countries like Vietnam and Thailand. It is expected that firms will be forced to reevaluate their strategy across this region as more disciplined IT investments will be required.
The article has been prepared based on information shared as part of Gartner webinar titled 2020 CIO Agenda: Southeast Asia Perspective by Adrian Lee.
 XaaS refers to ‘anything as a service’
Image credits: ZDnet