James Henderson

IT departments have an image problem, time to rebrand?

The market is crammed with literature bemoaning how IT departments continue to fight for business relevance and respect – an ongoing and somewhat ironic battle to prove worth despite organisations now blindly embracing technology en masse.

Such complaining isn’t helped by countless CIO surveys based on questions created 20 years ago, generating the usual type of stagnated insights and analysis in the process.

In the early 2000s, CIOs were evolving into business-focused IT leaders. Some two decades later in 2023, CIOs now want to play a strategic leadership role that transcends IT.

This is an industry – dominated by product obsessed vendors and media – continually focusing on substance and obsessed with the “tangible benefits” and “business value” created. Sure, that’s important but given the apparent lack of progress, perhaps the solution isn’t substance, rather style?

“Today, more and more organisations are rebranding IT departments to create a better image and partnership between technology and business,” observed Brian Veau, an established CTO with more than 15 years of global experience.

Brian Veau (Credit: Anne Valluy Photography)

Take L’Oréal as a leading example. The largest and most iconic cosmetics company on the planet is focused on becoming a Beauty Tech powerhouse.

Such ambition extends to HAPTA as the world’s first hand-held computerised make-up applicator and combining the power of 3D printing with the emblematic Flowerbomb perfume bottle. Also, leveraging neuroscience to provide personalised fragrance advice through YSL Scent-Sation, an in-store experience which premiered at the Dubai Mall in late 2021.

All delivering “tangible benefits” and “business value”. But driving this innovation is a rebranded IT department, now at the forefront of the business and lightyears away from its traditional ‘cost centre’ roots. Brand is important and in the case of IT, rebranding is now imperative to shed damaging age-old stereotypes.

“One achievement I’m most proud of is that I managed to build that trust between the business and the technology department,” Veau added.

French-born and Singapore-based, Veau speaks with authority on this topic with extensive experience operating at the bleeding-edge of innovation within fashion and advertising industries.

Namely, over eight years shaping the technology strategy of Louis Vuitton in Singapore, Paris and New York and more than seven years as regional CTO at Havas across Southeast Asia. Prior to this, he held technical roles at Peugeot Citroen, Nokia Siemens and ATR International in France and Japan.

“I became the business partner that organisations finally listened to,” he noted. “Whether that’s finding solutions or motivating my team to go beyond what is expected to learn more and perform more.”

Tellingly, pointed out Veau, this achievement is not fully in sync with what is traditionally perceived as CIO or CTO success – projects completed, solutions deployed etc. But that’s all table stakes in today’s game.

“This is not only about savoir-faire but more on ‘know-how-to-be’,” Veau referenced.

Translated as ‘know-how-to-do’, savoir-faire advocates the capacity for appropriate action and smoothness in social situations. For Veau however, technology leaders must now also ‘know-how-to-be’.

“I have witnessed the CIO role slowly finding its way to the top table alongside senior management in business as a true partner delivering improved communication and faster decision making,” he explained.

“This is a great step and mature organisations in Asia are now accepting that CIOs can understand both the business and the market – we are moving away from the clichéd perceptions that IT departments have been carrying for decades.”

According to Veau, IT departments must reframe thinking and approach to strengthen connection levels with the wider business. Yes, combining technical capabilities with business value is mission-critical but so is communication.

“The CIO is becoming a sponsor for change, we are accountable to bring business and technology awareness as well as the need for agility and resilience,” Veau shared. “This is as well as building a team that can translate business requirements to technology solutions and the other way round without any headaches.”

Surfing the wave

The role of a modern-day CIO is no longer limited to understanding the key trends shaping the market – “this is necessary but not enough”.

Instead, Veau outlined the importance of adopting a visionary position of authority within the organisation, evangelist in nature to persuade management and stakeholders that turning technological potential into market reality can provide compelling returns on investment.

“Be a successful risk taker,” he advised. “We are in the middle of a new type of market race in which each stakeholder is looking over at their close neighbour or competitor and waiting to see who will start first.

“Don’t be last is the culture today and as a CIO, we have to ensure our business surfs the technology tidal wave at the right time. We can’t miss the opportunity to become a market leader.”

New technologies means new skills, stability and security however. In Singapore and Southeast Asia, businesses are building out data strategies anchored with privacy, control and profit in mind – strategies which require “rock solid” implementation. Plus the agility to deliver at speed and within the frameworks of market regulations.

Meanwhile, cloud investment in Asia Pacific is outpacing key geographies across the world as the region increases enterprise spending in both established and emerging markets.

Signalling a collective step-change in approach, nations with varying levels of maturity are recognising the potential of either accelerating or embracing cloud-based solutions and services – spanning public cloud, private cloud and hybrid cloud environments.

According to new data from Synergy Research Group, enterprise spending on cloud infrastructure services approached US$65 billion worldwide during the second quarter of 2023, up by $10 billion from the same period last year.

Representing the third successive quarter in which the cloud market grew by $10 billion compared to 2022, global year-on-year growth rate totalled 18% during the three-month period. This was down in comparison to the 19% in the previous quarter and 20% in the fourth quarter of 2022.

Notably for Asia Pacific – and when measured in local currencies – Australia, China, India and South Korea stand tall as crucial engines for growth with each reporting “well over” 20% year-on-year growth in spending during the second quarter. All four nations outpaced global market growth during this period.

“Cloud is obviously still growing in Asia and CIOs must continually analyse what environments the business should be running on,” Veau added.

Spanning software-as-a-service (SaaS), platform-as-a-service (PaaS) and infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) solutions, Veau said forward-thinking CIOs are transforming ageing applications to incorporate data analytics with the aim of improving reporting tools and improving decision making processes.

“And when combined with artificial intelligence [AI], these technologies are bringing businesses alive in new ways,” Veau said. “Mix both together and businesses are benefiting from AI-powered cloud services, whether for security, supply chains, CRM or healthcare – the use cases are endless.”

“Let’s look back on this conversation in 10 or 15 years time and see how much technology has evolved because we’ll have new market leaders in 2038 that don’t exist today.”


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