IT chiefs must start talking business

IT executives must learn to speak the language of business and stop being technology-focused and viewed as techies to keep their influence in the C-suite from diminishing. These were key takeaways of a panel yesterday on "Innovating to Meet the Next Wave: New technologies, New Strategies" at the CommunicAsia Summit.
Bill Chang, CEO of group enterprise at SingTel asked why CIOs are losing influence. Rather than having their roles diminished, "why can't every CIO also be the chief innovation officer, and why can't every CTO also be the chief transformation officer?"
If they don't innovate and transform, they look the same and have their services commoditized, he said. "There is huge opportunity and huge responsibilities for CIOs and CTOs to make a difference."
Chang suggests CIOs and CTOs move from thinking technology to being focused on technology-enabling business strategies.
Doug Farber, MD of enterprise Asia Pacific for Google Enterprise, cited figures from Gartner predicting that CMOs will be responsible for buying more technology than CIOs by 2017.
Erick Stephens, CTO APAC at Microsoft Public Sector, asked, "Did we ever have power?" IT people don't understand the language of business, he said.
"We are so techie. We talk about big data. What happens then is that we lose the opportunity to explain how technology is an enabler."
This ability, he says, will become very important in the future with cyber security as we move to more digital assets. Criminals will of course follow the money, and the money will increasingly be in digital assets.
"We need to understand that security is not only about technology. The CTO, CIO and chief security office are very important. But we're talking about risk - and who owns that risk, the CEO or the business side."
He said the IT side has to shift the conversation and shift risk to the business owners, "because they have to tell us the amount of risk, so we can manage what is possible with our resources."
Stephens emphasized that it's also important to understand that IT's role is key to giving management the right information that can impact the business.
"Business and governments are beginning to understand that if IT brings them the right information, how to use that to make decisions, because they have so many sources of data - and it's not really big data, it's huge data.
"The leaders that understand this will be the ones that move ahead faster. It can be a key differentiator."
Google's Farber pointed out that the consumerization of IT is a mega trend that is moving at light speed. People have a seamless consumer experience with applications and devices, but when they step into the workplace, they are often constrained by technology that is a generation old.
He noted that surveys show job candidates are willing to take lower salaries if they have access to the social applications they use every day in their personal lives.
Chang noted that there is a lot of opportunity to experiment with new business models. "The exciting piece of transformation is that business models aren't like in the past where you had to have huge capex. There is opex light, there is rapid deployment, there is dynamic IT."