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Does Asia Get IT?

Tony Young, CIO in Hong Kong

I recently returned from China and Hong Kong after having met with several CIOs, media and analysts, as well as delivering keynotes focused on customer centricity. When I return to the US after traveling, I’m often asked about the state of IT in the geography I was just in. I’ve been to both China and Hong Kong several times over the past few years, and from my perspective, IT is maturing at a very rapid pace in that region.

During prior trips to Asia, it felt like the old days of data processing. I would speak with senior IT leaders and they were more concerned with the “blocking and tackling” of IT, and not looking at how IT can provide a strategic competitive advantage. Specifically in China, IT leadership was comfortable scaling by applying people to the problem rather than using commercial software.

In Beijing, we had over 200 senior IT professionals attend a half day session on customer centricity, i.e. how to leverage information by implementing solutions for maximizing the value of critical customer, channel and product data. This makes a material difference for customers. These were some of the richest conversations I’ve had with IT professionals over the years. They were concerned with topics such as master data, data governance and how to influence the business.

So, does Asia get IT? Absolutely! My conversations over the years have rapidly morphed from data processing to how IT can provide a competitive advantage. My conversations have gone from infrastructure to the strategic use of information.

I had the opportunity to meet with a petro chemical company that employs over 600,000 employees. They have over 100 instances of SAP and six hand coded instances of Master Data (MDM) for six different data domains. Why were they interested in meeting? They realized they had a scale issue. Despite the abundance of available labor, they could not innovate or manage the infrastructure they built and were struggling to keep up with the pace required for the business to succeed. To my surprise, they even build their own data quality routines rather than integrating commercial software. This company realizes that having trusted data at the point of need to whoever needs it is critical to their success. They realize they cannot scale with additional labor, but must leverage commercial software to grow.

I met with a leading analyst who covers Greater China. This person described the role of the central government in technology investment. They have key technology initiatives and local governments vie for funding by presenting a strategy to pursue the initiative. Centers of excellence are emerging in those focused on carrying out these technology initiatives. From my Silicon Valley point of view, it seemed like the Chinese venture capitalist model.

In the US, my counterparts seem more interested in “do more with less” and to some degree strategic IT. When I travel to Asia, it’s evolved into strategic IT, not doing more with less.

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