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Lean and mean

Lean and mean

Lai Kim Fatt looks into his crystal ball for 2006.

CIO Asia: What is the role of the CIO in an organization?

Lai Kim Fatt: To me, the key role of the CIO is to exploit the relevant use of IT to better achieve the organization's business objectives. Depending on what stage your organization is in, the CIO's role will vary from an organization that is struggling to survive, and one that is competing successfully, to one that is ahead of most competitors in the same industry.

I subscribe to the book titled "The new CIO Leader" by Harvard Business School that a leaner Information Systems organization, or in short "IS-Lite", may be suitable for organizations that are struggling to survive due to limited budget, so that you have minimum in-house IT resources and use much external cheaper resources to support your IT needs.

As for organizations in the other two categories, the CIO may need to set a clear vision for IT investments. The next step is to align the IT strategies to support the organizational business objectives and needs. Proper corporate IT governance is necessary to prioritize IT investment according to business drivers. To lead your competitors, CIOs in those leading organizations may need to lead in the organization and business transformation initiatives and programs.

CIO Asia: How have you seen that evolve in your tenure as a CIO?

Lai Kim Fatt: I see more CIOs coming from the operations domain or functional units rather than pure IT professionals. Even the CIOs who are groomed from the IT function have picked up sufficient important business domain knowledge to add value to the organization's decision making and broad directions.

More organizations are practicing cost reduction, trying to achieve more outcome with less budget. You can do so if you have lots of fats, but many organizations have already been operating on very lean budgets after many years of cost control. CIOs need to find a good balance between what are critical capabilities that they need to keep in house, versus those they can outsource to a good external partner to meet their service level agreement to your in house customers.

CIO Asia: Has the role of CIO seen specific changes in 2005 and what do you anticipate could happen this year?

Lai Kim Fatt: CIOs generally tend to be more tactical than strategic, looking at various means to cut cost, and to push more mundane tasks out to external vendors at the lowest cost possible. This way of operations could impair overall IT capability and systems if continued.

CIOs need to be more proactive and involved in major projects, working together with the implementation teams (be it in house or external vendors) to identify and manage risks. I saw quite a lot of failures in large-scale IT projects where the CIO and his IT staff are not able to stay on top of issues, leaving it to the end users to drive and change requirements as they please.

In any hiccup, there is bound to be fault from both users and IT implementation teams, so a spirit of "give and take" will enable the project to move forward. In all scenarios, CIOs will need to be good "peace-makers" who command respect from both the users in the organization as well as from the implementation team.

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