IT at work: A brief look into the head of an IT head

The IT head of an investment corporation in Malaysia, is tasked with driving the application of IT to help the corporation achieve its business objectives. This veteran head of IT declines to be identified, but what he shares are pearls of wisdom that can be applied by his peers in any industry.

Of significance also is his decision to go with an outsourcing model, and how this route leaves his internal IT organisation free to focus on learning and understanding the business.

Below are the questions EITN poses to him and the responses he has to share with other IT organisations in Malaysia.

EITN: Can you share about the top 3 areas where your business uses IT?
Answer: Automation of processes, ensuring data integrity and compliance and integrating IT into a smart city

EITN: How does IT help you achieve business objectives?
Answer: Besides the normal “keep the lights on” process, there is also a monthly agenda to update on new technologies. We use these sessions to align business needs with new technologies, and where there is interest, we then dive deeper and explore new initiatives.  IT is also often roped in to assist with business process improvement initiatives. This is a continuous process and takes up close to 20-percent of IT resources.

EITN: What are your views of current trends like cloud computing, social media mobile-first, big data and analytics?
Answer: Cloud computing is definitely here to stay and it’s an excellent way for companies to leverage on economies of scale. This has become more interesting with the cost of Internet connectivity coming down.

Mobility and social media will continue to be important mediums and traits for communication and business and even more so when the cashless society takes form.

As for big data and analytics, I believe the hype will come down but there will be key activities that will continue with minimal human intervention in the background and powered by machines and artificial intelligence.

We are largely a B2B company and so social media tends to take a back seat. We do however, have a subsidiary in the B2C business indirectly, and so social media is slightly more active there mainly to highlight activities and events, and as a support for our partners.

We are on Microsoft Office 365 and are looking at further cloud solutions now that Internet prices are coming down.

EITN: How important are these new technologies to your business?
Answer: Cloud, big data and analytics are important. For Cloud, it’s about operating expenditures and data accessibility. Big Data and Analytics are relatively low in maturity here due to a lot of silo workings in the country. This will be more important when data and information are more transparent and integrated. Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality will also become important technologies for the real estate/ construction industry.

EITN: What are the challenges of heading IT for a business in the local Malaysian industry?
Answer: The cost of new technologies is the biggest concern and the first mover advantage is essentially non-existent. Hence, timing the investments to leverage on new technologies is quite key.

As the majority of IT equipment and solutions are imported, the health of our currency is also a key challenge. The other usual challenges like security and compliance affects businesses all around the world.

EITN: How big is your IT organisation?
Answer: We consist of six internal staff but we run on an outsource model, so all operations are outsourced including application development and support.

EITN: Why did you opt for the outsourcing model?
Answer: There are 3 related factors here.
a) The rate of technology change is very fast and as we are not a technology company, the number of ICT staff is kept minimal. So the question is how do we deliver a good service which includes the ability to understand and match new technologies with the business
b) for staff to be able to do their work right, they should be trained on the new technology but staff who are well-trained tend to be in demand and leave quickly. So do we train?
c) There are many facets of IT from networking to operating systems, backup, applications, hosting, security and so on and so forth. How much can we train?

The answer for us is to deliver through partners that can train once and apply to many customers, have different groups trained and can internally synchronise and collaborate to deliver an end-to-end solution to the customer and have the right internal mechanism to ensure that attrition is well managed so that skills are not lost and knowledge acquired in trainings are not gone.

Outsourcing with the right partner enables us to leverage on the partners’ economies of scale to more efficiently and effectively deliver ICT operational services while the internal ICT staff can focus on better understanding the business and delivering more appropriate ICT solutions to the business.

EITN: Do you have any TOP tips when it comes to outsourcing your operations? What are your criteria for selecting an outsourcing partner, how involved are they when it comes to innovation?
Answer: There are a few key things that I look for when running through an exercise involving outsourcing.
1) Can they meet our operational KPIs which involves intimate knowledge about IT operational processes?
2) Does the company have the right culture  – training, accountability, customer focus, security, etc. and how does the management of the company deal with its staff?
3) Right focus – are they more concerned about the customers’ successes or dollars and cents?

For us, my philosophy is that we should be looking for the right outsourcing partner and not the right outsourcing vendor. Similar to a new hire, attitude and capability are more important than achievements. From this, we expect the partner to also share and provide insights into new technologies or new areas that they are exploring. It’s ok to do a proof-of-concept together and for both parties to better understand the technology and its applicability to our environment.

EITN: Could you share your business and IT roadmap for the next 3 years?
Answer: Due to the industry and economic situation, the focus will be on conserving capital and incremental operational improvements.

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