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Doom and gloom, the ‘attention deficit’ economy...and other CxO fears: Leadership interview with IDC Asean MD Sudev Bangah

AvantiKumar | July 14, 2017
Shortly after confirmation of his new role, IDC's Sudev Bangah told Computerworld Malaysia that, 'Operationally, Cloud will play an immensely crucial role for businesses, especially in reaching out to new target markets.'

Technologies Challenge (GraphicStock)

Credit: GraphicStock


  IDC has just confirmed that Sudev Bangah is now Asean managing director with a responsibility to lead the research firm's services in countries that include Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Malaysia.  
 For this first interview with Sudev - as IDC works hand in hand with Executive Networks Media (publisher of titles such as CIO Asia, Computerworld Malaysia, MIS Asia, GCIO Asia and so forth) to create a regional series of in-depth c-level events, I thought it would be especially useful - especially as we enter the second half of 2017 - to focus on some of the current challenges for CxOs in the region.[See - The Digital keys to successful Disruption: CIO Conference 2017 in KL]

Sudev Bangah (2017) IDC

Photo - Sudev Bangah, Managing Director, ASEAN, IDC

How do you see your new role and what are the immediate challenges you are facing?
[SB] I am very excited to be in this role, as the eyes of many countries and investors are squarely on the Southeast Asian region. It's easy to look up many different investment documents and polls around that have cited Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines as a top investment hub over the next few years. [See - MDEC points Malaysian companies to US$48 billion pie

The largest challenge will be keeping everyone's feet on the ground, while their heads are in the clouds - as it is easy to be swayed by theoretical returns and population numbers that might cause unrealistic expectations on quick returns, but if anything, it's going to take some stamina.
What issues should CxOs in Malaysia and ASEAN be focusing on at this time?
I think the messaging a lot of CxOs in Malaysia and ASEAN at large are receiving at this point have been overly 'doom and gloom', and this has caused a lot of them to either have a knee-jerk reaction to these messages or to forget the fundamentals that have brought success to their organisation through the years.

Talent seems to be the most focal area of discussion, and the retention of this talent to help drive the organisation to a new level in an 'attention deficit' economy has become more difficult.

This is where areas of Digital Transformation (DX) around Worksource Transformation becomes highly critical; creating and maintaining an innovative and collaborative environment, while not sacrificing the fundamentals of how the organization has achieved its success is key. [See - DX or How to thrive in the coming storm: IDC, MDEC launch CIO Survival Guide III]

I have come across one too many CxOs who have taken the 'doom and gloom' message as a way to toss everything out, and try to do things from scratch.
Inadvertently, this is how they are met with resistance and change management issues within the organisation. There are steps to be taken to address this competitive landscape, and it has to be systematic in its approach. There's a need to focus on what has brought them success to this point, what has to change to get them further, who needs to be around to get it done, and finally how to embark on a systematic journey to achieve it.
Is DX continuing to mainly drive IT investment in the region - and what other barriers are CIOs in particular facing in the region regarding IT budgets?
The shift towards DX spending is inevitable. The ASEAN region (sans Singapore) has close to 80 percent of IT spending focused on hardware. [See - This is how Malaysia's ICT industry will transform in the next three years: IDC ]

But in looking towards 2020, we are seeing a fundamental shift towards services and a maturing of understanding towards how these different Innovation Accelerators such as IoT, Robotics and Cognitive solutions can play a role in enhancing their business in the future.

The barriers to moving faster into this has been the lack of specific teams in driving these initiatives within the enterprise, leading towards a non-measured manner of implementation of these projects that ultimately yields 'zero' returns.

While we do recognise some larger conglomerates who have started to look towards an implementation of a proper DX roadmap, however, majority of organizations have been very adhoc in implementation, and with no yard stick to compare against, these projects are quickly being called out as 'failed' before it is given a chance to succeed. The evolution is on-going, and the eventual linkage between business and DX projects will lead towards more IT budgets being loosened in the near future.
So, which emerging technologies should be prioritised by business leaders in the region and why?
Operationally, Cloud will play an immensely crucial role for businesses, especially in taking care of escalating cost of operations, and as well as reaching out to new targets markets.

IoT within certain verticals such as the Public Sector; Smart Cities, Hospitals and Transportation. Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality will change the shopping experience in retail, and Robotics in hospitality. Finally areas such as robotics/AI and analytics for the BPO industry, especially call centres in increasing first-call resolution rates, and the financial sectors adoption of analytics will be key areas till 2022.
What's your view of digital security management: have you found when talking to customers across the region that security is receiving enhanced priority at board level?
Security has had an up and down prioritisation over the years. We've seen it within the top 5 spending areas of CIOs for a couple of years, and see it drop to top 10 a year later. It tends to bounce up and down as a key 'spending area' every couple of years.

However, it is without question, the TOP area of concern for almost every organisation we speak to. It's just slightly odd that the concern somewhat does not correlate with the spending trend when it comes to budgets!

Security has always unfortunately taken a back seat to many other 'sexier' projects. As more use cases of breaches increase, so does the priority of it on a board level - but it's still the easiest thing sacrificed on the chopping block.
Let's talk about Digital Malaysia: what do you see as the top achievements so far and what more needs to be tackled?
Digital Malaysia has continued to place Malaysia squarely in the Southeast Asian map as the IT trend setter for the other countries to follow.

It's no secret that many countries across the SEA region looked towards Malaysia when building their National ICT blueprint and roadmap, and we saw evidence of that early on when the MSC Malaysia initiative was kicked into full gear.

he caution here is being overly excited and not being focused on the ultimate agenda. We saw a bit of that in MSC Malaysia, that while the focus had evolved, the initiative become too diluted at trying to resolve too many issues at one go.
Digital Malaysia has won the headlines again in the region, as it plows ahead with well written initiatives, but the execution will be key. Digital Malaysia will need to strike a balance between being nimble and excitable over the many fast-paced changes in the world today. [See - Deep Dive into Malaysia's Digital Economy with MDEC CEO Dato' Yasmin Mahmood - Part 1 and Part 2]
Keeping its attention and focus will be key; development and retention of talent, driving a formidable eCommerce marketplace, driving actual adoption of IT within SMEs that impacts bottom line, creating sustainable startups by nurturing a collaborative ecosystem and helping traditional enterprises evolve to stay competitive - ultimately these are some the areas while conceptually the strategy was designed to address, still has quite a bit of way to go before some cheering can be done.
Within the current economic operating environment, do you think Asean's ICT potential is slowing down recently?

It's not so much a slowing as it is a shifting.

We see that many enterprises are being slightly choosy on their projects now, and tend to ruminate slightly longer when they do want to embark on a project.

Compared to 10 years ago, there are more resources and sources to tap on to gather information to make educated decisions on the type of projects they want to embark upon and the results they would like to achieve.

This may cause what can be seen as 'delays' in project execution, but ultimately it's a more targeted approach to spending on IT. Consumer IT spending may have slightly slowed, but the sheer number of 'first time buyers' in the region is enough to keep it at a pace. Most countries in Southeast Asia are looking at a single digit IT spending growth towards 2022. Again this isn't so much as a 'slow' as it is a 'shift.'

For some other recent local articles about Digital Malaysia and IDC insights, see:


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