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Hong Kong's leading CIOs of 2011

Stefan Hammond and Chee-Sing Chan, Computerworld Hong Kong | Aug. 17, 2011
With papers such as Nicholas Carr's "IT doesn't matter," there was a time not so long ago that media reports were circulating claims that "CIO" stood for "career is over."

Overall "CIO of the Year"
Joe Locandro, Director of Group IT, CLP

Winners for "Outstanding Achievement"
Sunny Lee, Executive Director of IT, Hong Kong Jockey Club
Daniel Lai, Head of IT, MTRC

With papers such as Nicholas Carr's "IT doesn't matter," there was a time not so long ago that media reports were circulating claims that "CIO" stood for "career is over." While the doubts around the significance of IT have subsided, the role of the CIO has if anything gained in importance.

With the need to manage growing consumerization, the surging cloud computing wave as well as the ever growing risk and threat landscape, CIOs are now being tasked to advise the business on how best to navigate these major changes while keeping the business on a safe path towards growth.

This trusted advisor role is where all IT leaders should aspire to but the path is far from easy as many of Hong Kong's IT elite will testify.

In an effort to acknowledge the skills of this elite, three of Hong Kong's IT leaders were recognized for their excellence at the first Hong Kong CIO Awards program organized by Computerworld Hong Kong and CIO Connect.

Joe Locandro, director of Group IT at CLP was named the overall "CIO of the Year" winner, while Sunny Lee from Hong Kong Jockey Club and Daniel Lai from MTRC both picked up awards for 'Outstanding Achievement" as a CIO.

Industry first
The first CIO awards program dedicated to Hong Kong IT leaders was created to assess individuals serving in the role of CIO, Head of IT, VP/director or any other role with the designated responsibility of leading the IT organization. All nominating companies had to be based in Hong Kong or Macau.

"The judges identified Joe as a seasoned IT professional who pushes the boundaries of innovation and people development," said Nick Kirkland, Judging Committee Chairperson for the Hong Kong CIO Awards. "Joe demonstrates clear understanding that IT must be integrated fully into the business and his dedication to staff development is critical to the success of the company," said Kirkland, who is also chief executive at CIO Connect, the peer network group that has built CIO communities in Europe, Hong Kong and Singapore.

The Awards Judging Committee was headed by Kirkland and made up of some of Hong Kong's most respected current and former IT leaders. These included: Paul Chow, current Chairman of Cyberport Hong Kong and former CEO at HK Exchange; YB Yeung, formerly at HSBC; Tom Sheppard, formerly at Cable and Wireless HKT, Raymond Wong, formerly at Immigration Department, HKSAR Government; Edward Nicol, formerly at Cathay Pacific; and Tim Sheedy, senior analyst & advisor to CIOs, Forrester.

Back to basics
For aspiring CIOs, charting the path to the top involves a matrix of skills and capabilities. CLP's Locandro noted that it's critical to observe what your start-point is before determining the required steps.

Much depends on the maturity of the organization and its view of IT. "If IT is still seen as a cost center and reports to finance on every matter then you need to work on earning credibility and trust," said Locandro. "Start with getting the basics right -- fix unreliable e-mail, network issues or other pain points."

He added that if IT leaders find that users are regularly complaining about IT services then it's impossible to gain any trust to focus on anything strategic. With credibility and trust in place, IT leaders can then be looked upon to give advice on business issues and sit in an executive leadership discussion as an equal.

But even with a strong IT capability and a leadership track record, IT leaders must earn that respect over time. "CIOs cannot just walk into an organization and receive that level of trust, even the best CIOs must deliver some major contribution to earn that trust," Locandro noted.

He added that it is important to free time to build relationships with the key stakeholders, but stressed the need to manage time. "At this level you need to spend time with the right people, be focused on the right things and have the necessary headroom to think strategically," noted Locandro.

There is only so much time in a CIO's day and no-one can do everything so a good litmus test for aspiring CIOs is to ask how much time is being spent on what Locandro calls "business-as-usual" activities such as managing the data center, monitoring applications and networks.

Take the knocks
Anyone that spends 70% - 80% of their time on these activities is likely to be operating at the low to mid level of IT leadership as they have insufficient time to be strategic. "The ones that are reducing this percentage are the ones creating the headspace to be effective at being innovative and strategic," said Locandro.

Another issue to overcome for IT leaders is roadblocks and barriers in the path to being a strategic CIO. Drive, energy and passion are absolute musts in the makeup of a modern successful CIO. "Without the passion you will merely be a very good IT manager," Locandro said. "There will be problems and there will be rejections but you have to push through."

He noted that in Hong Kong he sees too many get dissuaded when they meet any push-back. It is the drive to succeed and the personal belief that allows the best to push through these barriers and have others follow them, Locandro stressed.

When looking to innovate or build strategic initiatives, often IT leaders can often fall into the trap of allowing the environment to determine their outlook. Locandro insists that each organization will operate differently and while some are highly structured and others operate more freely, each will have its own potential for innovation to occur.

What's your value?
"Good people can thrive in all environments and I believe that IT leaders in small and growing businesses have the greatest opportunity to do more with IT," he said. "Resources will always be available if you can prove your value to the business."

Locandro noted how it is vital to keep asking yourself the question of what value do you bring to the business? During mentorship discussions with up and coming IT managers, Locandro often asks: "What is the book value of the IT assets? What value do these IT assets generate for the business? What SLAs and corporate KPIs are they trying to meet?

"If they say their SLA is 99.99% uptime then that tells me exactly the type of IT leader that they are and that they are focusing on traditional IT operations management," he said.

He demonstrated that for every dollar CLP spends in IT, the IT leadership can show how many dollars return in benefit is derived and how much of that is in cash and how much is non-cash benefits. "It is discussions in these terms plus knowledge of risk, business yield and enabling business change that give CIOs the required credibility in front of business."

Taking IT to the next level
Sunny Lee, executive director of IT for the Hong Kong Jockey Club, lauded for "Outstanding Achievement"

The Hong Kong Jockey Club is dependent on IT. As Lee put it during his presentation at the recent CIO Leadership Forum: "If IT fails at a bakery, they can continue doing business. If IT fails at our business, we're dead in the water." Few Hong Kong IT experts are so keenly aware of the term "mission-critical."

Lee not only involves himself with the IT community-at-large, but constantly strives to improve his own staff through training exercises, and still finds time to work on world-class projects like the HKJC's veterinary hospital--which uses tablet computers to keep health records on hundreds of thoroughbreds.

For years, Sunny has helped Computerworld Hong Kong in many different ways--from giving us story-ideas to training-descriptions that lead to new ways of approaching our editorial-mix--Sunny Lee is one of our more creative sources for high-level Hong Kong technology strategies. We view him as a world-class CIO: he could find a prime CIO position anywhere in the world, but finds the challenges here in Hong Kong most interesting. The fact that he remains with the HKJC is a point in the HKSAR's favor.

Commitments from IT
"The IT Division will provide innovative technology solutions that contribute significantly to the Club's mission and strategic objectives," said Lee. "We strive to become a value partner for the Club's business by pursuing excellence in the following key areas:

1. Ensure alignment of Club business and IT Division strategy.
2. Deliver fast and high quality IT solutions and services that address the Club's business needs.
3. Provide secure, stable and reliable IT systems and infrastructure.
4. Ensure that the Club makes sound technology selection and investment decisions.
5. Nurture a cohesive, competent and motivated IT workforce.
6. Establish sound IT governance in compliance with the Club's policies.
7. Exercise prudent cost management and spending within budget.

"Some of the key issues I'm now addressing include working with the business to maximize value contribution to business through IT innovation, aligning business requirements with our enterprise architecture to optimize solutions and delivering innovative solutions to enable the Club's strategic business programs," said Lee. "Other important tasks are developing and managing the talent pool within the IT organization and maintaining IT asset health to enhance asset performance."

"I'm a great believer in fostering a fertile environment for experience sharing and communications between myself and my team, business users and Club management," said Lee. "We've held a bi-annual forum for many years involving all 300+ IT colleagues--I share updates on Club and IT matters and gather feedback from colleagues. Its success has created a separate forum for Program Managers and Project Managers, focusing on project-related issues and best practices."

Training and future plans
Lee added he is "steering a major transformation program of the IT Division--with the objective to take performance to the next level by enhancing our agility and our role as a catalyst for business innovation. I have long been committed to serving the community and particularly with nurturing a new generation of IT professionals."

"To this end," said Lee, "I will to continue to help strengthen Hong Kong's IT talent pool through promoting IT as a career choice to students (as Past President and Honorary Advisor of Hong Kong Computer Society), helping graduates develop a rewarding career in IT (as Chairman of the ICT Career Centre advisory committee), and elevating the qualification and status of IT professionals through certification (as Chairman of HK Institute of IT Professional Certification)."

"Importing talent from China is great," concluded Lee, "but we must motivate them by giving them market opportunities. We need a government-to-government arrangement [between Hong Kong and the mainland]."

Putting IT shoulder-to-shoulder with business
Daniel Lai, head of IT at MTRC recognized for his excellence with the "Outstanding Achievement" award

Being a business partner is central to the ethos that Daniel Lai brings to the CIO role. As Head of IT at MTRC, Lai is a firm believer that IT leaders that aspire to be elite CIOs must be visionaries that are not occupied by the day-to-day activities of IT and look further beyond. "CIOs must think like the CEO and perceive the needs of the future and not just for today," he said.

The mission of the MTR is to be a regional leader in railway and transport operations and likewise that translates into an IT mission of delivering best-in-class and innovative technology solutions for the business. To reach this goal, the company often needs to be at least an early mover on new trends. "But we will only adopt appropriate technology which doesn't have to be the most advanced," said Lai. "Ultimately we must deliver innovation and new capability to the business regardless of the technology."

Proactive action
Lai advised IT managers to spend more time with internal users and customers of the company. He personally sits on all major project steering committees and makes time to meet with users to hear about their plans and business goals. The IT teams are regularly involved in business planning sessions to review needs and ongoing trends. "We actively plan with the business on their next moves rather than wait for formal requests," said Lai. "IT strategy must be part of the overall business strategy and therefore be developed in conjunction with the business."

Lai has insisted his project managers sit with the business and perform business relationship management roles to work with their business counterparts to identify opportunities for improvement. Once those needs are established the number one goal for these managers is to deliver the solutions with sound project management.

Knowledge key to development
He expects most future CIOs to come from these roles where IT is heavily interacting with the business. That does not discount IT managers who primarily focus on infrastructure though. "Those from the infrastructure side have a different mindset and it is harder to appreciate the cross-organization view that strategic CIOs must possess," said Lai. "If they can get the business exposure and push themselves to be a part of the business discussion then they stand a better chance of succeeding."

He added that unfortunately in Hong Kong, many managers who have served in a technical position struggle to adapt to viewing technology from different angles and therefore struggle to communicate effectively when in front of business leaders but he is constantly reminding his team that this is a necessary part of being an IT leader today.

One major initiative that is more strategic than the usual systems and network implementations is the company's drive to become a true knowledge company. Lai has been instrumental in driving the company's "Learning Organization Culture Program" which emphasizes a need to collect, retain and share knowledge and expertise. Lai puts heavy emphasis on team development and he added that without a competent and motivated team it is simply not possible for IT to spearhead and support key business initiatives.

Lai's track record as an IT leader puts him in the elite CIOs in Hong Kong and fully justifies his "Outstanding Achievement" award in the first Hong Kong CIO Awards. And add to that his numerous other awards from organizations in China, Taiwan and across Asia, he is clearly an IT leader that has much to offer others who aspire to reach a higher status.

He himself plans to eventually write a book on IT Governance and work with educational institutions to develop training programs for potential CIOs of the future.


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