#32 - CIO Leadership Lessons from Singapore's First CIO - Alex Siow

 

 

“The CIO is a person who uses IT to facilitate and enable a company so that it becomes more competitive, and it becomes more profitable."

Alex Siow is currently a Professor in the School of Computing at the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Director of NUS’s Advanced Computing for Executives. With a career that spans over four decades, Alex Siow is well-known as Singapore’s first CIO in the 1990s. He recently published a book, “Leading with IT: Lessons from Singapore’s First CIO”, which is written for the next generation of CIOs, CTOs, and other executives who work closely with technology that offers practical tips, case studies, and personal insights that shed light on the central competencies required of CIOs.

In this episode, Alex shared with me his insights on the important role of a CIO, the traits of a good CIO, and how a CIO manages priority, risk and governance. Alex also shared with me his inspiring leadership philosophy and the true essence of servant leadership. Towards the end, Alex shared his views on the future of technology and remote working.  

Listen out for:

  • Career Journey - [00:04:52]
  • “Leading with IT“ Book - [00:09:43]
  • Role of CIO - [00:12:57]
  • CIO and Other Title Variants - [00:14:46]
  • CIO’s Job of Supporting the Business - [00:16:50]
  • Good CIO Traits - [00:18:41]
  • Aligning Business Vision, Mission, and Values - [00:21:48]
  • Keeping Up With Technologies and Talents - [00:24:49]
  • CIO Time Organization - [00:28:47]
  • On Prioritization - [00:32:13]
  • Managing Governance - [00:33:51]
  • Outsourcing - [00:36:35]
  • On Grooming Technical Leadership - [00:39:49]
  • Leadership Philosophy - [00:42:24]
  • Servant Leadership - [00:44:07]
  • Future of Technology - [00:45:04]
  • Remote Work - [00:48:44]
  • 3 Tech Lead Wisdom - [00:50:31]

_____

Alex Siow’s Bio
Prof Alex Siow is currently Professor (Practice) in the School of Computing, NUS and concurrently Director of the Advanced Computing for Executives Centre, the Strategic Technology Management Institute (STMI) and the Centre for Health Informatics.

Alex is currently Chairman of Toffs Technologies Pte Ltd, an independent director of Tee International Ltd, a member of Temasek Polytechnic Board of Governors, a member of the Board of Trustees of Singapore University of Social Sciences, a member of the board of Stixis Technologies and a member of the Board of Directors of the Ang Mo Kio Thye Hua Kwan Hospital. He is also currently the Chairman of the Cloud Security Alliance, Singapore Chapter. He is a business consultant to U3Infotech and Strategic Advisor to Nityo Infotech.

Alex has been very active in serving the ICT Community in Singapore and the world since 1990. He was a President of the IBM Z-series User Group, the President of the Asia Pacific User Group Council, the Singapore Computer Society, the IT Management Association, the PMI Singapore Chapter and was a member of the International Federation of Information Processing, the South East Asian Computer Confederation, the PMI Global Nominating Committee and the IT Governance Institute.

Prof Alex’s expertise is in IT Governance, Project and Portfolio Management, Enterprise Risk Management, Management of Emerging Technology, Technology Roadmap Planning and Cloud Security.

Alex recently published a best-selling book, “Leading with IT: Lessons from Singapore’s First CIO”, which was released in January 2021 by John Wiley and Sons.

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Quotes

Role of CIO

  • The CIO main job is not technical. His main job is to support and enable the business.

  • The CIO is a person who uses IT to facilitate and enable a company so that it becomes more competitive, and it becomes more profitable.

  • If you only just do the job of supporting the business, then strictly speaking, you may be called a CIO, but you’re not CIO.

CIO and Other Title Variants

  • Because IT has become so pervasive, so important to organization, it’s no longer possible for CIO himself to manage each of these portfolio in detail. He can, but that means he won’t have so much time to go and support the business.

  • There is a difference, the CIO and CTO. Some organization has a CTO and the CIO reports to the CTO. Some organization have the CTO that reports to the CIO. The CTO is in charge of technology. Depending on the organization, which is more important to them? The Information Systems or the technology? If the weightage is on technology, then the CTO is the higher ranking one. The information officer will be the one in charge of using IT to provide information to the organization.

CIO’s Job of Supporting the Business

  • By supporting the business, firstly, you have to understand, what is the business vision? What is the mission? And what are the core values of the organization? Whether the IT is organized in such a way to enable each of these core value to be realized, and each of the objectives of the organization to be executed.

  • We think in term of the business of the company instead of what the users need. In the past, it’s always the user our customer, so we have to make our user happy.

  • However, of course, we always must recognize that the users, the business heads, are the one responsible for the business. So although we can offer them ideas, please do not take away the credit from them. Give them the due credit because ultimately, the risk is borne by them. The risk of serving the customer. We only enabled them to do it better.

Good CIO Traits

  • The most important skillset that the CIO has to have is actually project management.

  • The CIO is the Chief Portfolio Manager of all the information systems in the organization. The most important trait he has is project management, because you have to execute everything according to budget, according to schedule.

  • The other thing is, of course, he must be able to speak the business language. Because if you want to go and talk to the business people, you can’t show them all your technical jargons and all that.

  • Another important thing is we have to earn our right at the table. We have to do our things right to earn our speaking right. If you don’t even do our own bread and butter, keep the lights on operation well, then people will not trust what we say. We don’t have the speaking right to say that we want to implement this system, that system.

  • Get them all battle ready and getting the lights on are the most important before we can now talk about enabling.

  • Another thing important is to know how to keep your promises.

    • There was a survey done by one survey organization, one management consulting, they say among all the top management positions, the CIO has the shortest lifespan. That’s why I said in my book, sometimes we call them Career Is Over, CIO.

    • It’s because a lot of CIOs overpromise. Good customer service means you deliver more than what you promise.

Aligning Business Vision, Mission, and Values

  • In the first place, when you want to run an organization, you know that the CIO achieve results through his people. He may be the smartest guy, but without all his staff to execute, he’s nothing. So for me, motivating all the staff is very important.

  • People are motivated when they have a dream, when they can identify with you. For them to stay on with us, then they must share the same dream as us. So, we have to come up with IT vision. With a vision, the staff get very excited. They say these are all the things that are coming along. If they stay on with the organization, they will get to play with all this technology.

  • We also came up with IT training strategy for the organization. Because you can do all the magic, all the beautiful system, but the people do not know how to use. We have to train the user. So that the users need all these systems, then we are creating demands for ourselves.

  • In order for people to want to continue to ask us to do system, we have to first educate them. But that’s a two-edged sword. You train all the end user very well. You know they demand very high on us. And then if we are slow, they will start doing system themselves.

  • You will always have to weigh pros and cons of whatever you do. That is one of the important traits of a CIO. Because everything that we do in IT carries a risk. And risk management is a very important trait. Because everything that we do is risky.

Keeping Up With Technologies and Talents

  • So many things are coming along so fast. How can our plan be anything meaningful? However, not so meaningful plan is better than no plan.

  • We can put in all these things, and say what we want to do, and then some of the technologies fall through, and then disappear. Then we have to adjust the plan. So, a technology plan that’s relevant to the organization must be updated and reviewed annually. And always look at the technology and how it can enhance customer service? How we can enhance business?

  • Why do we do Information System? Only for one reason. To support the company. And why does the company go into business? Because it wants to make money.

  • Everybody is into business, is to make money. Whether it’s charitable organization or whatever, they still need money in order to pay the stakeholders and pay the people, the beneficiaries.

  • Therefore, always think of all the technology that is going to be beneficial for our customers, and that you already seep out quite a lot of them. So some are nice to have, some of it nice to play with, but are they very useful for us to serve the customer?

  • People want to identify with winners. You want to manage the talent. The talent is also looking for talent. Talents are difficult to keep if you cannot keep them motivated, keep them excited.

  • One of the things that’s very important is to continuously train and send your people for training, educate them, keep them updated with technology.

  • A lot of employers have this selfish notion. Why do I spend money to train all these guys? After that, they will quit and then we will lose on all of them. However, I said, if you don’t train them, you’ll lose them even faster.

  • Everything comes with risk. So it’s a matter of balancing your risk. I think it is better to be generous and train your people. So that when they are equipped with the latest skill, they can actually not always think that they will leave you. They may even surprise you with new ideas, because they are equipped with the latest skills and competency, they can contribute to new ideas.

  • The organization that the CIO run is not only the CIO. But everybody else is a talent. In the whole organization, every last member is a talent, and everybody can come up with surprising ideas.

CIO Time Organization

  • It’s a matter of learning to prioritize. Prioritize your time, prioritize your focus. What are the things that are important to you? So always be mindful of critical things that have to be done in the day, in the week, in the month, or in the year.

  • For me, there’s always a white board where I’ll put down all the important projects that I have to focus on. So you don’t lose focus.

  • Those who are capable will get more and more jobs. Unfortunately, that’s the way it goes. So that is up to you to then juggle, see which is the priority.

  • When your boss picks you for a job, he already decided you are the best person. So don’t be so modest. Maybe the other guy is better and all that, then you are actually making your boss angry. What you’re trying to tell him that actually he’s stupid to pick you? So for me, it’s a pleasure to be trusted with so many tasks.

  • The moment you fail in one task, then you jeopardize all the people have entrusted you. So for me, one very important principle is you must finish whatever you started. You must not under-deliver whatever you promise. There are some times when you can fail. But never tell anyone I have not tried. If you have not even tried then you already give up, I think then people will not entrust you with anything.

  • My motto has always been, you give me a job, I will do. But I would do to the best of my ability. And sometimes I do fail. But not for lack of trying.

On Prioritization

  • The priority of things changes every day. If we think for a moment that yesterday’s priority, today we just go business as usual, you’ll be the same. No, always be prepared with this emergency mindset.

  • If we have the business continuity mindset, the business must go on. So how do we make business go on? If there’s something that’s going to cause a disruption to business, that thing must be tackled first. So the priority of doing things is how important is this thing to the business.

  • We work out before even a disaster happened, work out the procedures so that when something happened, we just execute it. There are other things that were in the priority. Then we have to adjust. That’s why I say the project management is very important.

Managing Governance

  • There’s a misconception that the CIO is in charge of IT governance. But he is not. The person who is in charge of IT governance is the CEO. Because it is his organization. And if you ask the CIO to be the Head of IT Governance, then he will prioritize according to his agenda. So everything must be according to the CEO’s agenda.

  • When the organization become advanced in the IT knowledge, you cannot stop people for wanting to do their system.

  • What we do is we do a federation approach. So we get every user department to have an IT organization, a small one which is not a full-time job, but it’s a group of people who are actually IT support officer in each of the user department, and we control them. We have a monthly meeting with all these fellas, and then we will ask them, what are all their needs? What things we want to do. So we know what they are all doing. We also tell them that you want to do something, we won’t stop you, but please tell us. And then we will help you to outsource some of these jobs.

  • IT department will always have a liaison officer looking after, because ultimately, if anything goes wrong, the CIO is responsible, whether it is user-led or whatever. So I always tell my people. It does not matter whether the users develop it or is outsourced. Finally, if there’s a problem, they will look for the CIO. So since we are going to be responsible, might as well we know what is happening.

Outsourcing

  • Outsourcing is not a bad thing if you do it properly. That means you must know what you can outsource and what you cannot outsource.

  • Outsourcing to a third party partner, you are not transferring your responsibility. You’re only transferring the work to them. The responsibility still lies with the IT department.

  • You have to retain the architect. You cannot say I outsource architect also. Because then the vendor knows more about your architecture than you yourself. Security, I don’t outsource. Because it’s too delicate, too important. Strategic planning, I don’t outsource.

  • Before we consider whether we need external help to third party, we should have an inventory of all the things that are core to us, and what are things which are non-core and can be outsourced.

  • The important thing is to tell everybody there’s nothing called low level in IT. There’s no low level work. Everybody is an important component. If we ask you to do programming, we won’t ask you to do programming forever. So we need to have the job rotation scheme. We have to rotate people so that everybody has a chance.

On Grooming Technical Leadership

  • Leadership of all this IT people is the ability to understand the domain. So if you cannot translate your system to a solution for the company, then whatever you’re doing is no use.

  • To be a leader in this new era now, we have to teach the organization to think of the data they need before you do the application system. So the application system is just a conduit of collecting data.

  • What do you need the data for? So how do you know what data you need? Then you have to put yourself in the shoes of the customer. The customer doing business with you, and you doing business with the customer. What is the information that you require when you do transactions with the customer? And that forms the basis of your data requirement.

  • If you do a data centric, you only collect the data you require. And of course, under the current privacy laws, even more important. Don’t just collect data for the sake of collecting data. Think carefully, what is the data you require?

Leadership Philosophy

  • For me why I’m always chosen to be a leader, not because I’m very outstanding, I think it’s more because I deliver.

  • That’s why I wrote about servant leadership. So when you become a leader, first thing to do is as a leader, my job is not just to enjoy the fruits of leadership. I want to serve the people to make my leadership worthwhile and leave a mark for people to remember me.

Servant Leadership

  • Servant leadership is firstly you put yourself in the shoes of the people that you serve.

  • Servant leadership is first, the people are part of my organization. I exist because of the people. If nobody is in my organization, then what am I a leader of? I’m a leader of nothing. So I’m leader because all these people are here to support me, and so I support them too.

  • That means you lead, at the same time, you deliver benefits to all of them.

Future of Technology

  • Businesses that do not embrace technology are at a great disadvantage. However, businesses that embrace technology are also in danger because the more you computerized, the more openings you have to the world. The world also has openings to get you. So it’s always a two-edged sword.

  • As you progress up the technology ladder, you have to beef up your security knowledge.

  • All the people have to be educated to be responsible user of your technology.

  • As companies become more advanced, they become very competitive. Information is very important. Data is the most valuable asset now in the organization. So we have to keep it. Just like money. It’s even more valuable than money.

  • Ultimately, robots will have to adhere to some of the rules that are created by the creators of the robots. We need not have to feel any inferiority. Just have to remember that these are all tools that we have to work with, for the organization to be advanced. If we say we are fearful of the robots, so we don’t want to implement robots, then how can the company compete?

  • We must be able to be confident that these are tools that are able to help us, and we have to know how to manage all these tools.

Remote Work

  • In my career so long, if there is a need, something will be invented. So don’t be afraid. There will be new tools available to help us to secure and make sure that we are secure. I trust that the invention of the human intentiveness.

  • The human mind, the creativity is not something that can be limited. It’s limitless.

3 Tech Lead Wisdom

  1. A CIO has to work through people.

    • Nobody is so smart that he doesn’t need anybody else to support him. So the CIO achieves results through his people.
  2. Continue to learn.

    • No matter how smart a CIO is, there’s always somebody smarter in this world. Even though, you’re maybe one of the best, or rated one of the best, there’s always something that will surprise you.
  3. Be a very good risk manager, because everything that a CIO does carries risk.

    • If you are afraid of risk, don’t do anything. Then if you don’t do anything, then how can you be a successful leader? All leaders, very good leaders, they all have to take risks.

    • Sometimes, it may not work. Pick yourself up, do it again, do another way. Don’t do the same thing. Do another way and always be ready to tell your supporter, your sponsor about the risks. How you mitigate the risk?

    • The whole world progresses because people take risks.

Transcript

Episode Introduction [00:00:50]

Henry Suryawirawan: [00:00:50] Hello, everyone. Welcome to a new episode of the Tech Lead Journal podcast. Excited to be back here again to share with all of you my conversation with another great technical leader in the industry. Thanks for tuning in and spending your time with me today listening to this episode. If you’re new to the podcast, know that Tech Lead Journal is available for you to subscribe on major podcast apps, such as Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, YouTube, and many others.

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For today’s episode, I’m very happy to share my conversation with professor Alex Siow. Alex is currently a Professor in the School of Computing at the National University of Singapore or NUS, and also the Director of NUS’s Advanced Computing for Executives. With a career that spans over four decades, Alex Siow is well-known as Singapore’s first CIO in the 1990s. He recently published a book titled “Leading with IT: Lessons from Singapore’s First CIO”, which is written for the next generation of CIOs, CTOs, and other executives who work closely with technology, and the book offers practical tips, case studies, and his personal insights that shed light on the central competencies required for CIOs.

In this episode, Professor Alex shared with me his insights on the important role of a CIO, what he thinks the traits of a good CIO are, how a CIO manages his time priority, risk and governance. Professor Alex also shared with me his inspiring leadership philosophy that are highly appreciated by many people who work under him in his career. He also explained to me the concept of servant leadership, the true essence of it, and what it means to become a servant leader. Towards the end, Professor Alex shared his views on the future of technology and also remote working.

Professor Alex is a very fun character, and I really enjoyed this conversation with him. And I hope you will enjoy this episode as well. And if you like it, consider helping the show by leaving a rating, review, or comment on your podcast app or social media channel. Those reviews and comments are one of the best ways to get this podcast to reach more listeners. And hopefully they can also benefit from the contents in this podcast. So let’s get this episode started right after our sponsor message.

###Introduction [00:04:19] Henry Suryawirawan: [00:04:19] Hey, everyone. Welcome back to another episode of the Tech Lead Journal. Today I’m very, very excited to have someone from Singapore. A Professor. His name is called Professor Alex Siow. He’s well-known in the industry here in Singapore. Especially well-known as the first Singapore CIO. I saw his book in a bookstore lately and invited him to have a chat in this podcast. He willingly agrees. Hopefully Professor Alex will be able to share a lot of wisdom. So welcome to the show, Prof.

Alex Siow: [00:04:50] Hello, I’m glad to be here.

Career Journey [00:04:52]

Henry Suryawirawan: [00:04:52] So Professor, for those people who don’t know you, maybe would you like to introduce yourself? Maybe telling about your career journey, your highlights and turning points?

Alex Siow: [00:05:00] Yeah Henry, I started as a civil engineer because I went for studies in Germany on the Singapore government scholarship. So I pursued a civil engineering. Upon return, and finishing all my national service obligation, I started working as a structural engineer in the Housing and Development Board. So I was actually a structural engineer for about 10 years. Designing, supervising construction, and also involved in construction technology projects. During the 10 years, I also involved in some computerization projects. After 10 years as a structural engineer, the management of HDB was looking for somebody to run the IT department. Because the position was vacant and there was a search for a suitable person, sort of a global search. But finally, they narrowed down to me, which is very strange because I was also not the IT person. I was end user IT. So the CEO offered me the job to be the Head of IT. So in 1989, I went over to the IT department and did some understudying before I assumed the Head a few months later. One year later, I think there was a renaming of all the various management personnel in HDB. And my boss asked me what do you want to call yourself? So I said, “I want to be the Chief Information Officer.” My boss was very good said, “Okay, if you think you like the title, we’ll just call you Chief Information Officer.” At the time, of course, the CIO title was not known in Singapore. So this is why I became the first Singapore CIO, the first person to carry the title. There may be people who’s doing the CIO job, but they didn’t carry the title. And so, that’s the beginning of my IT journey, and it lasted all the way until now. So 10 years as a structural engineer. 13 years as a CIO of HDB. After which I actually resigned from the civil service and joined StarHub.

So when I went to StarHub, I told the CEO then, that I’ve been 13 years as CIO, so don’t let me be the CIO here. And he says, “Okay. Everything but the CIO.” So I started off working as strategic relations and my liaison with the government in the CEO’s office. After two years of that, I was told to go and become the Head of Enterprise Sales, to take over the sales to corporate customer. Of course, just like it’s a story repeated itself. I was not an IT person became CIO. And now I have no idea what is sales, and I became Head of Sales, the corporate sales, and I did that for three years. And then the CEO said, “Yeah, I promised you, you won’t be CIO. But I have to break my promise.” Because there is a big project which was undertaking. That is the revamping of the business support system, that comprises a big CRM system. They said they couldn’t find anybody suitable to be the CIO, and we have one here in the backyard. So he said, “Okay, you go and take over as a CIO.” Which I reluctantly did so, and I then became CIO for three years in StarHub to implement the business support system. Thereafter, I changed our portfolio to be introducing enterprise risk management to StarHub. So I was Head Enterprise Risk Management.

I sort of retired from StarHub after two years. And I went to join Accenture as a management consulting, serving the health and public sector. So I was the Managing Director of health and public sector in Accenture for two years. I didn’t really quite like the job because you know, I’ve always been on the buyer’s side, and now I’m on seller’s side. Although yes, in StarHub I was doing the selling, but that was with a big team of people. Here, I have to do personal sales. So I said, “No, not my cup of tea.” And I decided to join the university as a Professor. And I’ve been there for the last six years. In NUS, the National University of Singapore, I joined the School of Computing, in the department of Information System. Which incidentally, the School of Computing is ranked number four in the world. Yesterday, I received the ranking. Yeah. So prestigious, ya? I didn’t know when I joined them. So then I’ve also been asked to take care of the Executive Education Center for the School of Computing. So I teach and then I run the Executive Education Center.

Henry Suryawirawan: [00:09:29] So, thanks for sharing your story, Prof. I think it’s really, really interesting, like the situation where you are being asked to do a role, which you were not so-called expert in. And you are willing to take the challenge and succeed after that. That’s really amazing.

“Leading with IT“ Book [00:09:43]

Henry Suryawirawan: [00:09:43] So I saw your book in the bookstore lately. So what made you write the book?

Alex Siow: [00:09:48] In the early days, when I first became the CIO, there are lots of people who don’t know what is a CIO. In fact, half or three quarter of Singapore had no idea what’s a CIO. So they thought I’m in charge of customer service. I’m the information officer. So, a reporter from Straits Times approached me and said, “Since you are the CIO of Singapore, first one, why don’t you write a column in the Straits Times to explain what is the job of a CIO?” So we started a column in the supplement of the Straits Times called the Computer Times, which of course now it’s no more available. At the time, it was quite popular. It’s a supplement that comes up weekly on Wednesday. So I was asked to do this column called the CIO’s Desktop. I didn’t know what I was in for because I agreed to write. I wrote the first article and was published and it was very popular. That’s according to the reporter. And she told me we were doing fortnightly. So, that is something which I expect to have to write every fortnight. I did so, and I wrote almost 40 articles over a period of two years fortnightly. Publishing lots of articles about the job of a CIO, the challenges I met, and things I had to deal with. So all those articles were published, and I did nothing about them. They’re all somewhere in archive. If you go on the National Library archive, they’re all down there.

When COVID-19 hit us, one of my associates in the NUS Executive Education, she asked me, “Since you wrote so many of those articles, why don’t we just consolidate into a book?” So that was the start of the idea. So we went to the national archives. You know, I have to go to the library archive, to go and search for the articles. Then we realized that you put them all together, you will not form a book. Because newspaper articles are short and sharp. Even if it’s a one full page newspaper, the supplement is half the size of the normal paper. So it is not a lot. So we try and put them all together and said, “No, we cannot form a book. We have to write more. We have to put in more meats and we have to put in more case studies, illustrations.” The aim was actually to use it to educate future CIOs and also budding CIOs in the region, not only in Singapore, to have a textbook that can be also used because the whole region is now developing, and everybody has seen the power of Information Technology. Especially during the COVID-19 crisis, people realize without IT, a lot of companies really cannot survive. And so the whole region suddenly woke up. So it’s a matter of timing. If I had published my book much earlier, two years earlier, or three years earlier, it will not be so popular as now, because suddenly a lot of SME, a lot of people realize IT is so important. And so, timing. When we published this book, the publisher was very excited. Actually, we wanted it to be a Singapore publication and available to the region. They say, “No, no, no. I think the whole world needs to read this book.” So, it was actually now open to be available in the whole world.

Role of CIO [00:12:57]

Henry Suryawirawan: [00:12:57] So, yeah. Thanks for sharing your experience and expertise formed into a book. Yeah. I rarely find a book about CIO, definitely. So my first question then, because you have assumed this role for quite a number of years, so what exactly the role of a CIO, actually?

Alex Siow: [00:13:12] Okay. Let me explain, before I assumed the title of CIO, not just because I wanted the title of CIO. But I took on the IT job as Head of IT. I told the CEO, who actually took a gamble on me, he actually selected me. So I said, “Okay, I have your backing. I want to change things. Firstly, I am not an IT person. I come from the user side. So I understand HDB business. So I want to be involved in the business and I would like to then apply IT to the business.” In a way, without knowing that is the CIO job, I did the CIO job. So without knowing what is actually the CIO job, I took on the title called the CIO, and then I started. The difference is of course the CIO is not a techie. Perhaps a techie can also hold a CIO job, but his main job is not technical. His main job is to support the business. Exactly at that time in 1990, it’s the time when the IT moved from the back office to the front of the business. Around the world actually, not only in Singapore. So that’s where the IT person now come out and say, “We’re no longer just doing the number crunching or the systems development at the background. We are coming here to support and enable the business.” So, to answer your question. The CIO is a person who uses IT to facilitate and enable a company so that it becomes more competitive, and it becomes more profitable. If you only just do the job of supporting the business, then strictly speaking, you may be called a CIO, but you’re not CIO.

CIO and Other Title Variants [00:14:46]

Henry Suryawirawan: [00:14:46] So these days, the title CIO itself, I think, is a little bit convoluted. You can see so many other variants of the title, like CTO, Chief Technology Officer, or maybe Chief Digital Officer, and maybe so many others. So in your opinion, are they just different sort of names or are there clearly specific differences between these titles?

Alex Siow: [00:15:07] Yeah, actually each mean a different thing. In the past, there were people in charge of the data. Somebody is in charge of infrastructure and technology and the hardware and software. Somebody who is in charge of the architecture. But there was the CIO on top. And all these people are the managers under him. So because IT has become so pervasive, so important to organization, it’s no longer possible for CIO himself to manage each of these portfolio in detail. He can, but that means he won’t have so much time to go and support the business. Therefore, the whole world now has the evolution of the portfolio of the CIO. Now, we have one person who is Chief Security, Information Security. One person in charge of data, Chief Data Officer. Then you have the Chief Architect. So each of these actually falls into the portfolio which I used to carry. So I have all this person with me. It’s just that we give them a bigger title and make them do more work. Actually, all for the good of the organization.

However, there is a difference, the CIO and CTO. Some organization has a CTO and the CIO reports to the CTO. Some organization have the CTO that reports to the CIO. What is the difference? The CTO is in charge of technology. It’s Chief Technology Officer. So depending on that organization, which is more important to them? The Information Systems or the technology? Therefore, you see, if the weightage is on technology, then the CTO is the higher ranking one. The information officer will be the one in charge of using IT to provide information to the organization.

CIO’s Job of Supporting the Business [00:16:50]

Henry Suryawirawan: [00:16:50] So you mentioned a couple of times, a CIO’s job is actually to support the business. Maybe you can elaborate a little bit. What do you mean by support? Do you like provide, for example, your case last time is help desk, customer service, or running just mainframes and servers and things like that? So what exactly do you mean by supporting the business?

Alex Siow: [00:17:08] By supporting the business, firstly, you have to understand, what is the business vision? What is the mission? And what are the core values of the organization? Whether the IT is organized in such a way to enable each of these core value to be realized, and each of the objective of the organization to be executed. So that’s how we support the business. We think in term of the business of the company instead of what the users need. In the past, it’s always the user our customer, so we have to make our user happy. When I became the CIO, I said, no, our customers are HDB’s customer, only one customer. The whole organization only one set of customer. So, common set of customer. We work together with the end-user as business partners, and together, we will serve the customers.

This is a change of mindset, very important change of mindset. Because the IT people, you know, technical people, they like to be at the back talking to machine. They don’t like to talk to people. So I have to twist that around and say, “Now, if the users have no idea what to do to serve the customer better, we come up with ideas.” And that’s how we bring IT to the front. However, of course, we always must recognize that the user, the business heads, are the one responsible for the business. So although we can offer them ideas, please do not take away the credit from them. Give them the due credit because ultimately, the risk is borne by them. The risk of serving the customer. We only enabled them to do it better.

Good CIO Traits [00:18:41]

Henry Suryawirawan: [00:18:41] So, I know that it is probably a little bit of challenging situation to describe the many few things that a CIO needs to do well. But if you can look into maybe your experience of the best CIOs available out there, what are the good traits of a good CIO? Maybe execution, prioritization, and things like that. But maybe if you can summarize and share with us, what do you think are the good traits?

Alex Siow: [00:19:03] The most important skillset that the CIO has to have is actually project management. Today we talk about project, program and portfolio, right? Actually, the CIO is the Chief Portfolio Manager of all the information systems in the organization. The most important trait he has is project management, because you have to execute everything according to budget, according to schedule. It is one of the most important thing. The other thing is, of course, he must be able to speak the business language. Because if you want to go and talk to the business people, you can’t show them all your technical jargons and all that. They won’t understand what you’re talking about. For example, “Oh, we want to introduce RPA.” “What is that?” “Now we’re into the fourth industrial revolution.” They won’t understand all this. So we have to cut the techno speak and speak confidently to the end user.

Another important thing is we have to earn our right at the table. That means, I told the CEO, I want to be part of management team. That mean, if the management meets, I want to be there too. So then you have to earn your right to be at the table. So I told all my staff that first, we have to do our things right to earn our speaking right. If you don’t even do our own bread and butter, keep the lights on operation well, then people will not trust what we say. We don’t have the speaking right to say that we want to implement this system, that system. “You can’t even do anything right. How can you tell us you want to do this system or that system, and you want to spend how much money and all that?” So, in the initial days when I took over, I already have to get all my operation shipshape. Get them all battle ready and getting the lights on is the most important before we can now talk about enabling. Another thing important is know how to keep your promises. That is very important. Because there was a survey done, I think, by one survey organization, one management consulting, they say among all the top management position, the CIO has the shortest lifespan. That’s why I said in my book, sometimes we call them Career Is Over, CIO. It’s because a lot of us overpromise. Good customer service means you deliver more than what you promise. Don’t promise so much. Promise the sky and deliver the earth. So those I think are the few important things that differentiates a good CIO from a not so good CIO.

Henry Suryawirawan: [00:21:27] Right. I personally think CIO definitely needs to have an execution, but I didn’t know that exactly when you mentioned project management. So now it makes sense, like a CIO needs to run multiple streams of work, multiple projects. Like you mentioned about data security, infrastructure, and things like that. So all this becomes a portfolio of the CIO, and they need to be able to manage those things very well.

Aligning Business Vision, Mission, and Values [00:21:48]

Henry Suryawirawan: [00:21:48] You also mentioned just now that a CIO needs to understand the business vision, the mission, and the values. So what do you think a CIO needs to do in order to cultivate this mindset across the people within the IT departments?

Alex Siow: [00:22:02] In the first place, when you want to run an organization, you know that the CIO achieve results through his people. He may be the smartest guy, but without all his staff to execute, he’s nothing. So for me, motivating all the staff is very important. But how do you motivate people? People are motivated when they have a dream, when they can identify with you. So very, very early days in 1991, I started to say, in order for our staff not to resign, and every time we have a turnover, we have big problem for us, because they’re highly skilled people, you have to train them and all that. So for them to stay on with us, then they must share the same dream as us. So, we have to come up with IT vision. I think we are one of the first organizations in Singapore to come up with a ten year IT plan. But of course that time it was 1991, so it was supposed to be up to year 2000. That’s why we call it Vision 2000. We gathered people together, the IT people, and then came up and planned what would the IT like in year 2000? How would HDB utilize IT to serve the customers by the year 2000? So we have things like web page. Before internet was even invented, we already thought about using electronic means to talk to people and communicate with them. So with a vision, the staff get very excited. They say these are all the things that are coming along. If they stay on with the organization, they will get to play with all this technology. So we actually put a technology roadmap as well into the Vision 2000.

We also came up with IT training strategy for the organization. Because you can do all the magic, all the beautiful system, but the people do not know how to use. So for me, I said, “We have to train the user. So that the users need all these system, then we are creating demand for ourselves.” Because I was trained as a sales last time. Why I was able to do sales is because even in HDB as a CIO, I was doing selling. So in order for people to want to continue to ask us to do system, we have to first educate them. But that’s a two-edged sword. You train all the end user very well. You know they demand very high on us. And then if we are slow, they will start doing system themselves. And then we create this problem of shadow IT, where end users start doing system for themselves. You will always have to weigh pros and cons of whatever you do. That is one of the important traits of a CIO. Because everything that we do in IT carries a risk. And risk management is a very important trait. Because everything that we do is risky. Because let’s say you decide to invest in a system. And that system actually is going out end of life. And we did not do the proper due diligence, the research, and then we go and do, and then we get into trouble.

Keeping Up With Technologies and Talents [00:24:49]

Henry Suryawirawan: [00:24:50] So, one question I have when you explain about this. I mean, these days technology moves very fast. Setting like a 10 years vision probably is a little bit hard, especially with all the new advancement in technology. Sometimes within one year you can see a totally different technologies coming. And also about the talents. Because there are so many technology enabled companies these days, people have more options. They are willing to jump from one company to the others. I think this might be a challenge. But what’s your view about all these? So how to make it relevant with the current pace of technology and the talents that are available out there?

Alex Siow: [00:25:25] In the first place, technology today move very fast. In the early days, I was able to do a 10 year vision because technology was not that fast. But today if I said do a 10 year plan, probably we can take the Gartner’s Hype Cycle. We know all the technologies coming up. But you actually compare all the technology hype cycle of a Gartner, you see that a lot of technologies added every year. As you said, very correctly, so many things are coming along so fast. How can our plan be anything meaningful? However, not so meaningful plan is better than no plan. We can put in all these things, and say what we want to do, and then some of the technologies fall through, and then disappear. Then we have to adjust the plan. So, a technology plan that’s relevant to the organization must be updated and reviewed annually. And always look at the technology and how it can enhance customer service? How we can enhance business?

When I teach my class to my students, I said, “We are the Information Systems people.” Why do we do Information System? Only for one reason. To support the company. And why does the company go into business? Because it wants to make money. So I asked the student, “Name me one organization that does not need money.” I mean, it’s no brainer. Everybody is into business, is to make money. Whether it’s charitable organization or whatever, they still need money in order to pay the stakeholders and pay the people, the beneficiaries. Therefore, always think of all the technology that is going to be beneficial for our customers, and that you already seep out quite a lot of them. So some are nice to have, some of it nice to play with, but are they very useful for us to serve the customer?

Henry Suryawirawan: [00:27:10] So how about the talent management part? The retaining of them. Because technology moves so fast, options are available a lot these days. So how can you so-called nurture and make people stay within the IT organization?

Alex Siow: [00:27:22] In the early days I could because I gave vision and told them we are the best. We make the organization the best. At one time, we were really one of the best IT organizations in Singapore. People want to identify with winners. You want to manage the talent. The talent is also looking for talent. Talents are difficult to keep if you cannot keep them motivated, keep them excited. But one of the things that’s very important is to continuously train and send your people for training, educate them, keep them updated with technology. A lot of employers have this selfish notion. Why do I spend money to train all these guys? After that, they will quit and then we will lose on all of them. However, I said, if you don’t train them, you’ll lose them even faster. So either way, as I mentioned just now, everything comes with risk. So it’s a matter of balancing your risk. I think it is better to be generous and train your people. So that when they are equipped with the latest skill, they can actually not always think that they will leave you. They may even surprise you with new ideas, because they are equipped with the latest skills and competency, they can contribute to new ideas. The organization that the CIO run is not only the CIO. But everybody else is a talent. In the whole organization, every last member is a talent, and everybody can come up with surprising ideas.

CIO Time Organization [00:28:47]

Henry Suryawirawan: [00:28:47] So, as you mentioned, all these traits, challenges, the risks that CIO needs to bear. Personally, I wonder a lot. How does a CIO organize his time? Organize his day to day activities? Because there seems to be like so many things on his plate, from the risk, from security, from running the things well, from managing new technologies that are up and coming, talent management, vision. So yeah, what do you think, like how the CIO should best organize their day or their activities?

Alex Siow: [00:29:16] Actually, I don’t think the CIO has a tougher job than any other person. I think even a person at a lower level, they still have to manage many, many things. So it’s a matter of learning to prioritize. Prioritize your time, prioritize your focus. What are the things that are important to you? So always be mindful of critical things that have to be done in the day, in the week, in the month, or in the year. For me, there’s always a white board where I’ll put down all the important projects that I have to focus on. So you don’t lose focus. Now the trouble is in this world, those who are capable will get more and more jobs. Unfortunately, that’s the way it goes. Because the boss will say, “Hey, this guy is capable. How many job are you doing already? Can I give you one more?” Unfortunately, my life since the days when I was structural engineer all the way up to now, nobody ever asked me, “You have time to do one more job?” They will just say, “Hey, I have this job. Can you do it?” So, that is up to you to then juggle, see which is the priority. Even as a structural engineer, I handled many, many things at one time. It’s because I am able to complete a lot of tasks at the same time, ends up people will give me more. That’s why in one of the articles in the book, I would say the answer is “Yes. What’s your question?” When people ask me, just like you, Henry, I mean, you asked me, can I do a podcast? Did I say no? I never, right? So that is my character, has always been that way. If the reason why you call me is because you have reconsidered very carefully. I want to talk to you. I want to interview you.

So when your boss picks you for a job, he already decided you are the best person. So don’t be so modest. I think maybe the other guy is better and all that, then actually you are actually making your boss angry. What you’re trying to tell him that actually he’s stupid to pick you? So for me, it’s a pleasure to be trusted with so many tasks. However, the moment you fail in one task, then you jeopardize all the people have entrusted you. So for me, one very important principle is you must finish whatever you started. You must not under-deliver whatever you promise. There are some times when you can fail. But never tell anyone I have not tried. When I was a young structural engineer, there was a CEO that time. His philosophy is if he gives you a task and you don’t even bother to try, then you are really worth nothing. If you try and you try and the third time you still try, and you tell him, “Sir, I tried three times. It cannot be done.” Then he say, “Yes, I believe.” So if you have not even tried then you already give up, I think then people will not entrust you with anything. So for me, my motto has always been, you give me a job, I will do. But I would do to the best of my ability. And sometimes I do fail. But not for lack of trying, it just shows that this thing cannot be done. That’s all.

On Prioritization [00:32:13]

Henry Suryawirawan: [00:32:13] So, as you mentioned all these, of course these days, I mean, especially if you are aware about all these four quadrants about importance and urgency. So I feel also these days there are so many things, take an example of cyber attacks. Sometimes it could just happen that it becomes an urgency suddenly. So as you try to prioritize all this, how do you actually keep the balance between solving the urgency? Maybe, you know, like modernization of technology, cybersecurity, and things like that, versus the important things. The things that you plan to do in the future.

Alex Siow: [00:32:44] The priority of things changes every day. If we think for a moment that yesterday’s priority, today we just go business as usual, you’ll be the same. No, always be prepared with this emergency mindset. In HDB I started this thing called the business continuity management. At the time, I don’t think there were any organization taking on such business continuity type of concept. If we have the business continuity mindset, the business must go on. So how do we make business go on? If there’s something that’s going to cause a disruption to business, that thing must be tackled first. So the priority of doing things is how important is this thing to the business. A cyberattack that will disrupt the normal operation of business, it has to be tackled first. It’s not called firefighting. It’s just that you have this preparedness, emergency preparedness, and we know how to deal. So actually, we work out before even a disaster happened, work out the procedures so that when something happened, we just execute it. There are other things that were in the priority. Then we have to adjust. That’s why I say the project management is very important.

Managing Governance [00:33:51]

Henry Suryawirawan: [00:33:51] Right. So, one of the so-called challenge as well, you mentioned it briefly just now, is about managing governance, right? Things like shadow IT suddenly coming up from different departments within an organization. So how does the CIO manage this governance, compliance within the whole company?

Alex Siow: [00:34:07] In the first place, there’s a misconception that the CIO is in charge of IT governance. But he is not. You’ll be surprised to hear that. So the person who is in charge of IT governance is the CEO. Because it is his organization. And if you ask the CIO to be the Head of IT Governance, then he will prioritize according to his agenda. So everything, as I said, must be according to the CEO’s agenda. So what we did in IT governance is, the governance of IT is the CEO plus all the business head and facilitated by the CIO. So CIO is the secretary of this committee. Because everybody is part of this governance team, they all know they are part of it. You come up with the IT prioritization, and the plan, and all that. They all have agreed to it. So when they want to do something on their own and they see that, “Oh, IT is not responding. That’s why we have to do our own IT.” Called shadow IT, then they will know because they are in the part of governance. Why we cannot do the system for them is because other things are more urgent according to the CEO’s agenda. But however, some of these business departments, they do really need the system. As some of these are standalone system, which they can easily do by themselves. And so I said that when the organization become advanced in the IT knowledge, you cannot stop people for wanting to do their system.

So, what we do is we do a federation approach. So we get every user department to have an IT organization, a small one which is not a full-time job, but it’s a group of people who is actually IT support officer in each of the user department, and we control them. We have a monthly meeting with all these fellas, and then we will ask them, what are all their needs? What things we want to do. So we know what they are all doing. We also tell them that you want to do something, we won’t stop you, but please tell us. And then we will help you to outsource some of these jobs. If you have the budget for it, we will help you to outsource. But IT department will always have a liaison officer looking after, because ultimately, if anything goes wrong, the CIO is responsible, whether it is user-led or whatever. So I always tell my people. It does not matter whether the user develop it or is outsourced or whatever. Finally, if there’s a problem, they will look for the CIO. So since we are going to be responsible, might as well we know what is happening.

Outsourcing [00:36:35]

Henry Suryawirawan: [00:36:36] As you mentioned about outsourcing, so one question that popped up in my mind. Because these days people say every company now is a technology company, and that’s why they need to be enabled about technology. They probably need to master technology. What is the balance here? Because traditionally, many, many companies before, outsource a lot of IT capabilities to third-party vendors, the consulting companies. But now because of the disruption from the startups, the FinTech, and things like that, people start to realize that actually IT is important. So they need to build capability within the company itself. So what’s your view on this?

Alex Siow: [00:37:10] So, I have always been mindful that there are a lot of companies who come to my CEO and say why don’t we outsource this, and actually we can save a lot of costs by we taking over some of these. So outsourcing is not a bad thing if you do it properly. That means you must know what you can outsource and what you cannot outsource. Outsourcing to a third party partner, you are not transferring your responsibility. You’re only transferring the work to them. The responsibility still lies with the IT department. So things like help desk, you can outsource. Your IT support, you can actually outsource. You can even outsource the infrastructure person. However, you have to retain the architect. You cannot say I outsource architect also. Because then the vendor knows more about your architecture than you yourself. Security, I don’t outsource. Because it’s too delicate, too important. Strategic planning, I don’t outsource. Most of the vendor will come and ask me, “Can you share with us your strategic plan?” Then I will ask them, “Why should I share with you my strategic plan? It’s your job to find out what is my strategic plan?” Strategic plan is a core competence that the IT department should not outsource. That means before we consider whether we need external help to third party, we should have an inventory of all the things that is core to us, and what are things which are non-core and can be outsourced.

You’re right about a lot of companies realized we outsourced so many of these things then now we don’t have the skills. In fact, nobody in Singapore wants to do programming. I mean, all Singaporean want to be managers. I want to be a project manager. I want to be a Managing Director or whatever. So for many years, we outsourced or insourced to foreigners to do the programming for us and all that. Then how do you get the Singaporean back to do all this programming, low-level work? The important thing is to tell everybody there’s nothing called low level in IT. There’s no low level work. Everybody is an important component. If we ask you to do programming, we won’t ask you to do programming forever. So we need to have the job rotation scheme. We have to rotate people so that everybody have a chance. So you don’t put one person in charge of system maintenance and then he’s down there for 20 years as system maintenance. Then after that you outsource. After that, nobody can know how to maintain. So, by having a rotation scheme for everybody, and also saying that no job is low level, everybody is important. So everybody has to equip with all the skills from low level to high level. I think that’s one way that we can overcome this. We still can outsource if it’s because of the costs. But our people still have the knowledge because we have gone through the ranks.

On Grooming Technical Leadership [00:39:49]

Henry Suryawirawan: [00:39:49] As you mentioned about this Singaporean traditional way of thinking, they want to be managers. But lately, I also discussed with a few of my guests, there seems to be a lot of lack of skills in terms of becoming a good IT technical leaders. Which also brought me into starting this podcast. I’m wondering because you are now teaching in a university as a Professor, so what are some of your core things when you teach them? Before they start their professional journey.

Alex Siow: [00:40:15] Are you talking about technical skills or?

Henry Suryawirawan: [00:40:18] It’s more on the technical leadership. Because core technical skills, I’m sure there are plenty of resources that you can just browse and Google and read. But leadership, I think, is still something that is quite rare, especially good one, good technical leaders. What is your approach when you teach the students in your university?

Alex Siow: [00:40:35] I teach strategy and I teach governance and I teach managing of emerging technologies. Leadership of all this IT people is ability to understand the domain. So if you cannot translate your system to a solution for the company, then whatever you’re doing is no use. I give you an example, a lot of company now grappling with too much data. Data overload which is one of the chapter which I wrote here. What is data overload? Because indiscriminate collection of data. Every system collects data. In the old days, all organizations have this application centric approach to data. You have application first, then you collect the data. Then after, we try to harmonize the data. We have a data warehouse, data lake. What am I going to do with all this data?

To be a leader in this new era now, we have to teach the organization to think of the data they need before you do the application system. So the application system is just a conduit of collecting data. But what do you need the data for? So how do you know what data you need? Then you have to put yourself in the shoes of the customer. The customer doing business with you, and you doing business with the customer. What are the information that you require when you do transactions with the customer? And that forms the basis of your data requirement. From there, then you build application system to collect this. Then the other way, it was actually the old way when you have so many application system, then you have data disparity and lots of data problem. Now, if you do a data centric, you only collect the data you require. And of course, under the current privacy laws, even more important. Don’t just collect data for the sake of collecting data. Think carefully, what are the data you require? So, at least if there’s any data leakage and all that, we can contain because we know exactly what data we have.

Leadership Philosophy [00:42:24]

Henry Suryawirawan: [00:42:24] Totally makes sense. Thanks for sharing that. As I read the first few chapters of your book, one thing that strikes me, a lot of people when they wrote in the preface or the accolades in your book, one thing that stood out from all these people is that they mentioned your leadership. Few people actually wrote nice things in the book. For people who are interested, you can read the book, of course. What is your philosophy for leadership, actually? Why you made all these people appreciate and honour your leadership?

Alex Siow: [00:42:50] You may not know that I actually serve in leadership position in the community. So I was President of the Computer Society, President of the IT Management Association. I was the first President of the Project Management Institute, Singapore Chapter. And I am currently a Cloud Security Alliance Singapore Chapter chairman. I was a grassroots leader. I was a military commander. I was a battalion commander. So for me why I’m always chosen to be a leader, not because I’m very outstanding. I think it’s more because I deliver. So when I take on a leadership position, firstly, it’s not because I want to be King, be the emperor or whatever. I go down there and say, “Okay, now how can I serve you?” I think that impresses a lot of people. That’s why I wrote about servant leadership here. So when you become a leader, first thing to do is as a leader, my job is not just to enjoy the fruits of leadership. I want to serve the people to make my leadership worthwhile and leave a mark for people to remember me. You can be the president of something and after you’re gone, then people forgot that you were the president. I mean, how sad it is? So leave a mark. Even writing a book is living a mark, a legacy for people to remember what things I have done.

Servant Leadership [00:44:07]

Henry Suryawirawan: [00:44:07] So as you mentioned about servant leadership, I know you mentioned about the key question, “How I can serve you better?” But what is the actual essence of this servant leadership?

Alex Siow: [00:44:15] Servant leadership is firstly you put yourself in the shoes of the people that you serve. I’m looking at this leader, what I want from the leader? Same as what we want from our CEOs when you join a company. I’m sure when you join a company, you want the CEO to come up with some fantastic thing, and then we will all prosper together. So for me servant leadership is first, the people are part of my organization. I exist because of the people. If nobody is in my organization, then what am I a leader of? I’m a leader of nothing. So I’m leader because all these people are here to support me, and so I support them too. I will come up with program to benefit them. So it’s a Commonwealth type of thing. That is servant leadership. That means you lead, at the same time, you deliver benefits to all of them.

Future of Technology [00:45:04]

Henry Suryawirawan: [00:45:04] So Prof, as we go into this current situation, due to the COVID, working from home, remote work and things like that, also disruption happening almost all the time. We can see a lot of technologies, like deep fakes and so many other technologies that are harmful. What do you think in your view, because you have gone through long years of professional journey being the CIO, at the top level of the technology and information systems. Looking forward, what do you think are some of the futures that we can foresee in terms of work probably, in terms of technology, or in terms of business that are enabled by technology?

Alex Siow: [00:45:36] In the first place, businesses that do not embrace technology are at a great disadvantage. However, businesses that embrace technology are also in danger because the more you computerized, the more openings you have to the world. The world also have openings to get you. So it’s always a two-edged sword. So as you progress up the technology ladder, you have to beef up your security knowledge. I think you got no choice. All the people have to be educated to be responsible user of your technology. When you join an organization, your organization asks you to sign a thing called Acceptable Use Policy. We all sign without even reading it. Then later on when you get in trouble, then you realize, oops, I signed this. So not only you ask the people to sign, you actually have to provide them some sort of training and tell them, “Actually, do you understand? When you are in this organization and use this technology, therefore you actually have to be responsible for the confidentiality of the information.” Because as companies become more advanced, they become very competitive. Information is very important. Data is the most valuable asset now in the organization. So we have to keep it. Just like money. It’s even more valuable than money.

The future is, of course, with the industry 4.0 coming up, we know that cyber physical teams is one of the thing that is of reality. That means we might be working with robots and all this. It’s natural for human beings to feel that we are not as good as the robots. Because after all robots, they don’t sleep. They work 24 hours continuously. They don’t fall sick. We are vulnerable, but the robots are not. However, robots also in a sense, vulnerable to mistakes that we make in programming them. Ultimately, robots will have to adhere to some of the rules that created by the creators of the robots. We need not have to feel any inferiority. Just have to remember that these are all tools that we have to work with, for the organization to be advanced. If we say we are fearful of the robots, so we don’t want to implement robots, then how can the company compete?

So the thing is that we must be able to be confident that these are tools that are able to help us, and we have to know how to manage all these tools. Today, all the computers are more advanced than our brain. So are we afraid of them? No, we’re not. Because we get used to them, we use them. Just like autonomous vehicles that’s coming up and all that. I mean, then we’re afraid that we will lose all our skills because now machine had taken over. Now and then we must continue to exercise some of our knowledge. So men cannot suddenly because of the advance of machine learning and all that, suddenly our brain stopped working. Because the machines are taking over, so we can go and relax. The human brain is definitely even more powerful than all this machinery. It’s just that they work faster. Naturally, we can’t work so fast, but imagination, we still have. People able to dream dreams, and create a lot of technology. You put all the machine learning and learn, learn, learn. Yes. They can do things better, better, better, better, more precise. But the machine hasn’t learned how to imagine.

Remote Work [00:48:44]

Henry Suryawirawan: [00:48:45] Very thoughtful and insightful, definitely. So how about the remote work? The working from home? All of a sudden, because of the COVID, now every employees, for example, are now flexible in terms of working in the office or off-office, remote sometimes. And there are companies who are actually hiring people from the remote countries. So as a CIO job, this of course introduced the risks about the data leakage, security issues, and things like that. What is your view on this? Because I’m sure, I’m pretty confident in fact that companies will start rolling out more flexible policy going forward.

Alex Siow: [00:49:19] I think, as I mentioned very early in our discussion, everything carries risk. There are lots of good points about remote working. For example, your company, Google, right? They can now employ people from all over, every corner of the world, and don’t have to fly them in to a certain place for them to work. Now companies have access to a greater pool of talent, a great pool of talent. It’s just that the risk of cyber incidents and all that had always been there. Just that now, it becomes more apparent to all these people who can profit from lax attitude of workers. But rest assured, in my career so long, if there is a need, something will be invented. So don’t be afraid. There will be new tools available to help us to secure and make sure that we are secure. I trust that the invention of the human intentiveness. So a lot of startups say, “I don’t know what to do. Things already invented. All invented.” I say, “No.” The human being never stopped amazes people. It’s just like the keyboard is so small. Just a few notes. It can produce millions of songs, and new songs are being invented still. So the human mind, the creativity is not something that can be limited. It’s limitless.

3 Tech Lead Wisdom [00:50:31]

Henry Suryawirawan: [00:50:32] So Prof, it’s been a pleasant conversation. I think due to the time we have to end. But before that, I would like to ask one more question, which I usually ask for all my guests. Which is about three technical leadership wisdom that you would like to share with all the audience here?

Alex Siow: [00:50:46] Okay. I thought about it. What thing will define a capable CIO? Differentiates him from other people. Number one is to realize that he has to work through people. Nobody is so smart that he doesn’t need anybody else to support him. So the CIO achieves results through his people.

Secondly, is that no matter how smart he is. You may be the top student anywhere. There’s always somebody smarter in this world. So recognize that you always have to continually learn. Even though, you’re maybe one of the best, or rated one of the best, there’s always something that will surprise you. Continue to learn.

And third one is we have to be very good risk managers. Because everything that we do carries risk. You don’t want to have any mistakes or problem, then don’t do anything. If you are afraid of risk, don’t do anything. Then if you don’t do anything, then how can you be a successful leader? So all leaders, very good leaders, they all have to take risks. And sometimes, it may not work. Pick yourself up, do it again, do another way. Don’t do the same thing, because you’ll be crazy. Do another way and always be ready to tell your supporter, your sponsor about the risks. How you mitigate the risk? The whole world progresses because people take risks.

Henry Suryawirawan: [00:52:05] Wow. Yeah. That’s pretty good to sum up this conversation. So Prof, for people who would like to connect with you more, or maybe learn more from you, where they can find you maybe online or somewhere?

Alex Siow: [00:52:15] Online, I’m on LinkedIn. So anybody can request to be a friend. They can post question to me. If there are longer conversation, I will give them my email in the LinkedIn. The whole world can find me on LinkedIn, and I’m available to answer any questions.

Henry Suryawirawan: [00:52:31] Yeah. Thanks again, Prof, for this pleasant conversation. And I’m sure in the future, we will need more capable, trustable, and able leadership from CIOs like you. So again, thank you for this conversation.

Alex Siow: [00:52:42] Yeah. It’s been a pleasure. Thank you, Henry. It’s an interesting conversation.

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