Do Asian organisations still need IT departments?

The shift towards the empowered consumer and employee is no more obvious than in Asia - particularly in Singapore, where a recent Google study showed that smartphone penetration is a whopping 62% (compared to 31% in the US). In fact, of the 11 countries in Asia surveyed, four of them (Singapore, Australia - 37%, Hong Kong - 35%, Urban China - 35%) had higher smartphone penetration rates than the US (and amongst 18-29 year olds, 84% of Singaporeans had smartphones, compared to 47% in the US!). With many of the more populous countries having young populations (average age: Philippines - 22.9, China - 35.5, India - 26.2, Indonesia - 28.2 - see World Factbook), the gen Y factor is driving employees to question whether the current way of working makes the most sense.

With so many young, mobile and connected employees, it is no surprise that CIOs across the region regularly complain about the company staff self-deploying devices, applications and services from the web or from app stores. The attitude of many IT shops is to shut it down - interestingly, the whole concept of "empowered employees" is quite "taboo" in some countries across the Asia Pacific region. A CIO recently told me that "smartphones and social media have come five years too soon" - referring to the fact he is planning to retire in five years, and that these technology-centric services are proving to be quite a headache for his IT department!

However, the reality is you can't continue to shut these services down - most of the technologies used by empowered employees  are actually essential for innovating and developing new revenue streams for the company… therefore CIOs must weigh the risks versus rewards before jumping to rooting out these technologies from their environment

So what is the role of the IT department in this new era of self-service, employee ready technology? This is the question that hangs over many IT departments - and is the one that many of the CIOs I speak to and work with across the region are trying to solve. Projecting forward, the current and even emerging models of IT operation will be created by these empowered employees. What is the point of spending millions of dollars and many months or years on a new application when empowered employees will find something similar on the web that can be deployed much faster? What is the benefit of outsourcing your infrastructure, when many of the new delivery models (i.e. SaaS) bundle the infrastructure in? Why bother with the waterfall application development methodology when the consumers of IT services have been trained to believe that they should be able to get everything yesterday?

The reality is that while the shift from IT to BT (business technology) will help to solve some problems, we will still need to work on a balance between a traditional Aligned IT model (i.e. where the BT department provides all the tech capabilities) and Embedded BT (where the business self-deploys). Walking this line between the two models will be the major challenge for CIOs and their IT departments over the next ten years. 

So what do you think of this? Has your business embraced BT AND the empowered employee? Are you still trying to control all technology decisions in your organisation? Have you ceded control to the business? Or have you found a middle ground where you, the CIO, are involved in developing amd executing business strategy along with corporate leaders? I'm keen to hear your stories and your thoughts - particularly those in Asia. Analyst John Brand and I are presenting to CIOs on this very topic at a Forrester breakfast in Singapore on the 15th December and we'd love to be able to incorporate your feedback into the discussions with CIOs - I'll be sure to report back afterwards too.