As businesses across Vietnam adjust to the new market realities of Covid-19 \u2013 complicated further by shifting societal dynamics \u2013 CIOs are approaching a digital transformation crossroads.\nImpacted by an approaching global recession on the one hand yet motivated by a desire to return to growth and kick-start innovation agendas on the other, technology executives across the country are weighing up future opportunities and challenges in equal measure.\nOn the whole, the enterprise is aggressively pursuing digital initiatives and pending government policy decisions, will continue to make solid progress in the months ahead.\nMirroring other markets in Southeast Asia, Vietnamese businesses have been transitioning through a three-step process of recovery, spanning \u201crespond, adapt and accelerate\u201d.\n\u201cThe number one concern for CXOs during the first half of 2020 was keeping operations running and enabling employees to work-from-home, these were the most important objectives,\u201d observed Nitin Ahuja, general manager and sales director of Nascent, Asia Emerging Markets and Vietnam at VMware. \u201cThe availability of VMware\u2019s cloud computing solutions across both private and public cloud services greatly eased the transition to home-based working.\u201d\nHampered by Covid-19 \u2013 and subsequent local lockdowns \u2013 organisations quickly turned to technology to overcome rising company challenges, triggered by a sharp rise in remote working.\n\u201cOur Workspace ONE offering helped local companies initiate work-from-anywhere at any time policies, supported by any device on any application,\u201d added Pham Viet Thang, country sales manager of Vietnam at VMware. \u201cThis helped facilitate work-from-home regimes.\u201d\nFollowing the initial reaction to the pandemic \u2013 which prompted heightened demand for collaboration, security and business continuity solutions \u2013 organisations have since adapted to fluctuating national conditions amid plans to lay the foundations of rejuvenation.\nNow, with 2021 on the horizon, companies are embracing the \u2018accelerate\u2019 phase, reassessing technology priorities, operational processes and business model frameworks in the process \u2013 such a shift in mindset places the CIO at the centre of national change.\nTransformation centred on customer experience\nAs outlined by technology executives during this CIO Executive Forum \u2013 in association with VMware \u2013 digital transformation strategies are being shaped with the aim of enhancing customer experience levels, cited as key to future success in Vietnam.\nSpecifically, key priorities include ensuring a seamless experience for customers through the synchronisation of multiple channels, supported by a digital service ecosystem of open APIs and microservices. CIOs are also leveraging big data to create in-depth customer profiles, offering analysis into end-user behaviour patterns in diverse and accurate manners.\nFurthermore, acquiring new customers \u2013 irrespective of sector \u2013 remains a leading business agenda item going forward, achieved through embracing digital platforms and technologies.\nThe financial services sector houses a local example of innovation in action, highlighted through one leading CIO spearheading the creation of a digital transformation office to boost customer numbers and increase company profits. This is in addition to allowing the business to develop new products and maximise the potential of big data to enhance internal decision-making cycles.\nAccording to IDC, customer experience is defined as a \u201cfunctional activity encompassing business processes, strategies, technologies, and services that companies use, irrespective of industry, to provide a better experience for their customer and to differentiate themselves from their competitors\u201d.\nWithin this context, CIOs were unanimous in citing the main technologies capable of achieving customer experience as part of a broader digital transformation strategy, including public and private cloud; big data and analytics; robotic process automation (RPA) and mobility solutions, alongside artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning offerings.\nEmbracing cloud, with caution\nDuring 2020, cloud services remained resilient across ASEAN as businesses leveraged flexibility and scale to respond and then rebound from the pandemic.\nAs outlined by IDC, Southeast Asian investment in software-as-a-service (SaaS), infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) and platform-as-a-service (PaaS) is projected to increase by 21.5 percent, 22.7 percent and 37.5 per cent respectively during the next 12 months.\nReflecting regional appetite, Vietnamese CIOs are also buoyant with regards to cloud, labelled as a \u201ckey component\u201d of digital transformation agendas. In addition to the technological benefits, the \u201cpay as you use\u201d model is also appealing for businesses seeking to create and test new solutions at speed, launching products \u201cwithin weeks, rather than years\u201d.\nFor one CIO, plans are in place to transition 80 percent of customer and internal services to the cloud by 2022, with another organisation migrating all enterprise applications \u2013 including those supporting 60 million customers \u2013 to the skies.\nYet despite the direction of travel being clear, CIOs acknowledged that legal and regulatory barriers remain with regards to the deployment of cloud services in Vietnam. This is evident when assessing the levels of clarity in relation to what level of personal data is restricted to cloud services located in-country, and whether data can be held offshore.\nIn addition to customer experience and cloud, maximising the value of data also ranks high on the priority list of CIOs, with organisations increasing investment in data lakes and data warehouses to enhance decisions at executive level.\nAs documented by one CIO, a boardroom approved strategy is in place to manage data across 28 million customers, delivered by an increased organisational focus on extracting value from numerous other databases within the company.\nOf parallel importance is also AI, on display in financial services through enabling customers to register credit and debit cards online, with 20 percent of transactions now completed digitally.\nNavigating change\nAlmost six months after the approval of the National Digital Transformation Programme \u2013 set to be rolled out by 2025 \u2013 CIOs stressed the importance of a unified government policy in ensuring digital transformation deployments continue to progress at pace.\nFor example, a central certification authority is required to support remote signing services which would enable customers to enter into e-contracts with multiple companies \u2013 this in turn is expected to kick-start an explosion of digital transactions in the future.\nFurthermore, CIOs also advocated for the synchronisation of databases across industries such as telecommunications, electricity, banking and social insurance to better support centralised digital identity efforts.\nDespite the minor roadblocks ahead, Vietnamese CIOs are united in the belief that digital transformation stands tall as a strategic business priority in 2021 and beyond.