by Charlotte Trueman, Cristina Lago

CIOs in ASEAN: Salary expectations and job descriptions

Jan 24, 2020
CareersCIOIT Jobs

To succeed in ASEAN countries today, CIOs must go beyond keeping the lights on, says management consulting firm Korn Ferry.

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Who is the CIO?

The Chief Information Officer (CIO) or IT Director is the senior executive responsible for the information technology (IT) systems supporting the business needs and goals of an enterprise.

The role and responsibilities of the CIO are evolving with the changing business landscape. While remaining focused on technology is still a necessity of the job, CIOs are now being challenged to use IT strategies and solutions to drive business innovation and transformation through the application of emerging technologies.

“The CIO today is under tremendous pressure to transform and at the same time perform,” says Gerard Chai, chairman at consulting firm Korn Ferry Singapore and head of its technology officers practice in APAC.

“They now have the pressing need to quickly evolve IT from being utility order takers to value-creating business partners. In order to thrive in the ‘new normal’ of disruptive change, CIOs today needs to influence their organisations to put the right conditions in place to be able to continually transform and thus becoming digitally sustainable.”

Cloud computing has brought with it a whole new ecosystem that needs to be taken into consideration, while the growing emphasis on analytics means data must now be thought about more carefully.

Ultimately, this means that modern CIOs are taking on a more strategic business role than their predecessors. As Chai explains, “There is no escape from driving digital transformation – to remain static would put the future of the organisation at serious risk.”

Not only that, but inability to go beyond the traditional functions of the classic CIO – such as maintaining systems and operationally responding or reacting to the business – will put CIOs at risk of losing their jobs.

“CIOs have slowly migrated from being the one keeping the lights on into a role that is often in the spotlight,” says Nathan Kamstra, CIO of Indonesian startup Urbanhire. “So much of business now relies on technology that it’s no longer about simple cost and risk mitigation.”

Among the  strategic imperatives required of the modern CIO, Chai mentions the rapid escalation of technological capabilities across the organisation and the implementation of working methods such as agile to increase productivity. In Singapore, for example, the chief digital and information officer of the National Gallery has successfully adopted an artificial intelligence sales assistant that can automate sales emails for the company’s venue rental team.

In order to support the business side of the organisation, CIOs need to move from being order takers to full business partners and strategic leaders by demonstrating talent and leadership skills.

“The CIO’s role now spans charting the strategic direction of the company through leading digital change management,” says Adrian Jones, senior vice president of Asia Pacific and Japan at Automation Anywhere.

On top of these tasks, Southeast Asian CIOs have some specific challenges to overcome, including recruiting and retaining talent, cyber threats, lack of organisational alignment and being able to convince the CEO of their potential to impact the business.

How much do CIOs get paid in Southeast Asia?

The salary of a CIO varies from country to country across the ASEAN region and can change depending on industry and years of experience.

Below is a guide to typical per annum earnings of CIOs across different industries in six countries where data from Michael Page and Robert Walters recruiting firms was available.

  • Indonesia (IT Chief): 700m – 1,000m IDR (US$52,000 – $74,000)
  • Malaysia (IT Director): 240,000 – 420,000 MYR (US$59,000 – $103,000)
  • Philippines: 6.0m – 11.0m PHP (US$118,000 – $216,000)
  • Singapore: S$190,000 – S$360,000 (US$141,000 – $267,000)
  • Thailand: 1.5m – 4.0m THB (US$49,000 – $131,000)
  • Vietnam (Head of IT): US$65,000 – US$130,000

Conversion to USD valid as 24 January 2020.

Who does the CIO report to?

There is often an assumption within businesses that the C-Suite Executive team should all report to the CEO but this isn’t always the case.

The findings from a recent Korn Ferry survey – yet to be released – on CIOs shows that 67 percent of CIOs globally report to the CEO. The remainder generally report to the Chief Financial Officer (CFO), a pattern more typical in Southeast Asian countries, ensuring sprawling IT budgets are defined, met and understood.

There are also a few CIOs who report to the Chief Operation Officer (COO).

Even if the CIO doesn’t report directly to the CEO, the relationship between the two can prove vital to the running of a company, especially as organisations continue discovering the benefits of taking a digital-first approach to business.

When the CIO and CEO communicate well and work together collaboratively, it helps ensure that digital strategies are implemented smoothly, and best practices are scaled throughout the business.

What skills do you need to be a successful CIO?

Good management and interpersonal skills are essential qualities for any CIO wanting to set and implement a company-wide strategy.

A CIO who can’t communicate effectively with both their team and fellow C-Suite executives or board members is unlikely to be successful in the role. Problem solving, creativity and innovation are all necessary qualities organisations look for when hiring a modern CIO.

“Best-in-class CIOs need to balance stakeholders, cultivate innovation, have strategic vision and global perspective, and be able to adapt to different situations,” says Korn Ferry’s Chai. “In addition to these skills, top CIOs should be able to develop talent, learn fast and navigate networks.” 

Unsurprisingly, as the responsibilities of the CIO move away from being purely technical, there has been an increase in CIOs joining companies form less-traditional backgrounds.

However, in Asia, where the role of the CIO is somewhat narrower, 62 percent of CIOs have a degree in information technology, computer science or a related field. Furthermore, 78 percent of CIOs from the region report that they have only ever worked in IT.

Fundamentally, an effective CIO is one who can balance the technical and strategic skills necessary to fulfil all the responsibilities of the job to achieve business success.