Digitalisation ultimately belongs to the CEO, with the CIO’s help: Balakrishnan

Singapore’s Smart Nation Initiative minister-in-charge, Vivian Balakrishnan, also discusses the forces behind the current technology inflection point, and what it means to business, government, and citizens.

Where is the biggest gap in Singaporean business for skills and information? It is “probably biggest at the CEO level”, said Vivian Balakrishnan, the country’s minister for foreign affairs and minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation Initiative, at a recent discussion.

Balakrishnan spoke on IT leadership’s place and on the current inflection in digital technologies on 16 March 2021 on the role of CIOs in today’s organisations at the launch of the book Leading with IT: Lessons from Singapore’s First CIO by Alex Siow. Siow, now a professor in the School of Computing at the National University of Singapore, was the country’s first CIO, heading the IT division of the Housing Development Board, the statutory board of the Ministry of National Development responsible for public housing in Singapore.

The role of the CEO, and CIO, in digitalization

“Let me explain why I say that,” Balakrishnan said. “There is a difference between digitisation and digitalisation.” He defined digitisation as conversion of atoms into bits and storing physical information into electronic forms. “But digitalisation is far more than that. Digitalisation only occurs if you re-engineer your processes on the basis that things have now been digitised,” he said. (Digitalisation is also often called ‘digital transformation’.)

“If all you have done is to digitise the form but you haven’t actually digitalised the form and re-engineered the processes so that [you address] issues like identity, authentication, e-payment, registration, filing of documents—to be able to have your entire business process optimise all their processes—… you haven’t digitalised in the full sense of the word.”

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