Interview: Johan Affendi
Business CIO – Corporate Petroliam Nasional Berhad, Malaysia
Johan has always worked in IT throughout his career spanning more than 20 years. “What opened my eyes to the attraction of becoming a CIO, is how the role is meant to serve the business and how impactful ICT (Information and Communications Technology) can be for an organisation. Not only is it a technical role like all other IT jobs, but it is a critical function that serves the best interests of the business. The CIO’s role is to elevate the IT function and make it a key strategic enabler that can help meet business objectives.”
Johan has a Diploma in Business Studies, a Degree in Management Information Systems and a variety of professional IT certifications such as ITIL, COBIT, PMP and TOGAF which he believes makes him a well-rounded IT professional. He also has an in-depth understanding of ICT frameworks, best practices, emerging technologies and business adoption, with a focus on the oil & gas and airline industries. He has spent eight years in various leadership roles and over 15 years in project management and service management roles.
He became the CIO after 15 years in his profession working at four different organisations. Johan is part of the Petronas CIO Council, which is chaired by the Group CFO. The CIO Council is represented by the Petronas Group CIO and Business CIOs for Upstream, Downstream, Corporate and Project Delivery and Technology. “I believe in today’s digital era it is critical for any business to have their CIO sit on the board or its management committee as IT has become as important as the more traditional functions of finance, human resources and others.”
Johan agrees that a successful CIO must recognise the importance of good communication. “Communication skills and stakeholder management with the business leadership team and middle managers are key. I lead a team of 16 and work closely with 20 others in the business.” His approach is accompanied by his experience partnering with the entire company’s value chain. “Every single unit in the business needs IT to function at an optimised level and we need to work hand in hand. To ignore any single function would be perilous.”
When asked about skills that aspiring CIOs need to develop, Johan mentions, “A CIO needs to understand the challenges and priorities of the business and then provide suitable solutions to support the business’ needs. A CIO must also look into the execution of these solutions and ensure sustainability and business value by ensuring implementation covers all people, process and technology aspects. IT projects are not just technology projects. I see the role of IT in business as all encompassing. The breadth of IT covers all business aspects and touches the entire value chain of the business be it finance, human resources, engineering, health, security, safety & environment.”
Following this assessment, Johan sees strategic planning as one of the top skills needed to be a successful and effective CIO. He also believes that having the basic technical knowledge coupled with previous experience of working directly for the business in a non-IT role is beneficial.
Johan believes being proactive is a personal characteristic that has helped him succeed as CIO. “IT should not wait for the business to tell IT what to do. As a CIO, I shape and manage the demand from the business. Then I manage the supply and execution of this demand to ensure maximum impact and value to the business.”
Johan identifies a set of challenges that are present for CIOs, one of which is the often addressed challenge of diversity. “Some of my early IT bosses were women. More needs to be done to encourage women to climb to the top of the IT profession.”
Another key challenge identified by Johan is the challenge to achieve company objectives. “You need to know how to align IT to the business. For me, I attempt to establish this alignment by developing an IT blueprint or roadmap that can clearly be mapped to business objectives. I utilise my knowledge in the areas of COBIT, PMP, TOGAF and ITIL and many other tools and frameworks such as Business Capability Modelling and Lean methodology. The trick is to ensure the language IT uses to communicate this alignment is understood by the business, which is usually in terms such as net present value, return on investment, payback, adoption or embedment, productivity, compliance, etc.”
These challenges keep the CIO role an intensive one, often leading to long and odd hours. “A work-life balance is important and people’s time needs to be respected. At the same time, it is permissible for sacrifices to be made if it’s necessary to do so at certain occasions but not all the time.”
Johan gained international exposure for more than two years during his early years working with an airline, which he found to be of considerable benefit to his career. He believes CIOs can gain varied experience in international markets and in different cultural settings.
Johan is also a firm believer in the benefits of networking, and he attends industry or technical events and networks online on LinkedIn. However he thinks he could do more networking with other CIOs and suppliers, as he says he can learn more from them.
“The best advice I can give to someone starting out in their IT career, who wants to make it as a CIO, would be to get to know the business side, not just the technical side. Enterprise IT or common IT services is usually a given and does not interest the business. What’s more important to them are the specific applications or solutions that address their business process and informational needs. Learn how to manage people and perfect your stakeholder engagement skills to build effective intra-business relationships. Live up to the “I” (information) in CIO, which is often neglected but most certainly vital to the business especially in today’s digital age. And finally, keep up-to-date on technology advances; assessing new technology and sorting the fads from the tools that add value to the business will be critical to your success.”