Top executives are taking up digital technology, but the extent of the embrace appears to be tempered by their need to remain in control of their business ecosystem, according to new research by MEC and CNBC. The research surveyed 32 CEOs in multi-national companies across Singapore, Hong Kong, India and China.
Adoption of digital technology is currently limited to new devices (smartphone, tablet, etc.), being used for information aggregation and synchronization.
Attitudinally, CEOs in Asia acknowledge the positive benefits of using digital technology in the work place, citing upturns in growth and productivity, a leveling of the playing field and changing business formats. They believe that digital technology will change the way they work in the future. “We’ve only just started but digital technology will significantly change the way we deal with our peers, colleagues, clients and suppliers”, said a CEO from India.
Behaviourally, Asian CEOs consider themselves “fast followers” and claim to be undaunted by the proliferation of new gadgets – they remain in control over how and when these devices are to be used. A CEO in Singapore said he does not “want to be controlled by anyone or a piece of machinery”. An example of this is how mobile phones are often switched off and handed over to secretaries during meetings, for undivided attention.
These CEOs believe that digital technologies are not the “be all and end all” of everything. The same expectations in communications from the past applies in today’s digital age too, from “paying full attention when someone is talking” to having control of their time. As a CEO from a HK company said, “When I’m at home, it’s my time. Unless it’s very urgent, everything can wait till the next morning.”
In essence, CEOs continue to and expect to remain in control of their time and schedules.
CEOs tend to have well-established working behaviours, so technology and devices perform an efficiency or enhancing role, especially on a personal level. New technology has not intrinsically changed the way they behave, it is merely facilitating existing behaviors. “I want to be thoughtful, not just compelled to reply right away. I use these devices to add meaning,” explained a CEO from Singapore.
However, it is clear that CEOs recognize the benefits of technology and how it can revolutionise their business, but also recognise that they have a long way to go.
iPad – the game changer?
Interestingly, the iPad is possibly the one gadget that has been observed to subtly alter the CEO behaviour. With the trend of consumerisation of technology and more companies embracing the BYOD (bring your own device) policy, the iPad has quickly become a business as well as a personal device.
The iPad is a perfect fit for the needs of this niche target audience. CEOs have expressed a fondness for it especially for browsing and presenting. This CEO from Singapore likes the iPad: “When the opportunity arises, I take out my iPad and present rather than use my laptop which makes me look like a salesman.”
It is slowly replacing the laptop for short trips and they express a certain liberation that comes with doing that. I started taking my iPad for short trips and now I find the laptop is becoming desk bound. It feels heavy and un-necessary for some trips.”
“Given that they need to manage complexity, tablets satisfy a specific need from CEOs – simplicity. CEOs are highly selective with their content and only consume what they perceive will add real value to their work and personal lives. Therefore, brands seeking to communicate with CEOs need to ensure that content is delivered in a concise manner and optimised to be viewed and interacted with on these devices,” said Junji Sumitani, Vice President, Advertising Sales, CNBC in Asia Pacific.
Selective levels of engagement with social media
Asian CEOs acknowledge that the social media bandwagon is a wave they have yet to, or are hesitant to ride on, either for themselves or for their companies. Personally, these CEOs cite valuing their privacy as the reason they are at best passive observers of social networks. Due to the inherent social nature of these networks, there seems to be a fear of opening up access to themselves and not having the bandwidth to deal with it. This CEO from Hong Kong described it as “There are all these requests I need to accept and I just don’t want to get started on dialogues.”
The innate need to remain in control would clearly be at risk.
However, they do realise the potential of using it for their businesses. Internally, there is some but limited use of social networks for internal communications, stemming from a need to provide a platform for employees to air their opinions rather than as a way to connect and engage with them. “Clearly young people today feel they have a right to question and understand why something is working the way it is and if you don’t provide a mechanism for them to ask that questions and express themselves, they will go outside. So it is better for us to provide that space within the organization.” said a CEO from India.
Externally, CEOs are starting to explore the benefits of what these networks can do. “Therefore, it becomes a very interesting B2B tool. So that’s something we are experimenting within the office – how to use social networking for marketing and promotion and positioning for the company.”
“Social networks are not the way to best communicate with CEOs since they are reluctant to lose control of their communication structures. However, they seek recommendations as much as anyone else, often through respected media brands. Hence B2B brands have an opportunity to partner with these media brands to provide valuable, timely content,” commented Jon Wright, Head of Analytics and Insight, MEC Asia Pacific.