I spent my first week ever in Beijing, where my local colleague gave me ample opportunities to meet clients and prospects – both government organizations and IT vendors – as well as to discover some of the beauties of this formidable country, like the well-known Forbidden City or the less-known but equally impressive contemporary architectural complex built close to the Great Wall.
When my colleagues prepped me for this trip and during a first lovely dinner on Sunday night, they highlighted that China is really different and how, while clients are eager to ear about good practices and issues elsewhere, one has to appreciate the major differences and put those practices into perspective.
However as I was going through the list of top issues that government CIOs are struggling with in China and after my first conversation with them, it was clear that I could have had those same conversations in a western country. IT governance across different agencies, portfolio management, vendor management and more in general the choice of effective sourcing strategies are issues that I discuss every day with client around the world.
One might think that with five-year plans and relatively little churn, the Chinese government should enjoy sufficient stability to make things happen.
For instance, their current strategic plan puts a great emphasis on smart cities, also taking into account the extraordinary urban development caused by people moving from the countryside looking for better paid jobs in a still growing (albeit slower) economy. However when one looks at the majority of smart city projects in China, they are as siloed as those in the West: smart transportation, smart public safety, smart building, each as a separate project, with separate drivers and responsibilities and very little integration, if any.
Vendors are very similar to those in the West. Some are really good, with quite impressive talent, significant IPs and a good level of innovation. But they package all their offering as “smart something” in response to the government’s strategy. So I can find the same confusion I find elsewhere between offerings that look more like rebranding existing products than truly innovative smart cross-domain solutions,
Some Chinese government CIOs believe that Western countries, and the US in particular, have accomplished a lot in terms of IT management and governance. I told them that there is a huge difference between having roles, mandates, directives and architectural frameworks, and being really able to benefit from them rather than simply complying not to get in trouble with one’s budget. They seemed surprised to realize that they are not alone in struggling with some fundamental governance issues that make shared service implementations as well as other types of cross-agency endeavors particularly difficult.
This is one of the aspects that makes being an analyst a wonderful job. While official papers and press interviews show one side of the story, talking to clients on a daily basis often reveals a different and more nuanced picture.
The world is really smaller and issues are much closer to each other than we think.