I had the good fortune of moderating a panel on the state of digital business at the Chief Digital Officer Global Forum in Singapore yesterday morning. The event showcased a who’s who of digital business leadership in the region, including my panelists Veena Ramesh of Johnson & Johnson, Jerry Blanton of Citi, and Veronique Meffert of Great Eastern Life.

The event paralleled many of the themes my colleague Clement Teo highlighted in his recent report on the State of Digital Business in Asia Pacific. Five key themes that I believe provide important insights on the pulse of digital business regionally:

  • Organizational issues are the greatest hurdle. There was not a single dissenting voice on the fact that organizational challenges represent the biggest impediment to digital business progress. The greatest organizational challenges are functional silos, business unit resistance, a lack of clear guidance from the CEO, rigid backward-looking mindsets, and a shortage of the skills needed to drive change. One approach — shared by Rahul Welde of Unilever — is to drive “digital experimentation funds” and “foundries” to drive co-creation innovation.
  • Media command centers are becoming critical marketing assets. Both representatives from Unilever and Philips spoke of the critical role that media command centers now play in their marketing campaigns. In the case of Philips, I was surprised to learn that its social media command center in Singapore employs 200 people — and that it is planning for expansion!
  • Creativity is being forced to make room for metrics. Google’s Robbie Hills moderated an excellent panel on programmatic media and the impact it is having on the creative work agencies have done in the past. It was generally agreed that creativity and metrics must go hand-in-hand, but that creativity now needs to share the limelight.
  • Agency business models are under pressure. Several marketing leaders questioned the traditional role of agencies and the value they deliver. Although all of them see the need for world class creative work, there is discomfort with the old ways of partnering with agencies and paying for their services. There is greater openness to work with smaller innovative boutiques and more pressure being applied to the dominant agencies.
  • Agile isn’t just for techies. Jerry Blanton of Citibank shared his experience driving agile approaches into the way his marketing department works and partners with agencies. Many speakers and attendees mentioned that the days of RFPs for expensive and lengthy creative work are becoming less prevalent, giving way to a more agile working approach to drive iterative results.

What’s missing from the top-of-mind issues for digital business leaders in Asia Pacific? I think it’s telling that technology doesn’t make the cut. Sure, there were many discussions about mobile, social, and analytics, but they were always mentioned as a means to an end.

For CIOs looking for an invitation to the party, I think media command centers, programmatic media, and agile are promising touchpoints. As for the acronyms the industry loves so much — like ERP, CRM, BI, and SI — I didn’t hear any of them once. When speaking with your marketing peers, I suggest you check those acronyms at the door.