Francisco Castillo, Senior VP and CIO at Maynilad Water Services, talks to The Ortus Club’s Ali Noelle Sy about how technology is impacting businesses and how an open-minded and carefully planned adoption strategy is the key to success.
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Can you give us a one-sentence summary of your company?
Maynilad Water is a water and wastewater utility company in the Philippines. We are, in fact, the biggest water company here in the Philippines.
Can you describe the of role a CIO in one word? Why?
The word I would choose is ‘strategic’. It’s probably more apparent today, but it has been happening over the years, that I think more and more businesses need to think of technology as an integral part of their business. I think the pandemic actually accelerated this.
Suddenly, the technology is not really an afterthought but something that is really strategic for the company in order for them to survive and thrive.
What current challenges are CIOs facing right now? Can you identify a solution?
There are many challenges, but maybe the ones that come to mind is number one, something that I think all CIOs can relate to is IT security, even more so that we’re working from home because you’re not behind your company firewall and all those protections that you would commonly have.
So now, you’re in the house, you have a simple router, and you’re more exposed. So, working from home has its challenges and we’ve seen the number of attacks in the rise in interest in security.
How do we address that? Well, it’s like a cat-and-mouse game. You can’t relax because as you put in more technology, more policies attuned to the situation, more governance, the bad guys also change.
And so, you never stop. You need to continuously update. You need to continuously tweak and read because you need to be aware of what’s happening.
The second challenge that I would mention is getting good system integrators. What do I mean by that? No matter how good a particular product is, you need the people to implement that and that is a challenge many times because companies are good at marketing and selling, but when it comes to the real nitty-gritty of implementing, that’s another story.
So, the way we address that is we think long-term partnerships, we can’t think of just transactional. You get this vendor because it’s the cheapest. No. We try to really work with partners and develop them so that they know the way we work, the procedures, the process, the policies, and also encourage them to continue investing in their skills because, for us, it’s a long-term relationship with a few select vendors, I would say. So that’s the way we addressed it.
“‘You never stop. You need to continuously update. You need to continuously tweak and read because you need to be aware of what’s happening.”
How do you explain the success you’ve had in your career?
I would say that I’m a person that thinks things over a lot. People are making a decision and I spend a lot of time planning. So, typically during the week, we don’t have time because we’re busy with the day, so I usually devote maybe Sunday afternoon to think, strategise, and plan ahead. So that’s one.
You need to do proper planning, you need to think strategically, and you need to do that with a clear head. You can’t do it if you’re firefighting. You need to put some order first in the date today. The other aspect to it is you may be strategic and all that, but you need to be able to execute and being able to execute means—and that’s not me, that’s my Heads, my staff—you need to be enabled in order to do that. I actually give them a lot of power but with power comes responsibility. You need to empower them to make decisions, but you need to let them understand what good decisions are and what the criteria behind those decisions are.
So, I do spend also a lot of time reading in terms of the new trends and imparting that knowledge internally to my people. We spend a lot of time doing internal sharing training of all sorts and I would say that for me, those are the keys that one needs to be constantly abreast of. Technology changes very, very fast.
Can you tell us about a time you took a major risk in your career?
I take risks all the time but as I said, I think things through a lot and I plan things a lot, so I could say that they are calculated risks and you’ve got to calculate. Things don’t always go right, so you’ve got to tweak as you go along then you say, “Oh okay, we didn’t take that into account.” So, you need to be on top.
But a major thing we took, and it was about 10 years ago, which is still relevant today, is I decided to outsource my whole IT operations. That was a risk because you bring in someone who’s not familiar with the systems or the processes and you’ve got to build from scratch and take over, but the reason why I did that is I saw at that point in time, we didn’t have the people with the skills needed for us to really mention things strategically and move forward. It would be a hindrance and as a utility company, I don’t think it’s really attractive for technology people, or at least the majority, to build a career, especially when they’re young in terms of technology, and stay, so we decided, ‘Let’s outsource.’ And, we had a lot of hiccups. It’s not a simple thing, so in the beginning, we had issues, but the idea is, again, you have to be on top of things and react. If you see this is not working or this person is not working or this process is not working, you need to change it accordingly.
So, I would say that it was probably the most major risk I can remember. But today, we look back, my Heads look back, my team looks back, and we have no regrets. It’s working.
How can you see your role evolving in the next two to three years?
I would say it’s more of the same but it’s more and more of the same. We said that CIOs are becoming more strategic, it will be even more so.
There’s no part in the business that—traditional brick and mortar, and the small businesses—would say, “We’re kind of immune to technology.” But, you aren’t. I mean, if you have a retail shop right now and you’re not online, you have a big problem because definitely, you’re going to see a huge decrease in customers.
So, it’s actually going to be even more visible for good and for bad, depending on how you look at it. It’s going to be even more in demand. It’s going to be more visible to the board as well as to the management, and, more and more, those companies that will thrive are those that take technology into account from the very start, not see it just as an afterthought.
So, I think that’s actually happening and I’m seeing it happen, so I would say it’s more and more of that in the future.
What career advice would you like to share with CIOs?
I’m the author of this book, it’s called Managing Information Technology. It’s published by Springer in Germany. And, in answering your question, I refer to this book because a lot of the details are there. So, my advice to CIOs is what is really important, as a CIO, is putting in the right processes, putting in the right governance, and putting in the right mechanisms to make projects and operations run smoothly in terms of the whole organisation. That is really the most important. The technology part changes very rapidly, but those good practices in terms of project management, operations management, and governance actually haven’t changed that much over the last 20+ years.
So, don’t think that just because AI comes in, or machine learning comes in, you have to throw away whatever you’ve done. It’s very important that the structure, the mechanism, the table of organisation even, which is commonly a big mistake, and the processes behind those are properly designed so even when a new technology comes in, you can easily adapt to it and digitise your business and move forward.
Yes, don’t fall in love only with the technology. It’s very important to get the whole structure and processes around them correctly and that’s what my book talks about. By the way, it’s also available on Amazon.