Cultivating talent

A key part of ACN’s mission is to venture into the region’s boardrooms to seek out the smartest CIOs and top IT professionals and get to know them better. This month, we have Hatem Al Sibai, the CIO of the United Arab Emirates’ Al Ghurair Group. Al Sibai is a believer in cultivating an atmosphere of research and development in the IT team and dislikes the conservative IT stance taken by many regional enterprises.

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By  Simon Duddy Published  October 25, 2005

|~|Al-Sibai,-_m.jpg|~|Al Sibai: Basically, it's up to the CIO to structure the entity and if you do it well, workloads will not be a problem. But if you don't have the right structure, the CIO can become a bottleneck.|~|A key part of ACN’s mission is to venture into the region’s boardrooms to seek out the smartest CIOs and top IT professionals and get to know them better. This month, we have Hatem Al Sibai, the CIO of the United Arab Emirates’ Al Ghurair Group. Al Sibai is a believer in cultivating an atmosphere of research and development in the IT team and dislikes the conservative IT stance taken by many regional enterprises. Arabian Computer News: What is your career history to date? Hatem Al Sibai: I came to Dubai in 1987 and started as a computer engineer with Gulf Extrusions, which is part of Al Ghurair Group. Back then information systems were scarce and the PC was a luxury. At this time, the concept of UNIX and X86 processors were just coming to the PC. I realised how much potential they held so I shifted our operations to them. Later I was promoted to IT manager and we started to develop a proper IT function with more of an infrastructure. For example, Al Ghurair decided to implement a tier one enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution in Oracle E-Business Suite. We also decided to roll out this infrastructure to other Al Ghurair companies. To do this we created the IT Services Unit, and I was promoted to head that. So I basically became the group IT manager. And a couple of years ago I was promoted to CIO. I was able to grow my own career as the IT infrastructure at Al Ghurair grew. My career has moved from responsibility for a single company to more enterprise- wide strategic concerns. My main responsibility now is to make sure that business and technology are aligned and that the business benefits from technology to the largest possible extent. ACN: What is the key to this? HS: Make sure that you have talent and an environment that breeds talent. This is where people are recognised for creativity, where people are allowed to engage in research and development and not just told what to do. You empower people, let them be creative and think out loud, and that gives the staff a lot of job satisfaction. This is key for any CIO to be able to achieve objectives. This is something we have done well. We have a highly talented team and a very low attrition rate among staff. ACN: What do you enjoy most about working in the Middle East IT market? HS: Being CIO of a large enterprise, you can create an environment that I think is crucial, a research and development-based environment, plus you get to network with a lot of interesting people, there is talent from all over the world, especially in Dubai. ACN: What do you dislike most? HS: The conservative approach many people have to adopting IT solutions. People often stick with solutions that are five or six years old and don’t move on, they are afraid to take risks. This has to do with the culture more than anything else, where people pay a lot of attention to job security. This explains the slow adoption rate for technologies like Linux, which do much better in Europe and North America. People here are more concerned about being safe than trying to leverage a powerful technology to their advantage. Another problem is you need to look beyond the CV as people travel here from all over the world, so skill sets vary enormously. You have to know and work with people for a while before you can assess how valuable they can be to your team. ACN: What has been your greatest career achievement? HS: IT has played big role in creating corporate identity at the Al Ghurair Group, because it was the first shared service unit. That is, we supplied similar IT services to units that were completely different in their lines of business. We introduced standardisation through the applications. ACN: How quickly is the IT market evolving? HS: It has always trailed behind leading markets. There has always been a gap of five years or so. But recently the gap has been shrinking. At the same time, this is a fast growing market with industry and construction fueling growth in the IT sector. There is huge demand for IT products and services and I cannot see it slowing down any time soon. ACN: How would you describe your management style? HS: It is based on delegating responsibilities and empowering people. This allows the organisation to cope with greater workloads than companies that are not structured in this way. Basically, it’s up to the CIO to structure the entity and if you do it well, workloads will not be a problem. But if you don’t have the right structure, the CIO can become a bottleneck. I have seen CIOs take on too much themselves and this can cause problems. ACN: How can the Middle East enterprise improve IT ROI? HS: Ensure that corporate and IT governance frameworks are established and put in place. This will allow for good change management and reduce the risk of internal conflicts that can limit ROI. Also, having a long term business plan and strategy prior to making an IT investment will ensure that future requirements will also be served by the investment. Basically, plan ahead rather than take the short term view. ACN: What are your tips for other CIOs? HS: Create a marriage between IT and business. The ultimate objective is for business to realise the benefits of technology, and that can only happen when both are closely aligned. IT should be a stakeholder in the business and not isolated from it. ACN: How do you like to relax outside of work? HS: I like to let off steam by going to the gym as well as socialising with colleagues from the industry. IT is a huge field and there are always interesting stories and ideas circulating, such as the latest security breach or threat or a funny incident. I have a lot of interesting colleagues and peers in the city. IT is a fast moving business and a wide network of contacts helps in keeping up with the latest trends.||**||

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