Top 10 IT managers - 2005

Successful implementations, long-term objectives and clear strategic vision are just some of the hallmarks of successful IT managers and CIOs. ACN looks at the technology trends that shaped 2005, looks ahead to 2006 and provides an insight into the mindset and thinking of some of the region's leading technology practitioners, taking Middle East enterprise IT to the next level of sophistication.

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By  Stuart Wilson Published  December 26, 2005

|~|itmanagers200.jpg|~||~|The growth of the Middle East IT market once again exceeded expectations in 2005. Solid double digit percentage growth rates occurred in the hardware and software sectors and the delivery of high-quality IT services in the region also accelerated as more and more end-users looked to get the most from their existing IT assets. The number of enterprise IT implementations occurring in the region continued to climb, driven by increased investment from a number of major vertical sectors including the public sector, financial services, retail and manufacturing. As the Middle East market reaches critical mass, vendors are working overtime to build long-lasting relationships with the strategic accounts that have the vision and the initiative to increase investment in IT projects to drive tangible business benefits. At the enterprise level, the region witnessed an influx of vendors hoping to tap into the Middle East growth opportunity. With sluggish growth rates in mature markets such as Western Europe and North America, IT vendors are paying increased attention to the Middle East as they look to sustain global revenue growth. For those already in the region, 2005 was the year when many took their regional presence to the next level, setting up additional offices and recruiting staff on the ground in strategic markets such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Rising oil prices undoubtedly helped to increase enterprise IT budgets, but customers also started to show a much greater awareness of the need to generate strong return on investment and compelling total cost of ownership benefits from projects that were given the green light. The sophistication of projects increased noticeably as enterprise customers moved beyond basic hardware upgrades and started looking at how server consolidation projects and network optimisation solutions could provide tangible business benefits. The changing priorities underpinning IT spending strategies also paved the way for software vendors in specific areas such as business intelligence to pull off some big deals in the region. Wireless solutions also took a massive step forward thanks to initiatives from key vendors such as Intel. The trend towards mobility solutions looks set to accelerate even further in 2006 as business users recognise the profound benefits offered by increased connectivity and 'on the move' availability of mission critical applications. Organisations in the Middle East are no longer prepared to keep throwing money at IT in the hope that it will ease operational pain points and allow them to scale up their business. Vendors now claim that customers are becoming increasingly sophisticated in the region, looking long and hard at their long-term IT development plans and pursuing projects that offer scalability, flexibility and satisfy CIOs’ two favourite cravings: total cost of ownership (TCO) reduction and return on investment (ROI). The pursuit of these objectives is also increasing CIO and IT managers' propensity to assess the infrastructure, applications and processes that they already have in place and develop a comprehensive understanding of how this existing architecture can be modified and utilised to deliver even greater business transparency. With the levels of data created by an enterprise increasing exponentially as more and more processes shift onto an IT network and the entire workforce starts to embrace technology, projects that allow efficient data warehousing and data mining look set to increase rapidly in 2006. Tied into this is the underpinning need to integrate various internal IT processes and the increased adoption of a holistic approach to technology that drives integration and moves away from a situation where data, applications and even the processing power itself exist in independent silos within the corporate entity. With more and more enterprises considering the deployment of increasingly sophisticated IT solutions, the need for the Middle East to develop an effective approach to outsourcing will become more acute in 2006. The lure of offshore outsourcing remains particularly appealing for certain functions where companies are looking to reduce costs or are faced by local constraints in terms of labour supply. The role of Egypt as an outsourcing hub for the Middle East and North Africa - especially for call centres - looks set to accelerate in 2006. At present, commercial laws continue to hamper the uptake of more sophisticated outsourcing models in the region and unless this situation is modified, the ability for enterprises - especially in areas such as financial services - to leverage the business benefits that true business process outsourcing can provide will remain severely limited. IT security will continue to be an area of uppermost importance in the CIO priority list for 2006. With IT security threats evolving at a lightning pace, the need to deploy up-to-date protection systems and ensure that the system responds to new threats as they occur will become vital. To achieve this goal, managed security services providers will look to accelerate their growth and build up their Middle East customer base even further. Major networking vendors operating in the Middle East confirm that customers are showing a strong appetite for wireless networks, opting to install a future-proof solution from day one. Increased vendor competition in the wireless and mobility solutions space will work in customers' favour, but security and privacy guarantees will remain the ultimate selling point. The Middle East enterprise IT space will also continue to look closely at the potential for reducing operating costs through the use of open source applications. With more and more vendors starting to support Linux, the obstacles to uptake are slowly being eroded. While IT budgets may not actually be reducing, CIOs and IT managers in the Middle East are facing a prickly dilemma that their counterparts in Western Europe and the US have been wrangling with for many years: the need to do more for less. Unfortunately, too many vendors operating in the Middle East have a tendency to spend too much time extolling the benefits of the 'next best thing' as opposed to spending time identifying what is actually the 'best thing' for their customers. There is actually a big difference between the two. As the market reaches critical mass, vendors also need to refine their strategies for covering the entire region. Only a few vendors have really managed to tap the huge potential that exists in Saudi Arabia. Some still try to serve the market remotely through poorly trained partners resulting in shoddy implementations that reflect badly on the vendors involved. There have been excellent implementations in the Middle East and also some poor ones where the project has failed to deliver the benefits promised. In the past, it was easy to ignore the failures and focus instead on the success stories. As we move through 2006, Middle East CIOs and IT managers are waking up to the reality that the failure of an IT project is no longer an option. In today's forward-thinking Middle East enterprise, the IT system has now become the backbone of the operation. With increasing amounts of data residing on the IT system and the constant introduction of new processes and applications that are totally reliant on IT uptime to function, the CIO has now become as mission critical to an organisation's success as the very hardware, software and services that he or she looks after. The real success stories of the Middle East CIO and IT manager arena are those that have demonstrated their ability to move beyond a break-fix mentality and start thinking of IT as a strategic asset. It is the combination of vision, courage and technology expertise coupled with intuitive business acumen, which sets the truly great CIOs and IT managers apart.||**||Imad Ramadan — ITS supervisor, Dubai Men's College|~|imadramadan200.jpg|~|Ramadan: With this superior infrastructure, DMC students can experience the significant benefits of e-learning.|~|Dubai Men's College (DMC), one of the eleven Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT) of the UAE, offers a unique e-learning model to its students. Imad Ramadan and his IT team, working with IBM, revamped the college's IT practices by installing a state-of-the-art infrastructure at its new campus in Dubai. The project involved the deployment of a total infrastructure, from servers and storage equipment, to information management software and a comprehensive suite of IBM Tivoli systems management applications. The new DMC campus now features some of the latest technologies that enable radical and new methods of learning. "With this superior infrastructure, DMC students can experience the significant benefits of e-learning," says Ramadan. "The solution will transform the way our students work with each other." DMC now boasts campus-wide wireless connectivity and voice over internet protocol (VoIP). Video conferencing has been enabled by advanced digital media solutions, and video lectures and library archives are available online. A pioneering video-on-demand (VOD) solution, which relies on an open-standards based framework, allows users to digitally manage, store, protect and distribute video, audio and still images across the DMC network. "Students can produce short video clips for projects, and faculty are using the system to record and play back lectures. The school has also digitised approximately 1,000 video hours of pre-existing media using the VOD solution," Ramadan enthuses. Students and faculty benefit from high-speed network access anywhere on campus. This has improved productivity and enabled innovative methods of learning, according to Ramadan. ||**||Colonel Ahmad Hamdan Bin Dalmook — director, electronic services department, Dubai Police General HQ|~|ahmaddalmook200.jpg|~|Colonel Bin Dalmook: We are now able to share our vast resources of internal information with other government offices|~|By updating and centralising its technology infrastructure Dubai Police has modernised its IT infrastructure in order to support plans for information sharing and government e-services. "We are now able to share our vast resources of internal information with other government offices," says Colonel Bin Dalmook. "We can also deliver remote access to data for our employees, and have improved public access to the department's information and services." Indeed, Dubai Police now has a long list of new e-government projects that have been made available to the 900,000 residents of Dubai. There are now a host of e-services, including facilities for the renewal of vehicle registration and driving licenses, and payment of fines, as well as real-time news on traffic and safety initiatives. "In line with the growing needs of citizens, we have been constantly developing new e-services with the use of the latest technology, to simplify the lives of our customers," explains Colonel Bin Dalmook. Dubai Police's secure and highly available infrastructure extends to its network of self-service kiosks, which are strategically located not just around Dubai, but also in Abu Dhabi and Sharjah, in public places such as shopping malls. Originally, the police intended to offer approximately 20 different services from these machines, but this number has now risen to around 50. Because the project has been so successful, several other key government departments announced their intention to launch kiosk-based e-services at Gitex 2005. "Because of the number of government departments that want to offer these services, there would have to be a number of different kiosks in each location, and this simply would not work," says Colonel Bin Dalmook. ||**||Dr Ali Guidoum — IT division manager, Adnoc distribution|~|aliguidoum200.jpg|~|Dr Guidoum: We are getting a much better performance from the same hardware.|~|Dr Guidoum emerged as a proponent of open source architecture (OSA) earlier this year in ACN's August issue. Advocates of the technology claim that enterprises in the Middle East are now ready and willing to embrace OSA, and many CIOs are beginning to recognise the strong value proposition open-source technologies have to offer in terms of scalability, availability and the return-on- investment (ROI). With its vast network of filling stations covering the entire UAE, the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc) decided to streamline its business operations. Although the distribution company used to run Unix and Windows on its server network, after a stringent re-evaluation of its requirements, Dr Guidoum says he decided to run Linux. "Linux offered us promising alternatives; the platform was robust and cost-effective. The total time for project completion was six months, however, the Linux deployment took much less time," he notes. "All the core systems are now running on Linux. We are getting a much better performance from the same hardware. "With Windows we had to have a client access license for every server. That is not the case now. With the Linux server platform, enterprises like ourselves are only paying for the support and not the system," explains Dr Guidoum. In addition to his strong support for OSA, Dr Guidoum is also making significant headway in preparing Adnoc to meet the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) standards for best practices in IT service management. Adnoc is in the process of adopting the CobIT (Control Objectives for Information and related Technology) framework. ||**||Abdulla Al Madani — head of IT at Dubai Roads and Transport Office, Dubai Municipality|~|alialmadani200.jpg|~|Al Madani: We wanted to be able to have more services and run them faster.|~|Dubai Municipality's e-government programme is one of the most ambitious in the world, let alone the Middle East. The organisation is now aiming to have 90% of its services online by 2007. The man who, until recently, was responsible for hosting and maintaining these e-government services within Dubai Municipality is Abdulla Al Madani. He has just moved from his previous role as head of operations and network services, to become head of IT for the Dubai Roads and Transport Office. At the time of writing he has only been in the new role for one day, so at the moment he's reluctant to comment on the task ahead, except to say he is "looking forward to the challenge". In his previous role, Al Madani oversaw the growth of Dubai's e-government infrastructure and was tasked with keeping it all running: "We started seven years ago with seven remote sites - today we have more than 110; we started with 10 to 15 servers - now we have 120; in total we get 15,000 transactions - not just hits - a week through the e-government portal, and we've had 1.4 million transactions since the services launched," says Al Madani. The key project during 2005 has been a service-oriented architecture (SOA) initiative which Al Madani and his 47 staff introduced to improve the speed and reliability of the services. Al Madani stays the next stage will be to migrate this to Dubai Municipality's back-end systems. "We needed to look hard at our existing systems due to their age, and we decided to move to the SOA standards, and we brought in IBM to help us," says Al Madani. "We wanted to be able to run our systems more efficiently, and we wanted to be able to have more services and run them faster."||**||Hesham Al Nouri — manager, IT Group, Kuwait Oil Company|~|heshamalnouri200.jpg|~|Al Nouri: We required a solution that integrated well with our existing applications. We did not want to change our entire IT platform|~|Hesham Al Nouri, manager of the IT group at Kuwait Oil Company (KOC), is a firm believer in the alignment of the IT department with the company's wider business objectives. Within KOC, Al Nouri has played a pivotal role in the deployment of an upgraded ERP system that offered the company greater flexibility and improved business processes. The oil giant has deployed selected modules of Oracle's ERP solution that not only fulfilled the company's immediate requirements, but also integrated seamlessly with existing applications. "We were looking for seamless technical functionalities and the Oracle solution happened to be the ideal fit for our requirements," explains Al Nouri. "My organisation had specific needs. We [required] a solution that integrated well with our existing applications. We did not want to change our entire IT platform," he adds. Today, KOC is witnessing a significant return on investment (ROI) and Al Nouri reckons that the solution has not only helped to streamline the day-to-day operations of the company, but has also provided the management with a 360-degree view of daily activities. Constantly striving for innovation and ingenuity in the deployment of new IT systems at KOC, Al Nouri realises the importance of delivering high quality service levels to users within the organisation. KOC is one of the biggest oil companies in the world and with Kuwait's economy heavily dependent on the success of this state-run organisation; the need to implement cutting-edge IT strategies is constant. KOC is involved in a variety of oil-based business activities and also works with subproducts such as gasoline and petrochemicals.||**||Jalal Alqassab — acting vice president for IT, Gulf Air|~|jalalalqassab200.jpg|~|Alqassab: This year we'll be continuing to drive down costs and improve efficiency.|~|Gulf Air's Jajal Alqassab climbed higher since ACN last spoke to him in May's issue - the former IT infrastructure head is now acting vice president for IT at the airline. He also continues the strong tradition of the airline's IT managers in the ACN IT Managers of the Year feature, on the strength of continued innovation in IT and a focus on business benefits. Gulf Air's IT department have recently been working hard on getting the Bahrain-based carrier ready for the e-ticketing revolution. "AACO (the Arab Air Carriers Organisation) has set a series of deadlines for e-ticketing, and we think we're well ahead of these at the moment," says Alqassab. The airline as a whole has been going through a restructuring process following the appointment of CEO James Hogan in 2003. Since then all areas of the business have been working to improve efficiency, and Alqassab is probably one of the few IT managers who is proud to say his budget is decreasing - the 2005 figure was US$32 million across the 40 IT staff and outsourcing partners. Gulf Air's drive for efficiency has seemingly translated into a drive for innovation on the IT side, with projects such as e-ticketing, the continuing improvements to the airline's online booking engine, and updates to the in-flight IT and entertainment systems as well. "We've developed what is possibly the largest and most sophisticated contact centre in the region, based wholly on IP technologies, we've brought in e-check-in, and we've worked to reduce our communication costs by migrating from legacy systems to IP," says Alqassab. "This year we'll be continuing to drive down costs and improve efficiency, to help the business as a whole continue to develop and improve." ||**||Jawad Abu Farha — IT director, Juma Al Majid Group|~|jawadabufarha200.jpg|~|Abu Farha: We have united the group with centralised IT systems and standardised everything across the 29 divisions.|~|Juma Al Majid began its operations in 1950 and has experienced tremendous growth ever since. IT operating costs have steadily increased as the organisation expands, and Abu Farha is constantly striving to find cost-effective ways of managing and deploying applications. "We need solutions that can be deployed quickly, offer scalability, and have a low TCO. We have been trying to enhance the experience for the end users," he explains. With over 60 branch offices and showrooms, and a diverse range of business interests, the Juma Al Majid Group has an extensive IT requirement and more than 1600 computer users. For Abu Farha, the challenge has been to provide fast, reliable access to all the relevant business applications for its remote offices and showrooms. Earlier this year, Abu Farha and his team completed the implementation of an access suite from Citrix, which includes solutions such as presentation server, access gateway, and password manager. Applications such as Microsoft Office and Outlook have also been deployed. The project saw Juma Al Majid move up from two Citrix servers to 14, with 460 concurrent licenses. "Now we are approximately 90% automated in all the Juma Al Majid divisions," says Abu Farha. "We have united the group with centralised IT systems and standardised everything across the 29 divisions." The users now work on Intel servers connected via frame relay local area networks (LANs), and leased lines at the head office. Through the solution, employees are able to access key localised desktop applications. The result has been fast, reliable access, which is building employee efficiency as well as saving Juma Al Majid money. Juma Al Majid's future projects will focus on business intelligence.||**||Abdallah El Kadi — group IT manager, Al Rostamani Group|~|abdallahelkadi200.jpg|~|El Kadi: We have streamlined the flow of information and minimised costly, inefficient bottlenecks.|~|Abdallah El Kadi has helped Al Rostamani Group to consolidate its IT systems, increasing the company's agility and generating cost savings. He is keen to turn business challenges into business opportunities. "By moving to a consolidated infrastructure powered by Intel-based HP blade servers, we have streamlined the flow of information and minimised costly, inefficient bottlenecks." By aggregating all infrastructure resources into one system, the group has developed a more flexible environment, making the company better able to respond rapidly to shifts in the marketplace. Following HP's Adaptive Enterprise strategy, El Kadi has created a streamlined infrastructure with reduced complexity, resource requirements and risks. As a multi-industry business spanning financial services, automobiles and real estate, Al Rostamani group required a new IT infrastructure that would be dynamic enough to allow for adjustment with market changes. "In order to react quickly and effectively to today's dynamic marketplace, an organisation needs to be streamlined so that it can respond to new challenges and opportunities," explains El Kadi. "With our legacy systems our top priority had become making sure that the environment was running smoothly, so there was little time left to focus on other core business needs." In the past, each upgrade or integration across Al Rostamani's entire network had to be repeated for every machine and application instance at all of the Group's different ventures. In its first phase, the implementation has automated all core business transactions of two of the Group's largest companies, Arabian Automobiles Company (AAC) and Thomas Cook Al Rostamani Exchange. ||**||Omar Al Ali — IT manager, Tanmia|~|omaralali200.jpg|~|Al Ali: We will continue to align technology to business needs.|~|As IT manager for Tanmia (the UAE's National Human Resource Development & Employment Authority), Omar Al Ali had to deal with an organisation which was the victim of its own success. Its legacy IT systems were unable to cope with the demand from the Emirati job applicants the organisation was created to serve. The agency was created to promote employment of Emiratis in the workforce, and offer applicants direct assistance with the process. The company had to scale up rapidly to meet customer demand. "Our legacy systems were extremely limited; they weren't able to cope with the new demand we're seeing," says Al Ali. "Because our old systems were so limited, it actually proved easy to cleanse our data and migrate onto new systems." This Tanmia did, after an 'exhaustive' search for an appropriate ERP solution, and a lengthy planning process. This degree of preparation allowed Al Ali and his staff to perform the actual implementation in just two months last year, and ensured a smooth transition for the system's users as well. Tanmia's IT development is set to continue apace this year as well, with further moves towards a paperless office and improvements to the organisation's website and jobseeker's portal. Another major project will see Tanmia link its systems to other government departments to improve levels of integration. "We will continue to strive for greater efficiency with implementations of the latest technology - it's important that Tanmia can grow and provide more services for nationals looking to enter the job market," says Al Ali. "We have a clear vision and we will continue to align technology to business needs."||**||Rashed AlOthman — senior vice president for IT and chief IT architect, Riyad Bank|~|rashedalothman200.jpg|~|AlOthman: We've got more than 80 IT projects in the pipeline for the coming year.|~|Riyad Bank has had a busy 2005 for IT, and is set to have an even busier 2006. Rashed AlOthman, senior vice president for IT at the bank, and his 35 or so IT staff have been working on a number of big projects. "We've got more than 80 IT projects in the pipeline for the coming year," he says. "Riyad Bank has developed a new business strategy, and we're implementing a lot of projects to cater for the strategy. The business is aiming to extend its market share and increase its profitability, and we're using IT to deliver this." AlOthman talked in the April issue of ACN about asset management and reducing complexity; Riyad Bank managed to simplify its IT infrastructure, bringing benefits such as increased efficiency, a more adaptive IT environment and greater system stability. By their nature such projects are long-term and require a degree of vision to implement successfully. The major project at Riyad Bank during 2005 was the US$34 million 'Stars' initiative to renovate all the bank's branch systems and bring in a new CRM system - AlOthman says Stars is currently in the final stages. The other main drive last year was a large data warehousing programme. And from this project has emerged one of the initiatives for 2006 - a Cognos business intelligence reporting tool that is now in the initial stages of implementation. AlOthman has faced challenges this year, not least from vendors' reluctance to operate in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. But he has worked to take advantage of this and increase the levels of Saudi vendors and integrators Riyad Bank uses, including firms such as Saudi Business Machines (SBM) and Hijada.||**||

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