What's my problem?

As the CIO of the UAE University in Al Ain, Michael Dobe is in charge of providing IT services to 16,000 students and 3,000 staff. He talks to ACN about the challenges facing the organisation, the work it's doing, and audio books.

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By  Eliot Beer Published  January 29, 2006

Arabian Computer News: How was the last year for you and your organisation?|~||~||~|Michael Dobe: UAE University went through a huge change process in 2005. We put in place a new bylaw, along with new policies and procedures. Our organisational structure has changed completely, with the institution of the Office of Chief Operating Officer and an executive staff reporting to the COO (the COO is called "Provost" at UAEU). Enterprise IT has been consolidated from three separate IT silos into one central IT Services organisation.||**||ACN: What technology implementations have you got planned for 2006?|~||~||~|MD: The biggest thing we are doing in 2006 is the implementation of the Integrated Business Information System, SunGard SCT Banner. Everything else will be taking a back seat to this implementation.||**||ACN: What are the key business challenges you face at present?|~||~||~|MD: We face a wide range of business challenges at the University due to the lack of integrated operations. The University's implementation of the SunGard SCT Banner System will be a major step forward by bringing all units on board with an integrated database.||**||ACN: How much is your budget for 2006?|~||~||~|MD: Budgets have not yet been approved. I don't want to jinx it by speaking too soon.||**||ACN: What is your career history to date?|~|dobe200b.jpg|~|Dobe:We face a wide range of business challenges due to the lack of integrated operations.|~|MD: I started in the IT field in the early 1990s at Rutgers University while doing graduate course work in US History. After finishing my MA, a Y2K consulting gig attracted me to industry for a couple of years. During the internet boom, I was recruited to serve as a Senior Systems Architect for a web services and marketing firm with the Dutch Philips Company as my main client. This was a tremendous learning experience, which positioned me to take on my first CIO job in 2001 with the higher ed (education) IT outsourcing company Collegis. After serving two different clients as site director and chief information officer, I accepted the position I now have as Assistant Provost for IT Affairs at the UAE University in Al Ain. ||**||ACN: What has been your greatest career achievement?|~||~||~|MD: I guess that would have to be pursuing doctoral work in the humanities while serving as a CIO. It is a road that few take, but it has its rewards. ||**||ACN: How would you describe your management style?|~||~||~|MD: I recruit excellent people and give them the authority and responsibility to lead their respective areas. For me, micromanagement is the worst possible sin.||**||ACN: How can the Middle East enterprise improve IT ROI?|~||~||~|MD: By becoming more service focused! What has amazed me the most about business here is the widespread lack of a service ethic. For instance, businesses regularly adopt a policy of "no returns" for merchandise. Even in Dubai, where I have found the closest approximation of a service ethic, I am regularly told that defective merchandise is "my problem". If IT can value its customers, the rest of the business may just be inspired to follow!||**||ACN: What are your tips for other CIOs?|~||~||~|MD: Try to balance the technical and the political. Remember, it is more important to be successful than to be right. Effectiveness is the true measure of a chief information officer, not technological elegance.||**||ACN: How quickly is the IT market evolving?|~||~||~|MD: Not as quickly as you might think. The more things change, the more they remain the same. The basics are all pretty much the same as they were 20-30 years ago. Sure, things are faster, and the pace of change is quicker, but change is the constant in the IT market. Today, as an operational IT leader you still need to implement change control measures to improve service levels to your customers. You still need to have metrics to track performance, and you still need to perform security audits to make sure the data you have been entrusted with is protected. ||**||ACN: How do you like to relax outside of the office?|~||~||~|MD: I try to spend time with my family, to read as much as I can, and to exercise as much as time permits. Recently, I have become an avid audio books listener. The best listen so far has been Khaled Hosseini's Kite Runner.||**||ACN: What kind of phone do you use and why?|~||~||~|MD: I bought an iMate PDA2K because of the ability to browse the web, synch my email, calendar and contacts, as well as the ability to listen to Audible files using the Audible Player. The networked components have been something of a disappointment though, as has the user interface. When I bought the phone, I thought I would use it for email and web browsing more than I actually do. Using the stylus is just too awkward and the keyboard isn't much better. Also, web browsing via mobile phone leaves a great deal to be desired.||**||ACN: Which IT industry figure do you most admire and why?|~||~||~|MD: Probably Steve Jobs, for his role with Apple Computer. Although I do not personally use Apple products, I believe that the effect these products has had on the marketplace is extremely important and undoubtedly very positive. Apple has made us all more focused on user interface and providing a better experience for the customer. And the switch to (open source) BSD for the OS was absolutely brilliant!||**||ACN: What do you enjoy most about working in the Middle East IT market?|~||~||~|MD: The diversity of my staff is a tremendous asset. I enjoy working with people from the Emirates, Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Pakistan, India, Singapore, and North America.||**||ACN: What do you dislike most about working in the Middle East IT market?|~||~||~|MD: Working through resellers, rather than going directly to our vendors, makes life challenging. ||**||ACN: What event has had the biggest impact on your career?|~||~||~|MD: The release of the Mosaic Web Browser. I was one of the few people in IT at Rutgers at the time who thought it was of paramount importance to our customers to have a graphical web to which they could contribute directly. For many of my colleagues, text interfaces were enough. The pursuit of Mosaic lead me to NCSA's http server and to Unix operating systems and eventually to my role here as CIO at the National University of the United Arab Emirates.||**||

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