IT managers of the year

Finalising the ten CIOs and IT managers worthy of gracing the pages of ACN’s annual Top Ten IT Managers feature is never an easy task. It took hours of debate and a few heated verbal exchanges. We profile 10 of the best IT managers in the region – individuals that have excelled in their profession and truly harnessed the power of IT to deliver tangible business benefits during 2006.

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By  Team ACN Published  January 16, 2007

|~|top10-200x.jpg|~||~|IT managers and CIOs in the Middle East are facing up to a year of accelerated change in 2007.

From business process improvement through to IT management; from system security and future-proof technology architectures, IT managers cannot afford to rest on their laurels or bask in the reflected glory of their 2006 technology success stories.

Businesses in the Middle East continue to grow and evolve at a rapid rate, ensuring that the pressure on CIOs and IT managers to deliver results remains as intense as ever.

This is a region of the world that is characterised by strong growth rates, incredible ambition and a desire on the part of many organisations to make change happen seemingly overnight.

IDC believes that 2007 will be a year of ‘hyperdisruption’ in the worldwide IT market as IT vendors embrace new business models to open up pockets of growth.

With global IT spending expected to climb a modest 6.6% in 2007, IDC also believes that IT vendors will adopt new technologies and cross traditional market boundaries.

The analysts at IDC also contend that with moderate IT spending growth on a global level, 2007 will witness a sustained focus on fast growing emerging markets.

While BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) markets will continue to drive global growth, IDC reckons that a new group of ‘beyond BRIC’ regions will show their potential as the next hot markets.

These ‘beyond BRIC’ opportunities will be greatest in the emerging Asia countries, Latin America’s southern cone, the Middle East and North, East and West Africa.

“While overall IT market growth will appear almost boringly moderate, its impact will be the opposite,” says Frank Gens, senior VP of research at IDC.

“As IT market leaders step up their relentless hunt for growth, we’ll see many disruptive shifts, with the importance of small business becoming very big, secondary economies becoming primary, software offerings becoming services, services offerings becoming software, channel-oriented players going more direct, direct players developing radically new channel strategies, and less distinction between business and consumer players and technologies.”

The hunt for new market opportunities in the SMB space is also predicted to accelerate in 2007. IDC reckons that the ability of vendors to scale down offerings will be critically important and that ‘software as a service’ initiatives will move into high gear.

IDC also claims that there will be heightened competition in the information access and management space and that virtualisation and software appliances will reshape the infrastructure landscape.

The IDC report also suggests that the consumer and telecom markets will be their usual concoction of convergence, creativity and confusion.

“These disruptions will force many market leaders out of their comfort zones, and open up new opportunities to those that choose to surf with the disruptive tide, rather than stand against it,” concludes Gens.

The Middle East’s role as a fast-growing ‘beyond BRIC’ opportunity has resulted in more major technology vendors building up their operations in the region – a development that bodes well for CIOs and IT managers in terms of access levels to vendor services and the availability of expert advice and consultancy.

The message is simple: vendors now understand the opportunity for growth that exists in the Middle East and are now more ready than ever to commit the resources that turn this potential into a business reality.

The global heavyweight vendors such as HP, Cisco, Microsoft and Intel are leading this charge, building the business relationships with public sector bodies and indigenous large enterprises that will accelerate their growth.

CIOs and IT managers need to understand how their position fits within this wider context of increased vendor interest and corporate IT spending patterns in the region. High oil prices and a strong economic outlook in specific countries in the Middle East have fuelled significant rises in IT spending.

However, the need to demonstrate a real return on investment, reduce operating costs and increase business agility remains as strong as ever.

For many CIOs and IT managers, process improvement remains top of the IT agenda in 2007. Replacing manual and isolated systems with automated and streamlined processes that interact seamlessly with one another is the name of the game.

Undertaking this level of change is never easy and requires buy-in not just from the CIO but also from a number of CxO level executives.

More than ever, IT managers and CIOs have to brush up on their business skills in the Middle East. The ability to communicate with CFOs and CEOs – using a business language that these executives understand rather than technical jargon – is now a prerequisite for success.

Over the past year there has been a fundamental shift in the rational behind many of the major technology projects undertaken in the Middle East.

Companies no longer deploy technologies because they are ‘cool’ or because they are widely touted as the ‘next big thing’.

This is not enough to justify a significant investment or a major overhaul of existing systems – it is the tangible business benefits and improvements in both customer and supplier service that matters most.

With more processes occurring within the corporate IT system, the amount of data created within large organisations continues to climb at a heady rate.

With customers and suppliers increasingly likely to interface with organisations through IT systems, the need to store, manage and utilise this data mountain in an effective manner is a pressing concern for many CIOs.

Achieving these goals within the modern context of compliance and corporate governance issues places yet more pressure on the shoulders of IT managers and CIOs.

We have witnessed some innovative projects and implementations in the Middle East during 2006. Any lingering suspicions that the Middle East market was effectively a technology laggard in the global context have been well and truly shot down.

Many of the organisations in this region are unconstrained by the baggage of legacy systems and are able to deploy cutting-edge technologies and solutions.

In other parts of the world, some organisations remain under pressure to ‘sweat the assets’ – squeezing as much as they can from their existing IT infrastructure before they can even consider a meaningful upgrade.

This willingness to implement cutting-edge systems represents an incredible competitive advantage for Middle East large enterprises – but it also needs to be treated with a degree of caution.

While vendors and suppliers may be keen for organisations to deploy their latest and greatest solutions, end-users need to make sure that they are purchasing and implementing a proven and reliable system.

The ability of the Middle East IT market to continue on its relentless path of rapid development also relies heavily on the availability of a skilled labour force – a fact that all savvy CIOs are acutely aware of. Bringing in the best skills without blowing the HR budget requires the ability to offer employees a meaningful career path.

The emphasis on IT training for the local population needs to accelerate even further to create the pool of skilled IT employees that fast-growing businesses in the region require.

This development of the local skills base must be carefully blended alongside the increased use of offshore services and the migration to managed services that is now starting to happen in the Middle East technology market.

Outsourcing and using offshore services are just some of the new items making their mark on the IT manager and CIO agenda for 2007. There is an increased emphasis on the soft skills that IT managers must deliver to create an effective department.

While a fundamental understanding of technology remains a vital part of the CIO’s skills arsenal, knowing exactly how well new systems and projects will work within the wider business perspective is, arguably, far more important.

ACN remains wholly committed to the Middle East IT manager and CIO community and will continue to showcase the very best in regional projects and implementations during the course of 2007.

The power of IT as an enabler - not just for individual businesses but also for the wider economy and the region as a whole - should never be underestimated.

There will be significant challenges in the year ahead but the forward thinking IT managers and CIOs in the Middle East are more than ready to take them on.||**||Mohammed Al-Ageel|~|01-ageel200.jpg|~||~|General manager of IT, Mobile Business Unit, Saudi Telecom Company

Mohammed Al-Ageel, general manager of IT for the Mobile Business Unit at Saudi Telecom (STC) believes IT convergence and time-to-market can create a competitive edge.

The introduction of Mobily as a second cellular operator in the Kingdom put pressure on Saudi Telecom (STC) to raise its game.

With short-term plans to introduce new service applications and expand existing ones - aligned with a long-term emphasis on adapting to customer needs - STC turned to IT for a solution.

“STC possesses a complex, highly integrated IT environment. The diverse IT requirements of a communications operator dictate that we implement a range of technologies covering a large set of services, which extends into a wide geographical area,” Al-Ageel says.

“Our environment has expanded rather than changed. New applications have been introduced to support new services and also improve performance of existing ones.

“IT is strategic to any modern enterprise to capitalise on innovation and to bring new services to the market, benefiting customers and expanding business.”

With systems to serve around 12 million GSM customers and a 2,000 strong workforce, this is no small-scale operation. Cost efficiency and time to market are critical from STC’s perspective.

The introduction of a new service delivery platform (SDP) allows for horizontal integration across all components, increasing the speed of delivery of new services to mobile users.

“Time-to-market is a top concern. Delivering new services on time is a top priority for many enterprises and for a mobile operator it is even more critical.

“Improving the processes and enhancing flexibility by the introduction of a new service delivery platform (SDP) expedites the implementation of new services,” explains Al-Ageel.||**||Sultan Al-Otaibi|~|02-otaibi200.jpg|~||~|IT manager, King Fahd University for Petroleum and Minerals

When your company is dealing with hundreds of thousands of documents you know you are going to have to get organised.

There are issues of information management, retrieval and security to consider, among others, and someone who knows what they are doing is going to have take control.

Luckily, when King Fahd University for Petroleum and Minerals (KFUPM) came face to face with this problem, such a man was on the payroll.

Sultan Al-Otaibi, KFUPM IT manager, recognised that with 10,000 undergraduate and research students at the Saudi university, the need for a document management system (DMS) was simply an imperative.

Al-Otaibi selected DMS from Hummingbird to deal with the university’s massive influx of paper - the implementation of which was completed in mid 2005.

For him, the value proposition for deploying the Hummingbird DMS was crystal clear. While not having the same considerations of ROI as a commercial enterprise, there were obvious benefits to implementing the system.

“A study by research house Gartner suggested that office workers can lose up to 500 hours a year looking for documents,” Al-Otaibi explains.

Now that’s roughly long enough to boil 10,000 eggs back-to-back, depending of course on whether you like them hard or soft.

“On average, professionals can spend around 50% of their time trying to locate information,” he adds.

“Sometimes it’s not only documents. Sometimes you need to take a quick decision and you need some information, such as committee minutes to do that.

“We looked at a number of products and found that Hummingbird was the most useful for our case.”||**||Ahmed Bahrozyan|~|03-bahrozyan200.jpg|~||~|IT director, Dubai Roads and Transport Authority

Established in November 2005 the Dubai Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) has taken on board a variety of transport-related IT issues.

For Ahmed Bahrozyan, IT director at RTA, the immediate challenge in 2006 was to create an IT infrastructure that reflected the organisation’s goals and aspirations.

Speed was of the essence and Bahrozyan and his team more than met the challenge that faced them.

“Our initial target was to take as little time as possible to become independent, but at the same time to migrate all of the applications which were sitting with Dubai Municipality and Dubai Police into our infrastructure,” says Bahrozyan.

The RTA has moved fast, adopting a policy of vendor management, where the organisation seeks to establish either a firm partnership with a dominant vendor, or else healthy competition between vendors in a more contested sector.

For the bulk of its infrastructure, RTS selected Nortel, who provided virtually the entire core networking infrastructure. This network core is augmented with a high-availability cluster of Juniper firewalls.

“It took us around three-and-a-half months to get our infrastructure up and running – we went live on 22 April 2006. We started the planning process sometime in December and by April we were providing independent IT services to RTA staff,” explains Bahrozyan with understandable pride.

“The RTA has also demonstrated the effectiveness of an outsourcing policy, turning to services provider Wipro to run its helpdesk and IT management functions.”

Bahrozyan’s smooth approach to IT management bodes well for both the RTA and the future of Dubai’s expanding transport infrastructure.||**||Sue Evans|~|04-evans200.jpg|~||~|Head of information systems and technology, National Bank of Dubai

Sue Evans was intent on delivering on the National Bank of Dubai’s (NBD) commitment to customer service.

As head of information systems and technology at the bank, she oversaw the extensive expansion of its customer relationship management (CRM) system.

“NBD’s priorities include providing the highest standard of customer service, it’s one of our high priority business objectives.

As a result there was a strong drive from the business side to implement CRM software,” she says.

Initially apprehensive of implementing a comprehensive system, NBD integrated Oracle financial services applications (OFSA) in addition to the vendor's CRM solution, call centre and teleservice.

Already a committed Oracle user, the aim of the project was to achieve total integration between analytical and operational CRM and enable the bank’s managers to analyse and forecast channel profitability and performance against the various customer segments.

“One of our architecture principles is to exploit our existing IT investments as far as possible,” says Evans.

Having replaced its outdated call centre systems, NBD was able to update its telebanking service, fully integrating it with the new systems and providing customers with more, easily accessible information and better customer service.

“There is now just one number to call and when the customer authenticates using their PIN (personal identification number) they have the option to serve themselves with more basic enquiries," continues Evans.

Working with Mindscape, the system was implemented within budget and on time and NBD expects a return on investment (ROI) within two years.||**||Chris Fourie|~|05-fourie200.jpg|~||~|Operations manager, consumer finance department, Riyad Bank

Banking can be an infuriating experience for customers at the best of times, and for one of Saudi Arabia’s largest banks, the importance of keeping things simple, reliable and cost-effective can not be underestimated.

For Chris Fourie, operations manager, consumer finance department at Riyad Bank, the problem of processing an incredulous amount of payments each and every day was a prickly one.

In 2005 he decided to switch to VisionPLUS, the strategic platform of First Data International, a leading provider of electronic commerce and payment solutions for financial institutions.

Fourie says there were many reasons for changing Riyad Bank's system to First Data, which went live in May 2006.

“It was basically a more functionally rich platform that First Data presented to us,” he says.

“It also helped us with overcoming some of the shortcomings in the previous system, so from both a functional and a shortcoming perspective it made sense for us to move across to a new platform.”

There were many problems with the older platform according to Fourie including the length of time it took to implement new products on it.

It also had inherent shortcomings in terms of field values and the company could not, for example, process large monetary value items – they had to be split into different items.

“VisionPLUS allows us to do all of those things,” Fourie explains. “It was far more rigid in the way it set up new products for development, whereas on the new one it’s more flexible, more partner driven.

“I was pleasantly surprised how quickly the staff took to it and how quickly they became masters of it.”||**||Khaled Judia|~|06-judia200.jpg|~||~|IT manager, Al Jazeera

Khaled Judia wants to air the news first. As IT Manager for Doha-based Al Jazeera, Judia was tasked with developing a robust high-speed infrastructure that was able to handle the vast volumes of data streaming across the network.

“With the current high competition between broadcasting agencies striving to air the news first, it’s becoming extremely essential that the technology deployed to receive, share and air this information is able to handle the high volume and speed of operations of the organisation today and into the future,” says Judia.

Following its exponential growth in operations over the past decade, Al Jazeera was forced to totally replace its infrastructure and consolidate most of its IT operations at a single site.

Deploying software driven Virtual LANs (VLANS) provided the station with a high degree of flexibility that allowed computers to be moved to various locations without the need for reconfiguration.

“Introducing VLANS to our network infrastructure helped us isolate corporate traffic from the broadcast traffic. To support this, an ISS Proventia appliance allows us to provide controlled access between both networks," he adds.

Part of the network deployment also included wireless access to reduce wiring and costs, and also to enforce mobility and isolate the network.

Digitising the existing broadcast structure enabled the introduction of a news automation system that streamlined the work of the journalists and controlled the broadcast of the content.

“Today we have a modern system capable of handling data, video and voice traffic,” concludes Judia.||**||Mahmoud Lawatia|~|07-lawatia200.jpg|~||~|IT director, PDO Oman

For any large enterprises, particularly oil companies working across a range of geographies in physically demanding situations, procurement is a large-scale operation.

This was certainly the case for Petroleum Development, Oman (PDO). The company’s contracting and procurement (C&P) team saw that it could slash its cost per oil barrel by utilising an e-procurement system.

As Mahmoud Lawatia, C&P manager at the Omani oil producer explains, there were a number of reasons why he elected to use Oman Trada Net e-procurement.

“We are in an environment where cost is extremely critical, and everybody is trying to cut costs and increase efficiency,” comments Lawatia.

“If you look at procurement, there are a lot of mechanics involved in the process; the idea is we would like to speed up the execution of these mechanics.

“In other words, accelerate the ordering, reduce the manpower, reduce the costs, and increase our reach and our communication – our interfaces with all our customers, all our vendors,” he says.

Before Lawatia brought in the e-procurement system, PDO had a fairly laborious procurement procedure, which involved users raising requests through the organisation’s SAP system, which were then processed manually by C&P executives, before being faxed to selected vendors.

OTN’s IX2 exchange network has removed many of the manual processes, allowing PDO to raise requests for quotations (RFQs) automatically.

“We have been very successful with our work with OTN, in terms of establishing our main document exchange system, but it started as a PDO service, and right now PDO represents a very small part of the total documents that flow over the exchange,” Lawatia adds.||**||Frederick Sabty|~|08-sabty200.jpg|~||~|Director of IT, Burj Al Arab

Award winning voice over IP implementations and the first Middle East deployment of Windows Vista formally announced during GITEX 2006.

The luxurious Burj Al Arab hotel is leading the way in high-tech hospitality and Frederick Sabty is the man pushing all the right technology buttons at the Dubai landmark.

One of the most impressive IT projects at Burj Al Arab has been the deployment of an Avaya voice over IP system, with East Meets West (EMW) acting as the integration partner.

“The most critical factor was zero downtime – this was the most vital part, and we began from that,” explains Sabty.

“For us, the [hotel] suite begins with the telephone – if there’s no telephones, none of the 202 suites open their doors. Second was the ease of implementation – minimum disruption to the guests, and minimum disruption to the business.”

For Sabty and the team at Burj Al Arab, introducing advanced technology but maintaining ease of use forms a critical part of the IT strategy.

“There are some guests who do not want to see the IT, to see that the hotel is very high-tech – for these guests we can provide a high-tech touch panel remote control for the TV for example,” he says.

Staying ahead of the IT curve is an integral part of Sabty’s IT management philosophy. With Windows Vista now used for guest laptops, the Burj Al Arab has demonstrated a high level of confidence in Microsoft’s new operating system.

The next major IT project at the Burj Al Arab will take the landmark hotel’s IP telephony system to the next level.

Sabty is preparing to launch Wi-Fi VoIP phones, which will allow guests to roam throughout the hotel and remain in contact.

Sabty and his team have had to deal with a number of issues to make sure that this project is a success; especially in terms of ensuring security for the hotel’s core IT systems.||**||Steve Ritchie|~|09-ritchie200.jpg|~||~|Managing director, global technology, Investcorp

Steve Ritchie believes in balancing top-line growth and bottom-line expense management.

As managing director for global technology at Bahrain-based Investcorp — a leading provider and manager of alternative investment products serving high net worth private and institutional clients in the six GCC countries — Ritchie has overseen a number of projects designed to safeguard private client data.

Earlier this year, Investcorp invested in Pointsec’s endpoint encryption solution across 200 company laptops.

The Pointsec solution ensured that Investcorp had a centrally managed solution, which ensured that all or selected parts of the hard drive’s data could be encrypted in real time and could only be accessed by an authenticated user.

With offices in Bahrain, London and New York, and a client base primarily in the Arabian Gulf, this international presence means that Investcorp employees frequently travel with client data on their laptops.

“Privacy is critically important and is central to our business. Not only would our relationship with our clients be damaged if we had a breach, but the integrity of our brand would also be affected, and we could face heavy penalties from our regulators” says Ritchie.

“Pointsec out-performed the competition in terms of functionality and ease of management. It is the only endpoint encryption solution that has earned the BITS Tested Mark, an important certification that demonstrates that Pointsec meets the particular needs of the financial services industry.”

Investcorp has also proven to be a trailblazer in its adoption of an Avaya mobility solution allowing efficient, consolidate access to voice, e-mail and fax messages for its 300-plus employees.

“Avaya modular messaging gives us a platform for managing voicemail and e-mail equally well, through a single interface, whether that interface is the PC or the phone,” explains Ritchie.||**||Zaki Sabbagh|~|10-sabbagh200.jpg|~||~|CIO, Zamil Industrial Investment Company

When a business process needs improving it is time to try a fresh approach in order to boost both profits and productivity.

For Zamil Industrial Investment Company (ZIIC), the global manufacturing conglomerate with operations in 55 countries, three aging server environments at its key Saudi steel, air conditioning, glass, and fibreglass insulation manufacturing locations were not providing optimum value for money.

The company’s CIO, Zaki Sabbagh, had the foresight to instigate a change which dramatically reduced ZIIC’s IT spend.

The company now boasts a single, centralised data centre, which not only runs ZIIC's local operations but also forms the future platform for a web services-based SOA.

ZIIC installed an HP Integrity rx8620-32 system, based on Intel’s 64-bit Itanium processors, running on Oracle databases.

“We decided to deploy IT on a shared service model,” says Sabbagh. “Each business sector [steel, glass, a/c and fibreglass insulation] has multiple business units – 12 in all. IT is supporting them from this one data centre.

“One of the reasons we decided to go for a single data centre was that we had three different IT organisations, three different Oracle ERP applications running.

“So, instead of having these three environments, we’ve opted for one IT organisation and one data centre with all the different pieces connected to each other.”

The new set up certainly seems to meet ZIIC’s current business continuity needs.

Sabbagh adds: “Standardisation was one of our main objectives. It was part of our strategic plans.

“We didn’t want to get into a multiple platform with multiple support and incompatibility issues. We wanted to get the best support possible and HP were able to provide it.”||**||

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