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Presently, two very different demographics in the UAE are currently awaiting the outcome of two very different sets of deliberations

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By  Imthishan Giado Published  May 11, 2008

Presently, two very different demographics in the UAE are currently awaiting the outcome of two very different sets of deliberations.

The first is the ongoing discussion between local distributor Red Distribution and the National Media Council over whether controversial console action game Grand Theft Auto 4 should be released to retail in the Emirates. Games fanatics young and old across the country are on pins and needles waiting to find out if the game makes it past the censor board.

The second is a bit more important - it's whether the UAE should depeg from the US dollar before skyrocketing inflation cripples the country's growth and makes living conditions even more difficult for the millions of expatriates living here. This discussion is taking place at every level from the man in the street to the highest corridors of power.

So what do these two seemingly-unrelated discussions have to do with each other? One's about a videogame - the ultimate in disposable entertainment - and the other could very well determine the future of millions of expatriates in the country. And more importantly, what does either have to do with enterprise IT?

The key trait that both dialogues - and general IT decision-making in the Middle East - share is that that neither is being discussed openly. Apart from the occasional journalist managing to extract a tiny morsel of information at a press conference, nobody from the general public knows any more about which way the wind is blowing in either case than when the discussion started. Regional CIOs are equally in the dark about anything happening in the region that has the slightest hint of negativity, from minor server outages to massive data breaches.

And that's bad - bad for the public who, when bereft of information will turn to gossip and speculation to fill in the gaps, and bad for large enterprises, who have to make crucial budgetary decisions without the benefit of the best possible information.

While malicious gossip can be dispelled (albeit with some difficulty) it's far trickier - if not downright impossible - to overturn a bad IT decision. Once the wheels are set in motion, firms are committed to a roadmap which can take years to execute - and can turn out to be an expensive mistake.

Security is another key issue - most companies are pathologically unwilling to admit when systems have been compromised. Left to their own devices, CIOs must rely on the advice of their peers or the media to gauge whether their own defences are adequate - and if both simply report that it's sunny out there, the inevitable summer shower is bound to leave them feeling far more than soaked.

The time over the release of information is equally important with dithering over when to do so proving an expensive proposition in the case of GTA 4. The game has taken in $500 million in its first week, a figure which the UAE distributor must be looking at with no small measure of regret. Consumers have meanwhile have been advised to look in their local duty-free if they want to bag a copy - except that this information has not been made widely available either.

The reasons for maintaining this informational fog of war may be cultural, an attempt to avoid the regulatory pressure that enforces disclosure in western countries - or simply a case of people falling on the Max Mosley defence, aka "it's my business and none of yours." But regardless of the reason, failing to disclose what kind of discussion is happening behind closed doors is a recipe for speculation and doubt.

Not everyone in the region thinks this way. ACN CIO's of the Year, Mohammad Al-Khatib has gone on record as saying that full disclosure is essential to running a modern organisation. His Amman Stock Exchange is required to inform brokers and investors what is transpiring during an IT outage and when services can be expected to be restored. As Khatib says, the advantage of this approach is that it gets people off your back - they start thinking beyond the situation rather than trying to guess what the expected outcomes will be.

I believe that it's time for the Middle East to cast off its veil of secrecy and start talking, and talking fast, if it's to prevent individuals and companies from deciding to make the wrong move - or worse yet, choosing to disregard the region altogether.

PS: I think it's about that time of year for a roundtrip visit to nowhere in particular (with a duty-free stopover for a copy of GTA 4).

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