Dream merchants

In the middle of all the current doom and gloom, CIOs still have to plan infrastructure for the future. Piers Ford asks CIOs what systems they are dreaming about in 2009.

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By  Piers Ford Published  March 14, 2009

In the middle of all the current doom and gloom, CIOs still have to plan infrastructure for the future. Piers Ford asks CIOs what systems they are dreaming about in 2009.

It isn't surprising that the credit crunch is casting a long shadow over CIOs' aspirations for IT evolution over the next five years. The good news for the IT industry is that they are not entirely preoccupied with cutting back.

Where they can match technological innovation with business processes, they are still planning a bright future based on strategic investment in their IT systems. Ask them about their dream systems, and business process software, cloud computing and more effective ways to enable remote working are all recurring themes, suggesting that tough economic times could even lead to more enterprising IT departments.

The credit crunch will really help you to get your priorities right. Since there will be budget cuts, you’ll inevitably prioritise with ROI in mind. I also think there hasn’t been a better time to venture deeper in open source.

"The credit crunch will really help you to get your priorities right," says Dubai-based Bassem Aboukhater, regional IT director MENA for advertising giant Leo Burnett Group. "Since there will be budget cuts, you'll inevitably prioritise with ROI in mind. I also think there hasn't been a better time to venture deeper in open source. It's amazing what you can find out there."

Aboukhater expects three main business issues to drive IT system evolution in the Middle East for the foreseeable future: compliance, customer service, and future mergers and acquisitions.

"Transparency, or the lack of it, has been a major contributor to the volatility of the markets," he says. "With major fraud cases surfacing, there will be more pressure to have the right controls in place from the very beginning. It's a tough balancing act and IT is the key.

"What goes around comes around. In a boom, no one cares about customer service because there are plenty of fish in the sea. Now, you can see that everyone is trying much harder. Besides the obvious training, many companies will need well-integrated systems to make sure they are better at holding customers' hands and quicker in anticipating their needs," he continues.

Moving forward, Aboukhater believes that we will see more and more consolidation: "This will pose big challenges for IT systems and infrastructure. If faced with the right attitude, it would be a great opportunity to innovate and implement best of breed products."

At manufacturing and fabrication group Zamil International, based in Saudi Arabia, CIO Zaki Sabbagh says business intelligence and cloud computing will be vital issues for IT professionals to address.

He suggests that the much-hyped ‘Green IT' benefits that vendors like to indulge in when promoting these concepts are of little strategic importance on the ground. Energy in the region is still much cheaper than in the Western world where these marketing messages tend to originate from.

But the potential business benefits of cloud computing and business intelligence - even though it has been around for so long - will dominate CIO thinking.

"Cloud computing is probably the most important, and we are practicing it already," he says. "The infrastructure in the region is improving, there is less interruption and bandwidth is higher.

So the complexity of our IT systems is growing in terms of maintenance, management and the cost of services. I think vendors have provided some nice solutions at departmental level, but culturally people are accepting it higher up and we're becoming more adaptive. So the cloud is shifting from the department up to a corporate level.

"Business intelligence is an old issue but after vendors like IBM, Oracle and others have been so acquisitive, there are still a lot of legacy systems out there that can't be directly replaced: only BI has the capability to aggregate them. At the same time, however complex it is at the back end, it is easy to use at the front end and is unmatched in its ability to drill down for decision making," continues Sabbagh.

It could ultimately replace traditional reporting tools because it is very effective and you can immediately show its value," he states. "Very few companies in the region have addressed BI properly because it's been seen as an add-on solution, but that trend is starting to change now."

Vendors have been quick to seize on these potential openings in a market that would otherwise be looking very strained. At Leo Burnett, Aboukhater says he is "certainly" getting more attention from current and new vendors as competition for the CIO's business heats up in the Middle East market of new infrastructure.

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