Reflections of the Inaugural CIO Academic Breakfast forum in Cape Town on 22nd of February 2008

By Simon Carpenter

Universities are the breeding grounds for our future leaders as information is now inextricably bound with the success of any enterprise. We clearly need leaders who understand how to provision, optimise, safeguard and use information for competitive advantage in the private sector and better service delivery and policy making in the public sector. This level of leadership requires much more that just a technical or functional education.

From a software perspective the industry is consolidating. Oracle has made 42 acquisitions in 36 moths since 2005. SAP has continued to grow organically and has increased its market share to a 12% market share lead over its nearest competitor and has also made some significant acquisitions. Both IBM and Microsoft continue to grow as industry titans why this is important to academics? There are two reasons.

Firstly, it is through business or enterprise software usage that organisations gain competitive advantage. Below the software all of the other layers of the technology stack whilst are a crucial commodity-like and do not confer any special advantage. Business software encapsulates our current best practice and enables our innovative “best practice”. It’s critical therefore those universities produce graduates with a deep understanding of business applications.

Secondly, and closely allied to the previous point, it is a fact that many students will encounter solutions from one to the other of major vendors as soon as they enter the work place. If they can gain meaningful exposure to these solutions whilst at university they will immediately be more effective in the organisations that hire them. In turn this could have a significant positive impact on the global competitiveness of “SA Inc”.

For years IT pundits have spoken about the perennial gap between IT and the business. In a sense we have perpetuated a problem that cannot be tolerated in modern enterprise. Today IT is the business. If organisations systems don’t work it cannot process sales orders, issue licences, take bookings plan manufacturing, drive procurement processes pay its people or support its decisions makers. In the post-industrial era the ability to generate data, assemble, disseminate, understand and act on information and continually improve the organisations ability to do these things is a key competitive advantage.

We need IT professionals who have a global perspective, a solid understanding of their entire industry’s value chain and a deep understanding of their own enterprise strategy, value drivers, challenges and opportunities. In other words well rounded individuals. This is not something universities can solve on their own it requires the leadership of organisations to recognise the criticality of its talent and to be willing to invent in developing this talent. We must therefore produce business leaders who understand IS and IS who understand and can engage the business. The gap must disappear and perhaps the OD experts and IT experts within faculties can find ways to help business make this happen.

As a vendor we want to see our customers really sweating the assets they have bought from us. We want to see them innovating on top of our platform, gaining competitive advantage and becoming global winners. Doing this takes great people in out own service eco- system at out customers (from the CIO down). We need our universities to produce these people and we need to support the forums such as the CIO/ academic forum.

The skills flight is a savage fact of life in the SA IT sector. SAP Oracle, Microsoft and IBM experts can go anywhere in the world and are increasingly doing so. We have to fill the vacuum first and find ways to do this with our local tertiary institutions.

What are some of the common challenges we see in the South African Market?

CIOs are not CIOs in the sense that they are not strategic, not business value driver and not effective at engaging with their boards CEOs and peers in the organisations agenda. Many of them would be better called CTOs. Many cannot be blamed for this state of affairs because often there has been little investment made in their carriers beyond technical training. Many have been thrust into positions beyond their current capabilities as a result of the skills flight and transformation.

Poor communications skills. Many CIOs are aspirant and the people they employ are very poor communicators, given that they often have to explain and debate complex concepts this is an unattainable position and is often one of the IT department is not taken seriously by the business.

The notion of the business as an organic whole, predicated on integrated business process and departments is not well understood and even after all these years of BPR. We often find that graduates have very little ability to apply themselves outside their immeadiate field of study.

Government polices that look beyond the current drive to transform local society and the economy to acknowledge the realities of the globalised economy and the post industrial age. Greater collaboration and transparency between policy makers, academia and business in terms of policy development.

What do we need more of?

Enterprise architects. There is a critical, global shortage of enterprise architects and business process architects there are people that bestride the worlds of business and IT and are absolutely crucial to reaping the rewards of SOA.

Program and project managers. These disciplines are vital to achieving transformation, change results in any field of endeavour. The shortage is particularly acute in IT. We need people who can convey the need fo r change and ensure the successful outcomes.

Industry capabilities. It doesn’t matter whether it is private or public sector we need people with insight to the peculiarities of each industry value chain. This is especially important as we move into an era of Business Network Transformation where IT people will be called upon to facilitate end to end integration across and entire network.

Team players and collaborators. In a business network it is all about being able to understand the individual agendas of departments on organisations but also to be able to manage the inevitable conflicts and trade-offs to arrive at win-win solutions.

Change-agents, innovators and creators. Best Practices only confer competitive parity; most organisations are seeking competitive advantage and whilst IT can deliver this creative and bold people to this. We need universities to not only continue teaching how people how to think but actively encouraging them to find ways to challenge the status quo. This is a particular problem given the generational and cultural divides that exists between typical SA management teams and newly minted graduates.

Business process experts. Every element of value delivered by an organisation is the result of a process. It could be manufacturing process or the issuing of a passport or identity document; it could be highly automated or completely manual. Whatever the process IT should be continually looking for ways to optimise or innovate the process. We thus need individuals with process expertise which comprises; the ability to discover how processes work and what the outcomes are, mapping processes (back to strategy and to the systems that execute them) analyzing and optimizing or innovating processes. This type of capability will serve both IT and business graduates well in the years ahead.

Great Ideas that emerged at the Forum

Greater collaboration between academics and academic institutions. Professor Tapscott (UWC) raised the point that we have a comparatively small academic community that must collaborate better in order to have a globally significant impact.

What about the academic community and bodies such as CSIR, NRF,CITI,CSSA etc how well are we collaborating and how often are we wasting limited resources reinventing the wheels and pandering to egos? Are we making the best use of collaboration software to facilitate this?

SAP’s university Alliance programme can provide a useful vehicle to promote collaborations with institutions around the world collaboration institutions around the world. The CIO /Academic Breakfast forum can help us to drive the conversation on collaboration.

Filling the tertiary pipeline. Professor Johannes Cronje (CPUT) pointed out the fact that by the time a child gets to university it’s too late. We need to be getting more involved (as organisations and individuals) in the junior and the senior schools looking to encourage and equip the pupils to follow careers in IT. Sponsorships and bursaries for IT studies are needed.

“Build South African” we have an organisation called Proudly South African which encourages one to purchase South African products and services. Perhaps we need a “Build south Africa” campaign which encourages individuals and organisations and individuals to spent time mentoring, coaching and teaching the next generation of South African students.

Business Leaderships must get more involved with the universities as consumers of the university product - we should not just complain about the deficiencies of students but get more involved in co creating the talents we need.

Universities to call on business to assist in soft skills. Leading companies invent significant amounts in developing the soft skills of their employees (e.g. selling, negotiating, facilitating, presenting and communicating) and many would be happy for their staff to assist inculcating these abilities into university students.

Nation building is the same way that we need our national leaders to step up to the plate in terms of moral regeneration; we should be asking them to set the example in terms of mentoring our youth and encouraging life long learning and an attitude of service.

Business and academia should work together to develop short courses that can be targeted at the current cadre of “technical” IT people with the objective of educating them to become effective CIOs - covering issues such as strategy, OD, Leadership, Finance, Business Architecture etc