Business of...

Hot air, no lift-off

Peter Pedlar`s dreams of grandeur are quashed by Sita`s decision to whitewash the seat he was keeping warm.
1 November 2007

A week before the announcement of Sita`s new CEO, Brainstorm  spoke to non-executive director Peter Pedlar about his accomplishments during his five-month tenure as acting CEO at Sita, while the agency and cabinet struggled to secure a suitable candidate for the top position.

On 11 October, minister Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi announced the official appointment of former non-executive director Llewellyn Jones as the new Sita CEO. The resignation of controversial executive director Noedine Isaacs-Mpulo, who was said to be aching for the top spot at Sita, also raised eyebrows as the agency continues to bleed talent.

At the time of the interview, Pedlar had a ‘good riddance` attitude to the mass exodus that had the industry wondering about the sustainability of the entity without a strong team at the helm. Commenting on changes at Sita since taking hold of the reigns five months ago, Pedlar said staff churn is always expected when there is a change in leadership.

“At least two of our senior staff members who left are working very closely with Msimang at the [Department of] Home Affairs. Some of the other staff resigned to pursue better career opportunities and, although I made counter-offers to some of them, they still decided to leave.

“I must admit that, in some cases, I was glad that certain people left, as I don`t tolerate dead wood; and there`s still a lot of that at Sita,” he retorted.

After spending much of his tenure at Sita keeping a low profile, despite the agency`s much publicised woes, Pedlar emerged full of bravado on the progress that Sita has apparently made under his leadership. Msimang`s departure was met with mixed reactions from the industry, with some saying that he should have stayed on at the helm of the agency as he had made much progress in rescuing what seemed to be a sinking ship. Others, including president Thabo Mbeki, felt that Msimang`s expertise would be far better utilised at Home Affairs to alleviate some of the despondency felt by South Africa`s citizens when dealing with the department.

Fully appreciating all the praise showered on Msimang for his tenure at Sita, Pedlar said his key focus areas, when he stepped into the role, included addressing staff concerns about permanent leadership, providing much-needed attention to key customers, delivering on key projects and the improvement of key processes.

Pedlar`s achievements

In September, Sita announced a 15.6 percent increase in revenue when compared with last year`s R2.9 billion figure. Explaining the impressive increase at the time, Pedlar said that Sita owed its success to, among other factors, its renewed emphasis on customer centricity and employee satisfaction, which stemmed from a culture change programme aimed at aligning employees closer to the organisation`s vision and values.

Pedlar said that the programme was necessary to avert internal storms that had slowly been brewing as staff became increasingly concerned about their future and that of Sita following Msimang`s departure. Pedlar said he had to act quickly to prevent a situation that had the potential to get out of hand.

“I moved quickly to resolve staff issues concerning pay disputes and averted possible strike action in this regard. Some of these issues had been unresolved for three years, but I was able to finalise them within three days,” he claimed.

During what Pedlar terms “very robust and frank discussions” held with Sita`s top five customers – which account for 80 percent of Sita`s turnover – he claimed that he was able to re-assure these customers of Sita`s commitment to assisting them to meet their service delivery obligations.

Some improvements

Other key projects have also received attention, such as free and open source software (FOSS) and eGovernment. “FOSS, in particular, worried me because we had made such limited progress prior to my assuming the reigns. The cabinet memo had already been approved in February, with instructions for a rollout. I have already had a programme manager appointed and agreed on the transfer of the Open Source Centre from the CSIR to Sita. A number of OSS projects are also being rolled out,” he said.

Pedlar pointed to other improvements, including the rescue of a floundering rapport between Sita and COMSEC, an organisation formed for the purpose of securing South African government communications against any unauthorised access. Pedlar said the relationship was bogged down by technicalities.

“The importance of sorting out this one is that there are mandate ambiguities in the two entities enabling legislation, with the result that there had been a standoff for the past four years. I am happy to report that we drafted a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that will shortly go to cabinet, clearly spelling out how these two very important entities will co-operate in the ICT security environment in future.”

Giving himself a pat on the back, Pedlar, furthermore, claimed that, over the past four months, he had presented to a number of parliamentary committees and MECs to demonstrate the multi-faceted nature of Sita`s business, and also participated in various forums.

Although certain aspects of the eGovernment strategy are still being addressed, he explained, some “low-hanging fruit has been identified”, such as jobs portals where Sita can do a quick implementation. Discussions are also under way to complete the citizen relationship portal on behalf of the DPSA before the end of the financial year.

With the appointment of Jones as Sita`s new CEO, it is anyone`s guess whether Pedlar will continue his self-proclaimed diligence. Perhaps he`ll make an about-turn towards the front door.