Santa, please buy me

What would South Africa`s CIOs want for Christmas given an unlimited budget? Brainstorm sat five of them down and asked them.
3 January 2007

IT budgets are notoriously and perpetually tight, and CIOs almost always have too much to do and too little budget with which to do it. Given an unlimited budget, however, the practical, the whimsical and the seemingly fantastical become possible.

Perhaps depressingly and definitely not surprisingly, bandwidth was mentioned by all five CIOs. Says BCX CIO Hugo Winterbach: “I'd acquire my own low orbit satellite communications system, equip my user community with the latest and greatest wireless broadband, and connect it to the satellite system. Then I'd never hear the words ‘slow systems', ‘bad response', or ‘not enough bandwidth' again.”

His comments are echoed by Absa's Frik van der Merwe, who would “increase bandwidth”, and the University of the Western Cape's Professor Derek Keats, who says: “I would provide unlimited internet access, with no restrictions whatsoever on its use, other than those required by the law, and encourage exploration, participation, experimentation and innovation.”

Storm Telecommunication's Dave Gale has his sights set on the high life: “I'd implement phat broadband links to all staff homes and multimedia collaboration systems that enable telecommuting. Either that or a company helicopter taxi service.” Gale says he would also implement metro Ethernet links between all of Storm's offices. “Bottlenecks on long-distance links are enough to drive one to the bottle instead,” he notes.

National Brands' CIO Eric Stockenstrom has a slightly different type of bandwidth in mind: “I would spend on collaboration enabling technology, to improve bandwidth between us, our customers and our consumers to better understand their lifestyles and to tailor our products and services accordingly.”

Better feedback on who is buying what where, he expands, would improve his company's ability to respond to consumers' shopping demands. “This is the icing on the Christmas cake,” he says.

UWC's Prof Keats has a ‘copperless' future in mind. “I would remove our legacy copper wire telephone lines and replace them with a VOIP system running on Asterisk and fully integrated to all our other free software where necessary.” He would also complete the wireless enablement of UWC's campus and have every student with a laptop running GNU/Linux and encourage them to innovate without boundaries.

But seriously

Security remains high on the CIO agenda, dreams of helicopters and communications satellites notwithstanding. Says BCX's Winterbach: “I'd go to all the other CIOs with unlimited budget, call a meeting, pool funds and start a war against spam and virus creators. Then we can avoid the overhead of anti-this, anti-that, anti-virus, anti-spyware, anti-hacker and so on.”

Change the whole way of licensing works.
Hugo Winterbach, BCX
Absa's Van der Merwe would spend on identity management and security. “You can never spend enough here!” he adds.

Van der Merwe also lists investment on disaster recovery programmes and business continuity management (processing/bandwidth/facilities, infrastructure and accommodation) for all platforms.

Echoing local business' increasing interest in open source technologies, Storm Telecom's Gale says he would like desktop applications that work 100 percent like Microsoft, but run on Linux, while Keats says he'd “replace every single Microsoft Windows computer on the campus with one running GNU/Linux (preferably a laptop) and make sure all staff and students (the easy part) are au fait with the Gnome or KDE desktop and understand how to maximise the improvements the software would make to their lives.”

Winterbach also has a bone to pick with the proprietary software vendors. “I would like to enable the user community with full application licences to avoid workarounds for functionality. Licences are fairly expensive, so when we roll out, we only have a limited number of licences per application.” Better than that, he adds, would be to join forces again with his colleagues with unlimited budgets, hire Richard Branson as a consultant and change licence systems so that we have something like a national or country licence. The aim, he says, is to “change the whole way licensing works, so that the companies involved still get their money but maybe a little less than they do now.”

The D word

Says University of the Western Cape's Keats: “I would speed up our development efforts and, as quickly as possible, eliminate all proprietary software from our infrastructure, replacing it with free software, making sure that we had the skills to develop, deploy, support and train.”

Gale would like “Elvish software developers that develop code overnight, thus meeting the CEO's idea of reasonable project deadlines. The code, of course, would be fully commented and documented.”

Proving that some CIOs really do dream big, Gale also wants “first level helpdesk staff with Network+ and MCSEs, and a degree in linguistics to interpret what users are actually saying, middleware that integrates all our business systems with drag-and-drop functionality, and business analysts who have the energy of 18-year-olds, the wisdom of 60-year-olds and the negotiation skills of Nelson Mandela.”

BCX's Winterbach dreams even bigger, saying that “a good Christmas box would be a user that can specify his or her needs the first time around.”

Upward delegation

Management, not surprisingly, is apparently still a problem for IT managers. Says Keats: “I would speed up the development of our student management information system, taking care that at all stages, it was done collaboratively as a free software project, and that other institutions in the developing world partner with us and build their own capacity to do so.”

Says Winterbach: “The real need, I think, that no CIO has money for, is to acquire a fully automated management system to manage systems.”

Gale echoes this: “A management information system that generates insights instead of reports, in such persuasive terms that the board wonders why they didn't think of it themselves.”

Speaking of the dreaded board, Gale says he “would like a workflow system that automatically nags the joint CEOs to approve project proposals within a week of receiving them. Failure to comply would electronically suspend their golf club membership.”

Christmas wishes

A company helicopter taxi service.
Dave Gale, Storm Telecommunications
Moving out of practical reality and into the realms of the doable but highly unlikely, Gale dreams of “a remote office in the Seychelles with a backdrop that looks just like my office at work”.

Keats longs to “ensure that all classrooms are equipped with the best technologies for teaching and learning, and make sure that we had adequate resources to challenge the lecturers to innovate in the classroom.”

Winterbach wants to “develop a ‘resistance to change' pill that people can swallow to adapt their way of work to the changing world. We find people are really reluctant to change in the face of business change and systems change.”

As much as we'd like to, making these CIOs' wishes come true is beyond the realm of Brainstorm's  influence. IT vendors might like to take note of this wishlist, and see what they can do to fill CIOs' Christmas stockings in the future.