Transforming an industry, society or nation in a single project is a daunting task. When taking on the long-term burden of a mega project, Systems Integrators and CIOs are often attempting a task that to a certain degree ventures into the unknown, and with that move comes risk.
The promise of Expo 2020 in Dubai offers exciting opportunities for IT, in the form of wholesale technology implementations that have the power to transform a generation. This puts great pressure on CIOs, but in difficulty lies opportunity, and if ambition can be coupled with precise planning, the Middle East can reap the rewards of mega projects.
“The purpose of driving the adoption of a mega project is to enhance a nation’s reputation, by showcasing its commitment and capability,” says KC van Straaten, General Manager, Special Projects, Dimension Data Middle East and Africa. “This enhanced reputation positions that nation well to contest more effectively in the future, in the increasingly competitive global market. The key test of a mega project is the exponential demands on complexity it assumes due to increased scale. This amplification factor against scope, financials, time, and quality is huge and must be managed carefully.”
With all the expectation that rides on mega projects, it is important for CIOs and SIs to know exactly where they stand in terms of their duties and to what extent they are accountable in terms of a project’s success or failure.
Mohammed Zameer, General Manager, Al Rostamani Communications, feels that the CIO is responsible for setting a project’s wheels in motion, and that clear communication is essential from the outset, “Primarily CIOs should ensure proper scoping of the project, giving a clear and defined expectation from the SI,” he says. “Users must be briefed properly on the benefit of the project and the CIO should ensure their acceptance of it.
“SIs should ensure they understand the end result the CIO is expecting, have a consultative approach in shaping the final requirements in co-ordination with CIO, and share their knowledge of similar projects with the CIO to fine-tune the project deliverables and timelines.”
Biswajeet Mahapatra, Research Director, Gartner, sees the potential for long term disaster if all parties do not take equal responsibility from the off. “It is a joint effort, and any negligence on one side can have cascading effects,” he says. “All the stakeholders are equally responsible including the management and business owners. However there has to be one single office, person, team or steering committee headed by a competent authority like a CIO, Director General of IT or even a CFO who should take the ownership of driving and implementing the project, and they should take the responsibility.”
Although they do not have always have an active part to play in the implementation of the project, there is certainly a school of thought that says end users play a key role in mega project implementation. They act as an important link to CIOs and SIs, and it is important they are briefed regularly and thoroughly about progress.
The process of selecting the right technology for each project is one that requires precision. Technologies that are chosen must traverse a diverse set of applications and industries.
“Choosing technology for a mega project needs a requirement study to be conducted by an expert consultant and an RFI is sent to major technology vendors based on this study,” says Zameer. “The proposals received through RFI can be consolidated together to arrive at the best technology requirements of a mega project.”
“The technology chosen depends upon the kind of project, the size of project, the investments involved, the level of planning and detailing required and the kind of technologies to be used,” says Mahapatra. “Normally the best practice is to have a single dashboard to show the health of project—at any time, real time. Heads of the project should be able to drill down into the details of each aspect to get more information”
A key concern is contingency, and what to do if a nasty, unforeseen surprise pops up. Wesam Jammoul, Projects and Consultancy Services Director, Smartworld, believes that it is worth investing time in the initial planning phase to avoid panic further down the line, “Despite the fact that different types of projects require different percentages of the time spent on planning, planning is a key factor in delivering mega projects,” he says. “Project stakeholders should spent as much time as required to plan the needed activities as this time will be rewarded by smooth execution of the required activities. The rule here is that the time spent in planning is never a loss even if takes a great portion of the project timeline.”
But is IT granted the time it needs to do this? Zameer does not think so, “Planning is one of the key milestones of mega projects, but in technology projects CIOs do not have the luxury of planning for a long time, as the life cycle of technology is very short and hence thorough planning is important but it should be as short as possible,” he says.
In essence, ‘Fail to prepare, prepare to fail’ is an apt summary. CIOs are frequently left hamstrung by time constraints and a wide of variety of logistical issues that need careful consideration.
But with risk comes reward, and if executed correctly, benefits can be reaped. How exactly can an IT mega project’s successes be measured?
“A project’s success is difficult to quantify accurately,” van Straaten says. “However, the aggregation of enhanced reputation and branding of the region or country, new capabilities, new standards of achievement, newly developed people skill sets and experience, a positive national psyche of achievement, all blend into a return of enormous value.”
The UAE has had a successful track record of mega project implementation. Projects like the smart government, smart healthcare and elearning have the potential to change how business is done in the Middle East. They have the chance to make processes more transparent, agile and effective, and could lead to faster throughput and lead to higher overall growth.
Finding the right people for the job is a key component in almost anything, and in IT mega projects CIOs and SIs are needed as drivers for success. Technology cannot perform on its own, and it is crucial that the Middle East region can attract the right talent to maximise a project’s smooth deliverance.
Choosing the right partners to be involved is as important as assembling the right team. On top of that, if organisations can leverage their existing infrastructures, then the process will be less costly and more efficient.
Van Straaten believes that the use of cloud is a key area that costs can be cut, “Cloud computing platforms can dramatically accelerate the deployment of an application as well as link the money flow closely with actual compute usage requirements, with no lingering expenses post the event,” he says.
Stephen Fernandes, Assistant Vice President and Head of Operations, Middle East, Cognizant, feels that the bottom line is that CIOs working on mega projects must ultimately deliver instant success, “To achieve the best out of their budgets for mega projects, CIOs need to show business value and—in light of the ever-shortening technology life cycles—IT programs must deliver functionality within months instead of delivering it with a “big bang” at the end of a multiyear development cycle,” he says.
“Organisations that are driven by best practices schedule releases in shorter, well-defined time-frames—at least every 6 to 12 months. The projects must specify well thought out business objectives, a vision of the future-state of IT architecture, guiding principles for agile design and development, and a sourcing plan.”