I spent three days at the Gartner Symposium in Dubai, where over 500 attendees from countries in the Gulf area gathered to listen to a number of Gartner analysts presenting about current trends in the use of information technology. Our overarching message, like for our recent symposia in North America, Brazil, Europe, India, Japan and South Africa, revolved around the so-called Nexus of Forces, i.e. the confluence of social, cloud, mobile and information, which creates an inflection point in how technology supports and enables businesses in all industry sectors.
I had several sessions: a workshop on social media and open government, a presentation on our “smart government” scenario, a round table on cloud computing in government, and several one-on-ones or many-to-ones on these topics.
I was very positively impressed with the quality of interactions and the relevance of questions. During the presentation, I got more questions than I did for the same presentation in Europe, and all questions were extremely topical. They were not only relevant for the region, but they were questions that I would have loved to see asked in other parts of the world as well.
We had a whole discussion on the boundaries between personal and professional identities on social media as well as about who should be in charge for social media strategies and policies. Participants were very sharp in grasping almost instantly the relevance of focusing on how to enable positive behaviors rather than only on preventing inappropriate ones. They were clearly acutely aware of the challenges posed by social networks, as the Arab spring showed a couple of years ago, but they seem to be eager to move beyond that point and explore other, more beneficial options. One clear demonstration of this was how rapidly the discussion on open government shifted from citizen engagement in policy making (that – despite what some people may believe – is something that most of them take very seriously) to citizen involvement in service delivery and transformation.
There are probably two main risks that are in the way to success.
The first one is complacency. The lack of budget pressures and the fact that authority is clear and can be enforced may make government CIO and other executives believe that they can keep operating in an environment that they control. Be it the desire of an employee to use a personal device, be it the attempt of a business unit to purchase a cloud SaaS solution without IT even knowing, these may be seen as alien situations in the region. However, talking to representatives of a shared service provider, it was evident they understood that, irrespective of any mandate to use their services, if they underperform, they are going to be challenged by alternative approaches. What may be less clear though, and it is not very clear to many government shared services organizations around the world, is that the ability to prevent such a situation is rooted into the willingness to constantly challenge themselves and ask whether they should really keep delivering all the services they currently deliver. Being able to identify service areas to discontinue because they can be procured almost as a commodity from the market is an important element of a sustainable shared services offering.
The other one is obsession with importing best practices from western countries. While taking inspiration from technology-intensive solutions in other jurisdictions is always a good thing, aiming at imitating or being better can be a futile exercise. The context – in terms of governance models. market maturity, regulatory constraints, cultural traits – is different and – as I said before – GCC IT executives seem to be rather savvy enough nd aware of their context (as well as of their options) to make the right decisions. However, as it often happens also in the Western world, political leaders like to see their countries at the top of comparative rankings, and vendors may have an easy life at amplifying their accomplishment in other jurisdictions rather than helping their clients better understand local context and opportunities.
From my limited experience through this symposium I am very confident that most GCC governments will find effective approaches to deal with challenges and opportunities offered by the nexus of forces. It won’t always be a smooth ride but maybe, at the end of it, they may find themselves much higher in the rankings. Even unintentionally.