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Reflections on Gartner’s first CIO Leadership Forum in the Gulf Region

by Mark P. McDonald  |  March 5, 2011  |  1 Comment

I am flying back from Dubai as I write this post following Gartner’s first CIO Leadership Forum held in the Gulf Region last week.  It was a successful event by just about every measure: attendance, attention and engagement.  The Gulf Region is one of the most dynamic areas of the world and one that often gets overlooked in the discussion of the BRICs.

The more I travel, the more I believe that Information Technology is the first truly global industry, rather than being a multi-region or country industry.  The reason I feel that way is that CIOs around the world face many of the same issues as their counterparts in other countries.  Now that can make IT seem rather generic, non-differentiated and therefore a commodity, and it might be except for one thing — CONTEXT.

The context facing Gulf CIOs this year can be described as revolutionary.  The developments in North Africa and nearby Bahrain are serious, tragic in the loss of life and a reminder of the power of people.  I am not qualified to discuss those matters other than to join others praying for the protection of people and a peaceful resolution.

The other revolution going on is the region’s rapid recovery from the global recession and financial crisis, which had interrupted but not, disrupted economic progress. The CIOs gathered at the event gave evidence of the continued transformation of the region.  That is one that I have been thinking about as I reflect on the event.

The context in the region has evolved and you can see it in the questions CIOs asked during the event.  There concerns were those of business leaders who were dedicated to building their companies, the company’s capabilities and its success.  This led to questions and discussions around areas such as:

  • Adoption of business based approaches to IT strategy formulation, planning and execution.
  • Creation of new measures and metrics that demonstrate IT’s business impact and contribution rather than the operation of technology.
  • Repositioning of IT from a focus on IT services to business contribution.
  • Taking new organizations from rapid start-up to have the capabilities required to grow effectively at scale.
  • Leading within my global organization and local leadership team to have the unique aspects and needs of the region reflected in corporate policies, decisions and actions.

Perhaps the most interesting comment raised at the event was during the closing discussion where we asked participants to suggest improvements for next year’s event.  A CIO offered the following:

We do not want to hear about the cloud, everyone is talking about the cloud and we can get that from them.  What we want to hear about is business impact and how we create value through technology.”

Based on that comment, the other issues raised over the past two days and the nature of the dialogue, CIOs in the Gulf face business challenges that are indicative of a sophisticated approach and recognition of the potential for information and technology to contribute to the context and dynamic changes in the region.

That does not mean that Gulf region CIOs do not face their own unique challenges, they do and here are a few.

  • A technology provider/partner network that according to the CIOs I talked with is underperforming
  • A tight and competitive job market where hot skills are hard to keep as everyone needs good people and has the means to pay for them.
  • A market where the world’s largest pool of technology resources in India a two hour flight away
  • An economy in transformation to create a more diversified business and industrial base.
  • A geographic position that puts it between Asia, Africa and North America with 7 billion people reachable via no more than an 8-hour flight.

The opportunities and challenges shared by the CIOs attending the leadership forum are similar to those of leading CIOs around the world.  IT truly is a global industry and the CIOs in the Gulf are working on taking information and technology into their business in new ways and to achieve new results.

The business and leadership focus of these CIOs was refreshing, rather than asking about software and hardware they were interested in business impact, how they would lead as part of the business team, etc.  I will admit that my experience may be biased, as those are issues I cover, but even in casual conversation the focus was on business results.

I learned much working with these CIOs over the past two days and the dynamic challenges they face.  Looking forward to next year’s event

Category: 2011  cio  it-governance  leadership  management  personal-observation  strategy  technology  

Tags: 2011-planning  change-leadership  cio-leadership  events  gulf-region  it-and-business  leadership  personal-observation  strategy-and-planning  

Mark P. McDonald
8 years at Gartner
24 years IT industry

Mark McDonald, Ph.D., is a former group vice president and head of research in Gartner Executive Programs. He is the co-author of The Social Organization with Anthony Bradley. Read Full Bio

Thoughts on Reflections on Gartner’s first CIO Leadership Forum in the Gulf Region

  1. Upendra Kohli says:


    Nice thoughts. As in many things, at one level all CIO globally have the same problem while at the other level, even in the region, in each country in each vertical there are nuances as you would expect.

    I think the talk about “Business value of IT” is a welcome one, though I think it is still early days w.r.t. subject in the region.

    As someone who has come to region couple of years back from a developed IT market, it is remarkable for me on how less people think of IT as an innovation tool for gaining competitive edge. I guess the basic challenge of running IT Operations and delivering Business Initiatives itself takes away most of the time for the CIOs. Also, lack of a capitalist business macro environment in most sectors, means that IT is not pushed to the maximum in terms of business value.

    Hope you can continue to contribute with your thoughts and ideas in the region.

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