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Sun 17 Jan 2010 04:00 AM

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Secret CIO

After a difficult year, Secret CIO is willing to admit to some faults.

Secret CIO

It's a terrible thing, this recession. Oops, we're not supposed to call it that - we're supposed to call it a ‘global financial crisis'. Or an ‘economic downturn'. Anything but what it actually is - ie, a point in history when we don't make quite as much money as we used, quite as quickly as we'd like.

Because you shouldn't be under any illusion - people are still making money, and top execs are still getting their multi-digit bonuses. It's just that previously, people at the top were willing to spread the love around a little to lesser members of staff without a ‘C' as the initial letter of their title. In the current, ahem, economic climate, no one can afford to jeopardise a still-healthy bonus by sharing any of the extra cream with the lesser members of the farmyard.

Not so long ago, I used to be one of the lads at the oak table with the gold maple leaf insets, laughing as we'd think about the best ways to stiff our underlings out of their hard-earned bonuses. With healthy balance sheets and virtually no regulatory pressure to disclose our earnings to our - and permit me to stifle a laugh here - shareholders, we had the virtual keys to the kingdom.

Maybe that's why things are so bad today in the IT market. Well, not as bad as finance, obviously - those boys need more help than an armful of prayer beads can provide. But it's still far from great, as IT managers are struggling to justify the need for new gear in a year where everyone's been told to make do with they have already. Or worse still, cut back to a level beneath that.

Now, though, I've had the benefit of being able to look at life from both ends of the IT spectrum - right at the top and down and the bottom. And it's been more than a little bit humbling for someone who has enjoyed a long and highly-fulfilling relationship with the words ‘crass', ‘arrogant' and ‘self-centred'.

The thing is - I really don't like what's being done these days in the name of cost savings for enterprises. In the old days, we had a constant stream of budget to cover up our many undocumented failings. We fired too few and hired too many for the task at hand, but no one cared because we knew that the projects would continue in a perpetual stream of profit, would never be asked to complete in time or under budget. With no control from above, we acted like kids in the proverbial candy shop, slathering ourselves in the silly string of irresponsibility.

And of course, the really big don't-tell-anyone secret that most IT departments out here will never admit - particularly in the government sector - is that despite supposedly rigorous tendering processes in place, most of the time, we didn't even have a chance to choose the vendor we would use for our systems. The CEO would go out for golf with his vendor buddy and come back with a signed contract which we had to implement, regardless of whether it would actually work for us or not.

But I'm certainly not saying I was a blameless patsy. I covered up the excesses of the boardroom, ‘lost' the incriminating e-mails, took the bonuses and slashed the workforce,  when I needed to balance it all out. And ultimately, I became a victim to the next predator in my department who emerged.

In a deeply ironic twist, today I work for an outsourcing company, which in effect means that I am replacing all the staff that have been let go as part of the recession. It should make me feel good; I'm doing fairly menial work in IT terms but being paid twice as much as I used to get at my old firm, while the organisation's CIO gets to look good to his peers for cutting overall costs across the board.

And yet the situation feels oddly macabre, much like a buzzard feasting on the carcass of a wild buffalo. While you digest that no doubt appealing mental image, consider the situation that takes place when we eventually run out of people to cut, when the entire operation can boiled down to pushing a few buttons. What options do you, the CIO, then have when a incident happens and all you have is a piece of paper saying that I will be there in ‘x' amount of hours (never minutes)? What if I don't come?

If you're the CEO, perhaps you might think twice about hiring someone like me.

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