In the Old Testament part of the Christian bible, the book of Exodus (part of the Jewish Torah) tells how Moses called for the institution of the Sabbath:
“This is what the Lord commanded: Tomorrow will be a day of complete rest, a holy Sabbath day set apart for the Lord.” Exodus 16:23
Very few people actually observe this nowadays, but I recently had the chance to revisit the concept, and I can see why it is still a good practice.
Recently my wife and I took an extended weekend to the Garden Route on the southern coast of South Africa where we have a holiday cottage. We both took laptops as we had various projects we could work on, however we had to stop using them on Sunday. The reason is that we had a notification that Eskom (South Africa’s government monopoly electricity supplier) would be cutting off power to the whole municipality from Sunday morning for the whole day to do important maintenance. Fortunately the cottage has gas so we weren’t going to be inconvenienced too much.
So on Sunday morning I sat, read articles I had printed, thought, jotted down notes and ideas, and realised how relaxing it was. I was being ‘forced’ to take a break and rest, and it was a good thing. It was such a good thing that when I went to work on Monday morning, I was re-energised and ready to start – which is not the case every Monday. I believe that was due to the rest I got on Sunday.
For many of us, every day we are busy trying to get things done at work. The problem is that same pace extends into the home, and into the weekend, as a result I don’t think people get the opportunity to disconnect. This was also brought home by a Harvard Business Review article “Are You Sleeping With Your Smartphone?“, which raises the issue of ’the cycle of responsiveness and the possibility of breaking it.’
I am now resolved to start having some purposeful down-time during week-ends, and that doesn’t mean watching more sport on TV. The experience that Sunday once again makes me realise how old truths are still important, eternal, and relevant. In Moses’ day people had busy lives as well - farming, shepherding, fetching water, etc – and would have also needed to rest. As I get older, the more I realise that what the ‘old folks’ said continues to apply.
By the way, this was my view on that Sunday morning:
The BCC World Service, an international multimedia broadcaster, has published its 2011 country rating poll, in which South Africa’s rating has shown a significant increase.
According to the report’s section on South Africa:
Forty-two per cent of people globally have positive views. This represents a seven-point increase since 2010, and is the second highest improvement in positive views among all countries rated, after Brazil. Negative views remained steady at 27 per cent.
… Views are getting warmer in North America, with significant improvements observed in South Africa’s positive influence ratings in Canada (45%, up 9 points) and the US (50%, up 13 points).
“reaffirms South Africa’s standing as being an essential emerging-market player which could no longer be overlooked”.
Grant further stated the fact that the outcomes will give South Africa a lift in advance of its very first meeting as a new member of the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and now South Africa) bloc to be held in China in April.
The following statistics were given during the 2011 State of the Nation Address by President Jacob Zuma:
- 400 000 – the number of additional South Africans served with a basic water supply in 2010
- 81% – the proportion of the country now electrified, compared to 63% in the year 2000
- R20-billion – tax allowances or tax breaks to be put in place to promote investment, expansion and upgrades in South Africa’s manufacturing sector
- R550-million – funds set aside for infrastructure upgrades and expansions countrywide
- 7.3-million – the number of tourists that arrived in South Africa in 2010
- 95 – the number of major international meetings and conferences that South Africa has already secured between now and 2016
- R75-billion – Eskom’s investment in new power stations, as well as the return to service and transmission of other projects
- R2.6-billion – the amount that the government will spend on water services this year
- 2.5-trillion – the value of South Africa’s mining assets – in US dollars
Information provided via Acsis financial services group.
A few days later, the Johannesburg Stock Exchange All-Share Index breached its highest level, previously set in May 2008.
In the past two months there has been news about international businesses making big moves into South Africa.
The next story was banking giant HSBC’s offer to buy Old Mutual’s controlling stake in Nedbank.
The last story, which came out yesterday, was the US retailer Wallmart announcing it was looking at buying Massmart.
This seems to be a sign that Africa’s economic growth and potential is at last being recognised by more than just mining companies.
On the down side, there are some concerns about international companies buying local ones that are listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE), as this reduces the size of the local stock market, especially as the companies being bought are major entities on the JSE. On the plus side, it’s a sign of the recognised excellence of the SA companies and that their experience is critical to strategies that involve entering the larger African market.
Feel free to make your comments about these acquisitions here. I wonder if this might start big international software companies from thinking that a territory called EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) is appropriate, but instead have Europe, Middle East and Africa as separate divisions.
The highs and lows of South Africa’s World Economic Forum’s global competitiveness rankings (from Business Report, 10 Sept 2010)
|High ranking||Low rankings|
|Strength of auditing and reporting standards||1||Business impact of HIV||138|
|Regulation of securities exchange||1||Quality of maths and science education||137|
|Efficacy of corporate boards||2||Business costs of crime and violence||137|
|Protection of minority shareholder’s interests||6||Hiring and firing practices||135|
|Financial market development||9||Quality of primary education||125|
S.Africa’s overall ranking was 54th out of 139 countries
If this was somewhere in Europe or the US, the international commentators would be all over it, but as it’s Africa only those of us living here are the ones making a fuss. I am talking about the Johannesburg City Council’s SAP-based billing system, Programme Phakama, and the point in question is how do you define project success or failure, something that Michael Krigsman covers frequently.
The goals of the Phakama programme were to centralise the city’s billing databases and replace multiple, disparate IT systems, in order to improve accuracy and completeness of the billing and invoicing process, and improve levels of collection and client service. Land information systems would also be integrated into the billing system, allowing the city to bill residents according to the correct valuation and usage - Joburg promises billing progress.
At the end of June, the city council announced that it had been awarded a SAP Quality Award for the successful implementation of the programme. The problem is that only the city council seems to believe this has been a successful project. Earlier this year, problems were being reported about the ERP implementation. When SAP was questioned about the award, the response was that the city “was nominated because of its clear governance policy and for implementing the project on time. It competed against 19 other companies in Africa for this award.”
That sounds to me like the criteria for project success were based primarily on budget and on-time measures, and that other issues around data quality and customer service were not really considered.
According the online article, SAP fails to explain award, opposition councilors “find it difficult to understand how the system picked up the award.” Since the end of July, there are have further articles on the problems resulting from the project, culminating in a recent article “Reputation suicide: SAP’s presentation of a Quality Award to the COJ’s billing system must mean it does not want to look like a high-standard, sane company anymore.”
South Africa has just completed a ‘really mega-project’ called FIFA 2010 South Africa, which 99.9% of people believe was highly successful and showed that we could deliver on all the important metrics – time, budget, quality, safety, service. It’s a pity that a project that affects thousands of people in Johannesburg did not have the same project management and oversight. There are similarities to Home Affairs IT project failure, and it leaves me concerned that management of major IT projects in South Africa does not show the same level of skill and attention that big projects like FIFA 2010 had.
On the other hand, big IT projects fail all over the world, as Michael Krigsman continually points out, so maybe we shouldn’t feel too bad.
Michael Krigsman makes a living from the subject of of IT project failure. There are a number of issues he discusses on project failures:
There was report in the South African Sunday Independent on 18 April 2010 which highlighted a number of the issues Michael has covered. The report concerned the bungling of the multi-billion rand contract awarded by the South African Department of Home Affairs to black-empowered IT company Gijima AST. (Note: The Sunday Independent only gives access to articles online for subscribers of its print version).
In a memo by the consultant whom Home Affairs contracted to manage the project, some typical IT failure issues were mentioned.
- Lack of project ownership by the client (Home Affairs), leaving Gijima to determine and drive the project deliverables, and making project governance difficult.
- Lack of involvement and support from the client executive sponsor.
- Poorly defined business case, little budget commitment and continually changing project priorities. Points 1 and 2 create this situation.
- Low level of capability in the client making it difficult at the IT level to get agreement on technical architecture and design specifications, as well as at other levels.
- Lack of end-user skills in the client to enable the project to achieve objectives.
Reading the article made me sympathise with the project manager, who I once worked with at one of South Africa’s big banks.
The question some South Africans are asking is how and if Home Affairs and Gijima can patch things up and get the project going again. From this South African’s perspective, however, one question is how would you go about reviving this project. A place to get ideas would be from Glen Alleman’s discussion on Project Disentanglement. The other question would be, for such a high profile and high risk project, who would be prepared to take on the project management role.
How would you go about getting such a big government project back on track? And would you even want to?
There are few cities where extreme affluence and extreme poverty exist in close proximity. Like a number of other developing economy cities, Johannesburg has those examples. In the north-east of the city lies the suburb of Alexandra, which was designated a ‘black township’ in South Africa’s apartheid days. It is now has small, overcrowded and run-down houses combined with shanty-town shacks. Less than 15 minutes drive from ‘Alex’, as it is called, is Sandton, the most affluent area on the African continent.
I was in Alex yesterday afternoon, helping an NGO which is part of my church, Rosebank Union, to host a Christmas party for primary school children in the area. I spend time on Saturday mornings teaching computer studies to kids from Alex, but the teaching college is on the outskirts and so I don’t often need to drive into the suburb. However, driving into the centre of Alex, to the community centre where the party was held, opened my eyes once again to the grinding poverty of many South Africans. Seeing the conditions that they live in made me appreciate all that I have, and less willing to tolerate those South Africans who complain about minor issues. At the end of the party, all the kids got fed, were given a small present, and a basic food parcel.
I then drove north to Fourways, an area which has developed in the last 15 years to the Design Quarter shopping centre, for a 27dinner evening. The experience of walking in to the centre was almost surreal, it felt like I had suddenly jumped to somewhere in Europe or North America. I wondered whether any of the affluent (mainly white) people sitting in the restaurants around the centre knew how life was being lived in a run-down suburb a few kilometres away.
The cultural extremes between Alex and Fourways kept running through my mind during the evening. For foreign visitors, I would now strongly recommend that they include half a day during their trip to go through Alex and then drive to Sandton.
I was shocked recently to hear that a previous employer, ProActive Integrators, one of the larger SYSPRO VARs in South Africa, had closed its doors. As with a large Sage VAR, the MIS Group in the US, it seems that a combination of market conditions and financial issues forced the company to cease business. I wish Duncan, Eugene, Bev, Ray and all the other people there, all the best and trust in God’s blessing for them.
There seems to be a belief in some quarters that when it comes to IT companies, the larger the better; for example, Acquire Me! Oracle’s and SAP’s Next Likely Targets which quotes:
"A move by Big Blue, say on a midmarket ERP partner like Lawson or Infor, could presage further consolidation in that arena by Oracle and SAP." (The 451 Group report – Where Might Old Foes Oracle and SAP Each Look Next to Stave Off Apps Hunger Pangs?)
However, from a customer (and a partner) point-of-view, dealing with some larger ERP vendors means going through the bureaucracy to get even small things done. Also, large software vendors seem to go for a centralised control model. It might be old news, but at a conference in 2008, I was told by a senior local representative that Oracle’s process for confirming quotes for SA companies could only be done by Head Office in the US, this required a wait of several weeks before a quote could be approved.
Waiting that long for a quote might be OK in some countries, but South African business people are not typically enamoured by long decision cycles.