MIS100: Planting a flag

MIS100: Planting a flag

We look at ICT in New Zealand through the lens of the MIS100.

Any publication needs its special edition; that is one of the fundamental, tried and tested rules of publishing. A good special should not only be one the readers – and advertisers – love but one that really plants a flag about the publication that created it, that somehow conveys the essential ethos and reason for existence of the regular editions. Vanity Fair does its Hollywood issue. Fortune has its 500. When I think about successful New Zealand specials, I think of the NBR Rich List, but there are many more.

MIS magazine has its MIS100, which meets all of the above criteria. At MIS, now called CIO in its regular editions, talking to users about user issues is a matter of faith. Users in technology speak are people who in another context would be called customers. So MIS is customer-centric. It talks to the people who will make or break a vendor – their own customers. It talks to the users about the only real test any technology will face – whether it is accepted, adopted and implemented successfully in the market.

That philosophy helps cut through the hype and the marketing and more than any other IT publication MIS/CIO has explored the relationships between IT and the business and what IT delivers to the business.

There is another tried and tested rule of publishing that applies particularly to magazines rather than newspapers and that is, that magazines have to be advocates of something. Cuisine advocates great food. Car magazines may criticise some cars, but they love cars as a class. CIO/MIS magazine advocates for CIOs and over the years has built a strong relationship with them.

Without that relationship the MIS100 could not exist. There are still a few that balk when we call to update listings, but by and large MIS100 is now accepted as part of the New Zealand ICT landscape.

The first MIS100 was actually an MIS50, in 1997. The methodology was slightly different from now, based on the number of screens supported. IT services vendor EDS was number one in that year with 21,300. Telecom was next with 9300. There wasn’t a lot of analysis built around the listings in those days, but the edition did include some industry analyses based around the entire MIS database of user organisations. AS/400 and Unix were everywhere.

The following year, attempts to get more out of the mammoth project of compiling the MIS50 began in earnest. A breakdown by location showed Wellington was the home of half the organisations listed and Auckland just 15. Defined by industry, education and research were the leaders. EDS was still the largest IT user and Telecom was still number two, followed by Westpac Trust and the Inland Revenue Department.

The next MIS50, in 2000, was my first, and last, as editor. By then we’d made clear decisions about how to count managed screens and EDS fell from number one to number four. Westpac Trust took the top spot with 7900 screens followed by Telecom.

For the next few years, “more” was the rule for the 50, which was enlarged to a listing of 100 in 2000. More listings, more analyses, more articles around the 100. We began to track the number of IT workers as a proportion of total staff to gain an admittedly rough measure of IT efficiency, for instance.

Also, with the enlargement of the listings and following several years of public sector constraint, Auckland overtook Wellington as the home of most of New Zealand’s largest IT users.

Naturally over the years there have been mistakes in the 100, but they have been relatively minor. We were a bit slow to realise the extent of computerisation in schools, which has seen some high schools make their way into the listings.

But luckily the biggest mistake ever made in an MIS100 happened in Australia. One company accidentally got listed twice, meaning another fell of the list entirely. This was the only edition of MIS99.

The MIS100 has now been around long enough to track major changes in the IT industry and in IT infrastructure: The rise and rise of Windows and commodity PC architectures, the emergence of Linux in the enterprise, the decline of many bespoke and legacy systems and of Novell, once the networking operating system powerhouse.

We’ve seen mainframe systems replaced by Unix and seen mainframe systems, against most predictions, revitalised. We’ve seen the emergence of thin client technologies and mobility and outsourcing. We’ve also seen, as everything went IP, more decision-making power migrate to into the IT area, including systems that in the past would have been managed by administration or facilities managers: Telecommunications and IP-based security systems for instance.

All through it we’ve seen CIOs under pressure of one sort or another. There was, and is, the pressure of aligning IT with the business, of managing costs and managing staff, and of marketing IT to upper management. There was the pressure of Y2K, which some now portray as a non-event or even a fraud simply because it was successfully fixed.

IT has always been something of a whipping boy in the enterprise. More people understand something about what IT does and interaction with the business is a lot better than in the past. IT is well and truly out of the glass room. But the rise of personal computing and a new generation to tech savvy users is a mixed blessing: Everyone’s an expert now.

As always, there are new technology and strategic challenges emerging. Security grows and mutates scarily as a challenge for CIOs. Then there’s the migration to service-oriented architectures and the emergence of software as a service. Environmental issues are now a consideration for the data centre as well as the factory.

IT as a driver of productivity is still a challenge. There was a time in the late 1990s when this was seemingly impossible to measure, despite billions of dollars of investment. Then the US economy took off and Japan floundered and it was all about IT. There was a new economy, an information economy.

But at the enterprise level, driving tangible productivity gains through the use of IT remains a big ask, especially when projects do not deliver to specification.

Project failure is a huge bogey. What the ‘87 crash was to New Zealand’s economy, the Police Incis project was to New Zealand IT. It reverberated and for a time made IT managers, especially in government, wary and conservative. I sense making the business lead IT initiatives is only partly about improving IT alignment.

Right now IT activity in New Zealand is intense, especially in government. You get a feeling that investment has been postponed too long and it’s catch-up time. There is a good feeling about the industry now, very similar to just before the dotcom crash, in fact, though hopefully better founded.

Needless to say, the MIS100 will keep track of these emerging trends and challenges in the next decade as it did in the last one.

Rob O’Neill is editor of Computerworld NZ. He has previously been managing editor of MIS Australia and New Zealand, deputy editor of the IT section at Sydney Morning Herald and chief analyst of Fairfax Business Research.

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