Michaella Kerckhof - Majid Al Futtaim

Saturday, 28 July 2012 11:20
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Michaella started her career in IT in Belgium as a developer.  After two years she was promoted to  development manager for the Central Securities Deposit organization.  Four years later, she moved to applications consultancy and worked with Oracle in Belgium for seven years as a senior consultant.  In 2000 she relocated to Dubai and joined as head of product development. In 2006 she became the CIO for Nakheel. She joined Majid Al Futtaim Properties in 2011 and she is excited to be leading the company's Business Transformation Project.

Michaella enjoys horse riding and swimming.


The Interview

CIO2CIO: Talk to us a bit about your company, its key business challenges and how IT supports to overcome those
Michaella: Majid Al Futtaim Properties is a leader in developing shopping malls together with hotels and mixed-use communities in the MENA region.  Its City Centre brand is well- known throughout the region and its flagship mall, Mall of the Emirates is recognized internationally.

Majid Al Futtaim Properties is fast growing and means that IT must both reflects the core business requirements, as well as enables process change and transformation.  We just launched a Business Transformation project which will simplify and enhance key business processes across the business, enable strategic plans and improve our risk management.

This is a high profile project with strong support from the executive management.  This is not so much an IT project as it is a business project where IT is an enabler.

CIO2CIO: Your company is in the Real Estate industry, how does that impact your work, how involved are you in the business itself
Michaella: At Majid Al Futtaim Properties, IT is playing a transformational role and is evolving as the business transforms. We are more process oriented and work closely with different business units to ensure we are in a position to both anticipate and fulfill their business requirements.

In my view, the ideal IT is one that is a true reflection of the business in which all of its processes are captured, modeled and integrated in a way that allows business to see positive impact of process changes across the enterprise.

Compared to a few years ago, many leading companies are now ensuring that the CIO is engaged in the business and strategic planning. I’m closely engaged with our company’s business leaders.

CIO2CIO: In your view, what is the biggest challenge facing CIOs nowadays, is it budgets, skills, picking the right technology, status within the enterprise, or what?
Michaella: 10 years ago the challenge was finding the right applications and systems, and then integrating them. Now integration is not as big a challenge as it was.  Enterprise applications do pretty much everything a company needs.

The challenge is in making the case for change when needed and getting the business on your side.  Finding IT individuals who can speak the language of the business is also a challenge.

CIO2CIO: As an achieved CIO of a leading organization, can you talk to us about the project you hold closest to your heart, the project you are most proud of?
Michaella: A business intelligence project that had to be delivered within a very tight schedule.  I faced a lot of challenges but it was one of the best projects because the user adoption of the solution was almost 100%.

CIO2CIO: There also must be a project you may in retrospect look at with a certain amount of regret, a project that did not go that well, and you would like to share the learning experience with our cio2cio community
Michaella: I can't name the project or the company, but there was one ERP project that was rolled out centrally and then cascaded down to subsidiaries. The project was seen purely as an IT initiative and suffered from poor acceptance at the user level where people found enough excuses to go back to using desktop tools like excel.  I inherited the task of redoing the applications with full participation of the key business users.  By the time I came into the project, the sentiment was strong against IT and it took a lot of patience and work to get the business community to accept IT as an enabler again.

CIO2CIO: What are some of the big projects you are working on or planning for?
Michaella: We will be starting an ERP project soon. It is part of our Business Transformation Project initiative.

CIO2CIO: IT is very similar to the fashion industry in that things do pop up, become so popular, get so much media coverage but they often die away and not make it to the main stream. As a CIO how do you make a decision as to whether to adopt a new technology or not?
Michaella: As a CIO, I follow the technology developments closely, but in a mission critical business environment,  maturity and stability matter more than novelty.  Moreover, adoption of any new technology is decided upon the quantitative benefits it would yield.  

Some pieces of technology remain invisible to the user and decisions regarding such can be taken solely by IT but any technology that impacts a user directly must have the buy-in from the business.

CIO2CIO: The IT industry is going through a phase of intensive acquisitions if you look at Oracle, IBM, more recently SAP. As a CIO do you look at this as a positive or a negative development?
Michaella: Obviously mergers and acquisitions will have impact on customers, sometimes good and sometimes not so good. Consolidation to an extent is good as integrating different products becomes less of an issue. But lack of choice is not good for customers as a dominant vendor can pretty much dictate terms. More over lack of competition may negatively impact innovation.

CIO2CIO: A related question, as the major IT vendors expand their product portfolios many of them turn to a new sales model that relies of multiple account managers addressing the same account .. from a customer's perspective, is this a good thing?
Michaella: It would be good if we dealt with one person from an organization but that may no longer be possible because as you said, product portfolios are so wide and diverse.  We still would like to see a single point of contact that can coordinate with different groups within his/her company. We would like to see people with more specific industry knowledge and who can help us plan for the future, not just sales people.

CIO2CIO: What are your views about the suite versus best of breed debate, can you give us some examples from your own company
Michaella: I think best of breed sometimes may be good.  That being said, major ERP systems have evolved to a degree of maturity that best-of-breed will struggle to match in terms of overall solution capability.  Many of the niche vendors get acquired by the big ERP players anyway.

I also believe in the value of having one tightly integrated system for most business needs as many companies lack the bandwidth to deal with integration issues and multiple system providers.

CIO2CIO: No one talks about Linux anymore, in your view is that because Linux has become a standard part of any IT architecture or is it because it is fading away
Michaella: Linux is definitely still around in the server world, but as a desktop OS it seems to be disappearing. As a CIO though I have not spent much time on Linux. Things like OS are not a major concern anymore. Our concern is more to do with business applications.

CIO2CIO: Business intelligence is always on the priority list of many CIOs but we all know that business intelligence is not being heavily adopted in the Middle East, what is your view?
Michaella: Business intelligence is definitely the most visible benefit that management sees and appreciates. Often the case for an ERP project is made by the absence or poor business intelligence when management demands information it can't get on time or may be manually derived.
What is the point of IT if it can't provide information that allow quick and fact-based decisions? Management intelligence should come through easy-to-use dashboards. Managers love it when they have the necessary training and freedom to generate reports they want from the systems without having to keep asking IT to do it for them as used to happen in the old days of MIS.

CIO2CIO: How do you see social networking in the enterprise, a total waste of time or a great productivity tools, and what are you doing about it?
Michaella: I have not seen reasons to include social networking as a productivity tool for all employees. It may have some benefits in the Marketing or PR but not in other areas as of now.

CIO2CIO: You operate in a largely expat market, how do you attract, nurture and retain the best talent? How far do you invest in training and certification?
Michaella: We are very conscious of the need to attract and retain the most capable individuals. Training and certification are important both for the employee and the organization. Allowing people to upgrade skills is one way of ensuring better employee retention. No one wants to feel that his or her skills and knowledge are getting outdated

CIO2CIO: What would your advice be to new CIOs in the region?
Michaella: Stay close to the business and make sure you know business processes of your organization so well that the user community does not feel it is talking to an IT nerd.


IT Fact File

Database: Oracle
Servers, HP and IBM
Desktop: HP running Windows7
Networking: Cisco
Telephony: Cisco

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