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IT leaders who (literally) keep the lights on

Howard Baldwin | Oct. 8, 2013
First-world tech executives can learn from the way CIOs in developing countries maintain connectivity and keep services flowing.

In particularly remote regions, it's especially important to find skilled people. "Our on-site IT staff has to be multiskilled," says Mark Reilley, director of IT at the Washington-based Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, which has medical facilities scattered across sub-Saharan Africa. "The team here in Washington uses remote tools to log in to a desktop to tweak settings, and we visit on a fairly regular basis, but the IT technician there has to be able to deal with desktop, server and connectivity issues."

To offload work from those key employees and make the entire team more productive, Reilley has set up internship programs in Zimbabwe, Kenya and Mozambique (with more planned in Tanzania and Ivory Coast) to bring in college students majoring in IT-related subjects to help the on-site staff. "They may not have a full IT skill set, but they can set up printers to free up the dedicated IT person to focus on higher-level issues such as business continuity," says Reilley.

Sometimes employers' labor practices run afoul of, or at least get bogged down by, local labor laws. Over the past 20 years, Roger Seshadri, CIO at gaming and entertainment company Melco Crown Entertainment, a $4 billion developer of casinos and hotels, has opened properties everywhere from Peru and Curacao to a riverboat on the Ohio River in Indiana. He's currently working on a resort in Macau.

Because Macau is so small and its IT talent pool even smaller, he had to bring in IT professionals from 12 countries, including Australia, Malaysia and the Philippines, to get the right expertise for his team of 150, Seshadri says. But that involved getting work permits, and "vendors need a local company to act as their partner," he explains.

Work permits are easier to get in nearby Hong Kong, where Melco Crown has a corporate office. But because the two cities are still separate "special administrative regions" as defined by China, Seshadri can't move his 25 Hong Kong-based IT employees to Macau. His workaround: "We bring them over by ferry for meetings and then they go back. But even then they still have to go through immigration, which has long lines. It's only a one-hour ferry ride, but it can take them three hours to get here. It is not that easy to deal with, but we manage."

Sometimes laws relate not to people, but to technology. Gustavo Roxo, a Booz & Co. partner for IT and operations in Sao Paulo, cites taxes as an issue there and elsewhere in South America. In a developed country, he says, hardware and telecommunications usually represent 40% of the total cost of a project. In Brazil, they account for 80% of the total.


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