Mandela Day – Working together is the key

by Prof Barry Dwolatzky


Today is the 18th July – Mandela Day. To mark Nelson Mandela’s 92nd birthday we’ve all been asked to volunteer 67 minutes of our time doing something that contributes to the betterment of our community. Writing this blog is my contribution. 

Isn’t that a bit of a cop-out … or even a bit arrogant? Shouldn’t I be out and about, cleaning the local park or planting a tree? I hope that by the time you’ve read this you will agree that writing this on my blog is a valid contribution in the spirit of Mandela Day. 

Before I go any further, I need to define the “community” I’m volunteering to support. I guess as a software engineer it’s valid to have a “virtual” community. I see this community as a group of people who share my passion for the South African software industry. Being passionate about our local software industry is not enough however. I’m hoping that you, as a member of this community, are passionate because you have some sort of stake in the industry. Maybe the industry provides you with an income – a job or ownership of a company.  Maybe you depend on the South African software industry to help you succeed in doing your job. Possibly, like me, you just believe that South Africa simply MUST have a viable and strong software industry. 

I believe that there are two possible scenarios facing South Africa’s software industry:

  • There’s the ‘high road’ scenario in which the industry grows and prospers. Our software industry already has a long and proud tradition going back to the 1950’s. The high road scenario sees the industry continuing to serve the needs of South Africa – continuing to be innovative and creative – and finding and filling new niches in the international ICT market.
  • Then there’s the ‘low road’ scenario. In this scenario the local industry loses out to international competition coming from Europe, North America, India and other emerging ICT powers. Our software industry shrinks and becomes primarily a source of customization and maintenance of other countries’ software. 

Those of us with a stake in the local software industry and a passion for its continued success obviously need to find ways to avoid the “low road” and travel along the “high road”. How we do this is not a simple matter. There are many interacting factors at work, many of which we have no influence over. 

There are however a few simple steps we all can take to increase our chance of success. These are: 

  1. Grow the skills base: We need more skilled people. It is easy to push the burden of skills development onto someone else. I’ve often heard people complain about the state of our schools, the shortcomings of our universities, and the failure of Government to train more IT people. We need however to each play a role ourselves. During the struggle against Apartheid there was a slogan “Each one teach one”. It was a call for everyone who has knowledge and skills to find a way to share these with someone else. I believe that everyone in the software industry should look for an opportunity to train someone. It may be someone you work with. It may be a school child or student. At the same time we should make a concerted effort to learn something new ourselves.
  2. Embrace quality and professionalism: Our major challenge in facing competition from abroad is that we struggle to develop high quality systems on time and within budget. If we are to meet this challenge we each need to find ways of acting professionally and dedicating ourselves to doing quality work.
  3. Promote the South African software industry: Many people around the world are not aware that we have capacity and a long history in producing great innovative software in South Africa. We need to talk more and talk proudly about what we’ve done and what we can do. Many software professionals in SA focus too narrowly. We “sell” our company or our region. We need to work together to “sell” South Africa. 

This 3-point call to action that I’m making on Mandela Day is not simply lip-service on my part. Through the JCSE ( I’ve been working since 2005 to develop activities in support of each of the points listed above. I am willing and keen to donate my time free-of-charge to any person, company or organisation keen to discuss what I have done and to explore any other ideas you may have. 

Our community can only succeed if we work together – and this I believe is the message to all communities on Mandela Day.

Can South Africa also draw with Mexico in the software development game?

by Prof Barry Dwolatzky

barry and mexicans

I was there – that’s me on the right with a group of Mexican football fans.

As the long awaited FIFA 2010 World Cup tournament – the first in Africa – kicked off, I was sitting in the crowd of 85,000 at Soccer City in Johannesburg. The opening match brought together Mexico and South Africa. Although my allegiance was obviously with my own Bafana Bafana team, I really enjoyed the bubbly enthusiasm of the thousands of Mexican fans at the stadium. As we got up to leave at the end of the match, relatively happy with the 1-1 draw, I was amazed that smiling Mexican fans came over to congratulate us and pose for pictures.

Being at the South Africa vs. Mexico match had a particular significance to the Software Engineer in me. In 2008 I lead a delegation on a software engineering study tour to Mexico City. The purpose of the visit was to find out more about the Mexican software industry and to see what lessons we in South Africa could learn.

One important insight was that while Mexico is richer and more populous than South Africa (it has a GDP three times larger, a population of over 100 million compared to South Africa’s ~48 million, and a gross national income (GNI) per capita of $14,000 compared to our $10,000), the two countries have software industries that are somewhat similar. Like South Africa, Mexico’s software industry has a challenge around finding enough skilled people. Both countries also have a mix of a handful of big companies developing software, and hundreds – or even thousands – of small companies.

Unlike South Africa, Mexico has a very clear government-backed strategy for growing its software sector. Our delegation attended the launch of the “Prosoft 2.0” programme. This is a scheme that provides something like $80 million per annum in matching funding for companies working to improve their ability to produce high quality software. One of the initiatives supported by Prosoft is a national PSP (personal software process) and TSP (team software process) rollout.

An important driver behind Prosoft is a strategy that aims to make “Mexico First” in terms of delivering the best quality software in the world. PSP/TSP is the methodology being adopted to achieve this.

Our visit to Mexico was largely to understand more about the PSP/TSP programme. We were hugely impressed by what we saw. On our return from the visit I set about starting up a PSP/TSP pilot in South Africa with financial support from the Department of Trade and Industry (the dti). This pilot started in July 2009 and – I’m pleased to say – is already showing great potential.

More about that in another blog posting – back to the World Cup and our match with Mexico. While the form-book says that Mexico should have hammered Bafana Bafana, we landed up acquitting ourselves wonderfully. The game was tough, but the result was fair.

Thinking about the Prosoft slogan “Mexico First”, maybe we should be saying that we – the South African software industry – should at least aim to tie the game at producing the best quality software in the world.

A Software Engineer’s view of the 2010 World Cup

by Prof Barry Dwolatzky

Barry 2It’s upon us!! The long awaited much anticipated FIFA 2010 World Cup is here. Everyone’s focus has moved away from the stresses and pressures of making a living …  to a little football being kicked about by 22 men on a grassy field. For the next month we will join billions of people around the world in thinking about little more than the 64 games, the 32 teams and the events and incidents that happen on and off the field.

Faced with a choice of either putting “The Software Engineer” blog into hibernation until ATWC (= After the World Cup), or finding a way to join the fun – I’ve opted for the latter. Over the next 6 weeks I will blog as often as I can. I plan to participate in the festival of football wearing my software engineering hat and my Bafana Bafana shirt.  How will this work? Will I have anything interesting to write about? Who knows? It’s an experiment with an unknown outcome.

All I ask is for anyone reading this to join in the spirit of the only 2010 World Cup blog with a software engineering flavour! Comment, share your views and support your team – whichever it is – with passion and fun! May the best team win!

Ticket Chaos – an ICT failure or FIFA greed?

by Prof Barry Dwolatzky

Supports queue at FIFA ticket centre

Supporters queue at FIFA ticket centre

Ninety thousand “new” World Cup ticket went on sale at 9:00am on Friday 28th May at FIFA ticketing centres around South Africa. Such is the passion and excitement around the upcoming World Cup that hundreds of people started forming queues on Thursday morning at the ticketing centres. There was a festive atmosphere as supporters braved winter weather spending the night in the queue as they waited for the centres to open.

By 9:30am the mood had changed to one of anger …. the IT systems supporting the sale of tickets had “crashed”. By late on Friday morning police had to be called to bring things under control. By 6pm on Friday many people, after queuing for nearly two days, had walked away with no tickets. FIFA Secretary General, Jérôme Valcke, apologised for the inconvenience. He blamed “technical problems”, promised to get a detailed report from FIFA’s “service provider”, and then went on to his next meeting.

Frankly I think that this is simply not acceptable!!

Let’s unpack what happened. More than 2 months ago FIFA announced that nearly half a million unsold tickets for the World Cup would be sold “over the counter”.  On 15th April the first batch of these tickets went on sale at FIFA ticketing centres, some selected branches of Shoprite Checkers supermarkets and at branches of FNB. It was a disaster! The system “crashed” and – as we saw last Friday – people who had queued for hours had to endure frustration and chaos. Jérôme Valcke promised to sort things out.

How is it possible then that 6 weeks later the same thing happened? What are these “technical problems” and why weren’t they solved?

I’m willing to concede that the 15th April crash may have taken FIFA’s IT service provider by surprise. It was never envisaged that “over the counter” ticket sales would be provided for. This represented a new requirement and the system would have needed to be changed. In implementing these changes, any number of assumptions could have been incorrect. Server hardware, communications channels or transactional database systems may have been inadequately sized to cope with the volumes of traffic. There also is evidence that the systems were not tested properly. 

But what about the “crash” on May 28th? I would expect that information collected from the 15th April would have been analysed and appropriate changes made to the system. There would also have been enough knowledge available to set up valid test cases. In software engineering terms I cannot accept that the system “crashed” on May 28th .

I have two theories that may explain this recent “crash”:

Theory 1 :FIFA’s IT Service Provider is incompetent

Who is this Service Provider? My answer to this question is based purely on a few hours of surfing the web. If I have my facts wrong maybe someone can correct me.

The first name that comes up is “MATCH Services AG”. It is a company based in Zurich Switzerland and is run by the FIFA President’s son-in-law. It provides FIFA with “ticketing, accommodation and event information technology services” [] . MATCH has a strategic partnership with the professional services company “Eurotech Global Sports AG”, also based in Switzerland.

It seems to me that Eurotech Global Sports [] is the “Service Provider” ultimately responsible for the IT system that crashed on 15th April and again on 28th May. On the Eurotech GS website one reads that it’s “staff has event experience in 15 countries in the past 11 years”, and that it is “dedicated to providing high value-added planning, project management and operations support for the implementation and deployment of IT services in large-scale events.” We are told that Eurotech GS “specializes in assisting … international sports federations [amongst others] … with unique IT requirements”. 

I’ve even been able to put some names to the key IT experts on the Eurotech Team. We have Jason Anderson [responsible for development and quality assurance when he worked for EDS], Tim Cromie [quality assurance and applications manager during the 2006 World Cup in Germany], Paul Leckie [ a “proven track record of success in delivering IT solutions in complex, high visibility, high risk environments”] and Dave Schoonaert [ with 13 years of “designing, developing and implementing scalable, flexible, and reusable systems”.] 

So – do Jason, Tim, Paul and Dave have the experience and competence to spec, build and test a system that can cope with “over the counter ticket sales”? Based on the information I’ve found on each of them, I’m confident that they would be able to deal with the technical challenges quite easily. 

I therefore don’t subscribe to Theory 1. 

Theory 2: FIFA, or MATCH, are not willing to pay the cost of solving the problems

Assuming that there is a technical solution to the problem that caused the “crash” of 15th April, and assuming that the Eurotech GS Team of Jason, Tim, Paul and Dave, were able to design a fix to the problem, why wasn’t it implemented in time for the 28th May release of 90,000 additional tickets?

My theory is that the solution came with a price tag, and MATCH and/or FIFA looked at the price and decided it wasn’t worth fixing.

Why should they make such a decision? Well, firstly the tickets have still been sold. The hype and negative publicity surrounding some poor unfortunate soccer fanatics coming to blows at ticketing centres certainly hit the headlines around the world. The net result was that people went on-line and bought tickets.

Secondly, do FIFA really care about people queuing for tickets in South Africa? There is ample evidence that we South Africans are not all that important in FIFA’s global vision. Jérôme Valcke’s apologies and promises to sort things out cost FIFA nothing. Investing in technical solutions to solve the problems with the IT systems comes off someone’s bottom line.

“You must be crazy” I can hear some FIFA executive saying to the Eurotech GS team, “why should we spend a million dollars on a fix to the IT systems. When fights break out at the ticketing centres we’ll just call the cops and then roll out Jérôme Valcke to look concerned and apologetic. That’s a much more cost-effective solution.” 

Am I being unfair to FIFA and MATCH. From an ICT point of view what do you think? Whatever it is, having a highly visible system crash so dramatically is bad news for software engineers and ICT professionals anywhere in the world.

I’ve found a 2010 ICT story – are there others?

by Prof Barry Dwolatzky

moses-mabhida-stadiumAbout 2 weeks ago I asked readers of the blog if they knew of any examples of AMAZING stuff that the South African ICT Sector would be show-casing at the upcoming FIFA World Cup.

I’ve just found a great 2010 ICT story: Yesterday the National Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor, launched a new information security system, based on “quantum crytography”. The Quantum Security system, developed by researchers at the University of Zwazulu Natal (UKZN), will be used to secure communication between the Moses Mabhida Stadium (Durban’s FIFA World Cup venue) and the Joint Operations Centre [ for details click here ]

Does anyone know of other examples?