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.

World Cup ticket chaos – in search of facts

by Prof Barry Dwolatzky

2010 Ticket

I’ve been told (by an angry reader) to “check my facts” before posting stuff on my blog. The facts in question relate to a posting on this blog entitled “Ticket Chaos – an ICT failure or FIFA greed?” [30th May 2010]. In it I tried to make sense of the fact that the World Cup ticketing system had failed dramatically on 28th May – leading to a lot of bad press and public anger.

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SWC Impact on Innovation & Capability Building in SA

The Wits Business School Strategic Management of Innovation Group hosted a Panel Discussion Seminar on 2 July.  They kindly allowed me to open the session – here is what I said:

“Critical evaluation”, as used in the seminar outline, suggests that we panellists have had time to carry out a number of activities: to research the intended, perceived, actual and potential impact of the SWC; to analyse the relationship with our country’s innovation and capabilities; and to prepare a critical assessment for delivery in under 10 minutes.  Eish!  I am actually going to keep it short, as I hope that the real value will come from triggering a discussion, rather than presenting a case.

My first thought (and I know it’s not unique to me) is that South Africa has once again demonstrated its capability to bring off “the big one”, as we have done on many occasions since the New South Africa ball started rolling in the early 90’s.  My second thought is why can’t we achieve this level of success with the other “big ones” in education, health, security and job creation?  Maybe the real innovation we need is in motivating government processes to achieve successful outcomes…

This seminar has brought together “leading ICT experts”, which would indicate that we should focus on ICT activities.  Does this mean we cannot discuss the design and construction of the stadia, the Gautrain or the King Shaka Airport?  Surely not, as none of them would have happened without the support and involvement of ICTs.  Certainly, we have proof of our innovative skills in the design of sports stadia!

Clearly, the significant area of South African ICT success was the implementation of the communications infrastructure required by FIFA and its partners.  The fibre network backed up by satellite services has connected the stadiums, FIFA offices and broadcasters to the International Broadcast Centre  and IT Control Centre at NASREC, and through there to the outside world with the speed and reliability that we would only have dreamed of back in 2004, when we promised we could do it.  I have been lucky enough to visit those centres and they are impressive.  Sadly, most of the “expertise” was imported by FIFA, such as Mahindra Satyam’s Event Management System and the Host Broadcast Services’ control centre and venue facilities.  We must hope that our local industry has been watching them closely, to learn all they can.  I know that Nhlanhla (Mabaso – another panelist) was on that same visit, so hope that he has a more technical insight into the possibilities than I have.

For example, from my perspective, has there been some “behind the scenes” discussion among the technical experts to further the debate about Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) standards?  Are we going to lose the chance to make Set Top Boxes? Many people have now been exposed to the benefits of HDTV and 3-DTV, both providing future opportunities for us to capitalise on content development, even if we are unlikely to get a foot in the door of the global manufacture of these devices.

An area where FIFA did not excel was Match’s ticketing system, which was obviously not adapted from the European model to suit African requirements.  Think what Computicket can offer them in the way of proven expertise and capability!

What are the areas where we can expect to benefit from the implementation of the SWC?  To a degree, it requires the application of imagination when looking at the potential future uses of what has been installed so far.  I remember there was a process at the Dept of Communications where they asked the ICT sector to suggest possible uses for the IBC at NASREC but I have no idea whether they have a plan up their sleeve.  Obviously, most of the moveable equipment will be removed but the broadband infrastructure should not, indeed cannot be wasted.  The potential for a high-tech campus at that location is enormous.

But that’s an easy target.  What about the fan park set-ups?  They have potential as outdoor cinemas and entertainment venues, places where the community can gather in large numbers to hear about government programmes.

How can we adapt the stadia, to prevent them becoming ghost venues?  They are all “wired for sound” (I’m showing my age) and should not be limited to hosting football or rugby.  Can we extend them to activities supporting local schools – from sports fields to classrooms?  Education was the first “legacy” of the SWC touted by FIFA – and this would be an opportunity to make the stadia into focal points for the surrounding institutions, both as venues and as hubs of connectivity.  Can they house internet cafes and clinics?

The SWC has given SA many things to think about – from our ability to carry out big projects to our dependence on imported management and technical skills and our motivation to achieve common goals.  Can we take the enormous legacy of the investment, the infrastructure and the lessons learned and turn it to maximum advantage?  I think we can, but we must take a serious look at our culture and our processes, if we are not to starve ourselves of this opportunity.  We must move from talk to action, from control to facilitation, from separation to cooperation.

We must expose as many of our young people as possible to the “wonders of 2010” and educate them to think creatively about what they will do when we host the Olympics in 2020…

What “new use” would you bring to the infrastructure legacy of the SWC?

Football and Software Development are both team sports

by Prof Barry Dwolatzky


Bafana Bafana

The 2010 World Cup started on June 11th with the mouth-watering prospect of seeing the greatest players on earth doing battle on the football fields of South Africa. Who would be the star of the tournament? Would it be Wayne Rooney, Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo? As we enter the last week of the tournament all of these stars and many more have returned home, having failed to make much of an impression.

One of the problems with modern football, and how it is marketed, is that the focus is on the star players – the heroes. This is wrong because football is a team sport. Each one of the 11 players has a role to play and the team will only succeed if all players work together on the dual objectives of scoring goals and defending their own goal posts.  At Manchester United Wayne Rooney is an inventive and exciting player. Wearing his England jersey Rooney at the 2010 World Cup was anything but exciting. The same can be said for most of the other football super-stars.

At club level the players work together every day for months and years in training and in matches learning to play as a team. Within the team each player is able to shine in a particular role, but the team provides the environment allowing each player to succeed. At the international level there is very little time for players to work together at becoming teams. It is therefore not surprising that individual skill and excellence doesn’t count for much at the World Cup.

There is a similar lesson to learn in the field of software development. Developing software is, like football, a team sport. Individual developers need to play specific roles in support of the project and its goals. There is – or should be – no room for heroes.

I’ve recently been thinking a lot about teams, both in the context of football and of software development. In terms of software I’ve been involved in coordinating a Team Software Process (TSP) pilot programme in South Africa. TSP is a teaming methodology developed at the Software Engineering Institute (SEI) in the USA. A TSP team focuses on defining and achieving goals together. There is a focus on individual performance, but as inputs to the team’s objectives. TSP teams also work – like a football team – with a skilled and professional coach. While the team works to deliver the project, the TSP coach works to develop the team.

There is a lot of commonality between a game of football and a software development project. I believe that football and software engineering can learn from each other. I wonder if FIFA or some of the national teams have thought about running TSP training for their players and coaches?

If Bafana Bafana are still looking for a new coach I would like to suggest myself! I know very little about football, but I know a lot about teams!