There is no gainsaying covid-19 has been creating major disruptions leading to economic crisis all over the world. Africa is actually very unique continent that its own issues are peculiar.
So, CIO Africa Leadership Series webinar hosted recently by CIO MasterClass Africa; for Chief Information Officers (CIO) particularly in Africa with the theme – COVID – 19: “The CIO’s Leadership Moment” – Prospects, Challenges and its implication for the African Continent – with the general direction on “leadership, strategy and operational level”, looked at CIOs role in normal times vis – a – viz the new normal defined by COVID – 19.
The Convener, CIO MasterClass Africa is Engr. Ifeanyi Frank Ogochukwu, a former CIO of Nigerian Airspace Management Agency and the Chief Technology Strategist for Debbie Mishael Consulting – an African premier consulting, implementation and training firm moderated this webinar.
The Panel composition include;
- Managing Director/CEO, Rack Centre, Dr. Ayotunde Coker;
- Member, Universal Service Advisory Council, Communication Authority of Kenya (Government & ICT4D Consultant), Nixon Mageka Gecheo ;
- Head of IT, Equity Bank, Rwanda, Carole Karema Jeni;
- Group CIO, Flour Mills Nigeria Plc; Serge Yao;
- MD/CSA, Twelve Dot & Twelve Dot Labs, Canada, Faud Khan and
- CIO, Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Charles Ayeteni.
Setting the ball rolling, the moderator sought to know from the panelists how a CIO can mitigate all of the crisis and help the organization actually able to get out of the various problems that have been created due to the pandemic.
The questions were coming in torrents: How did you and how did your organization handle the impact of Covid-19? And how are you able to support your customers? And of course, most of your frontline customers are CIO’s representing their firms in terms of business continuity, provisioning and service scaling, Disaster Recovery and so on?
First to respond was Dr. Ayotunde Coker, the Managing Director/CEO of Rack Center, a premium carrier neutral Tier III Data Center in Africa with multiple awards (both internationally and locally) to their credit.
Dr. Coker has got about 30 years’ international experience spread across Europe, United States of America, Asia and Africa: he worked in the UK and Europe for about 28 years for Ford of Europe, Senior Management Consultant for Cap Gemini UK, he was CEO of eMCSaatchi UK, Director Egg Bank UK, the first European Internet Bank, Chief Technology Officer UK Criminal Justice, and Group IT Director, UK Ministry of Justice, Chair of the UK Government Enterprise Architecture Board in 2007.
When he came back to Nigeria. He became the Group CIO of Access Bank and then also the MD of Emerging Markets Payments, West Africa. Today, he is the MD of Rack Center. So, he has been a CIO now he is a Chief Executive.
Dr. Coker, also a fellow of the Institute of Directors in Nigeria (IoD), said that Covid-19 has been really quite a revelation for the world.
Here is his submission:
“Being a colocation Data Center, for us Risk Management is key. Because, we have lots of very large businesses, very large installations that run on Rack Center live. So, we have very strict processes for Risk Management, Enterprise Risk Management, Business Continuity Planning. We provide Business continuity capabilities and offices and stuff for some customers but fundamentally disaster recovery and sustenance capacity and capability is fundamental to what we do. It’s absolutely key.
“We went live 2013 October and we’ve run a hundred percent uptime ever since so we have to maintain that track record and expectations that customers that are with us have peace of mind and they can just focus on their own core Business.
“Specifically, for Covid…we set up a Covid-19 Critical Response Team of all the leadership, health and safety, security, service management and so on and that was in place by Thursday, I think was this Thursday the 27th of February, the good thing about that was also in the weekend leading up to that we were able to stock up with all of the hand sanitizers, all of them masks that were required. We stocked up with PPE because we planned escalation levels, because we have a core of the facility the Data Center environment, power generation and so on and the support facilities, the core of the facilities absolutely key and we felt that if for instance Covid escalated, as you know, a very serious local pandemic, we needed to be able to ensure that also the core of the facility was held as a sterile environment. But that was part of our escalation planning on a level one, three to five. And immediately we started the process based on what we knew fromEbola: surfaces being clean, very, very regularly.
“We have the Standard Operating Procedure. We didn’t need one week to put in this SOPs. We modified the SOP for what we knew for Covid by a couple of days myself and my leadership team we had approvedall of the new standard SOPs and so on we do things like having more flexibility to how we handle petty cash. You know, it’s absolutely up to the detail level. You know, that we look at things about statutorily renewals that we need to do if suddenly offices were shuts. We make sure that we renew everything, so, in the first few days, we went through all of that stuff. We also make sure that we had separation immediately.
“This is now coming into the very first week in March from all of our staff nobody shook hands, you know, we started thinking about working from home, you know, fortunately our structures allow us to work from home.
“The only thing that we wanted to make sure that the high-intensity work from home absolutely every part of the facility could be monitored by VPN.
“So, the Command Center staff were able to access and monitor every aspect of the facility from home. So essentially, we had the distributed Command Center through the VPN.
“We have endpoint security anyway that we need to put in place but much most critically was the fact that we can’t just ask our staff to work from home and then that’s okay. So, we did an assessment of staff’s home circumstances and requirements. We don’t have hundred percent power in Nigeria, in Lagos.
“Anyway, so we gave staff allowances for running their diesel generator. So, they have a hundred percent power at home, we gave staff allowances, in fact, we provide connectivity, we just increased the level of connectivity staff have and very importantly ensure the let the quality of the connectivity and this is a level of kind of detail we went into and something we also do very, very regularly with the HR Head is to get a good as people feel the personal feeling from working from home. Immediately, we got that in place, I sent a note to all of our customers, all of our stakeholders, this is what we’re doing with Covid-19, these are the processes we put in place, you know, and so on so that gave them reassurance of exactly what washappening.
“Actually, interestingly I had to call from some customers who would say. Hey look, you know now this is very, very critical to us, I just wanted to talk to you to be sure that you know, you know, we are in support yeah and so on, some just make sure that you know, just we have paid you, you know, just a bit to make sure we paid you on time because we put in a lot of investments to ensure the BCP.
“So, it’s very important that the right thing is in place for the staff, continuity for customers all stakeholders, our entire supply chain was also put on notice we did the assessment of what spares would be would we need we brought spares way ahead because once up Critical environmental issue and everybody is running after spares for your power infrastructure and so on then you suddenly have shortages. So, we bought all of that and invested ahead of the curve.
“Another critical thing we did was in the power-sustenance, because then we weren’t sure how thingswere going to actually develop. We, then made sure that our backups and diesel supplies were absolutely filled up to the limit. We then got extra supplies of storage of diesel and so on to make sure that if there was a problem we would systemically we’ve done this analysis in our risk management.
“So, we also made sure that we had two levels of arrangements with that. We converted parts of the site. So, our Engineers could be on site. We have two different engineering teams that are totally separated, physical separation or social separation is around about 10 meters.
“Okay. So, we put all of these things in place and constantly as we learn to continue to re- assure all of our customers that this what was happening and you know where some customers had to actually because of serious logistics reasons had to even shut down their own data centers. They knew that they could run from our facility. So what we found was a significant amount of demand for the facility because pretty much customers were running live from, from Rack Center.
“So that’s how we managed to sustain the availability for customers.
“Finally as we continue to track everything, interestingly also our teams are separated in such a way most Engineers; you know for five Engineers absolutely have to be there physically everybody else work from home. They also work at different parts of the facility because we noticed that some hospitals where an anchor, you know, an infected person goes in there, they have an index, the place is shut down for two weeks, we couldn’t afford that kind of a shut down. So, first of all, we were identified as a critical facility so we could support that every staff that has to travel when we have the total lockdown had a letter from government, but also had a personal letter signed by me plus they had to have their pass which gave them limitless freedom and they also have to sign an indemnity that they would not misuse that privilege of being able to move because it would be an absolute disciplinary issue if you misuse that privilege. So, that’s kind of detail we went to and as we tracked all of this. Then, we started to see that the situation was escalating. So everybody that went into the core of the facility had to have PPE on, we also escalated to the point where no customer was allowed to come into the facility unless there was a request from Executive Director and it had to be approved personally by me for them to come into the facility only for very, very critical things.
“Some of our customers actually initially had people staying at hotels close to the facility and stuff. And then once we found that out, and we said why you don’t need to do that. You just call our Command Center and the people go to look at your facility.
“So, in conclusion with all of these we could reassure customers we escalated as required so that they knew they have the peace of mind or continuity of their businesses, Some businesses are to ramp up on the use of IT, Banks for instance, Payment Processing organizations, you know, and so on they had the reassurance that all of that was working and in critical situations as it’s usually especially the Telcos.
“We have around about 38 Telcos interconnected with us, and some of these equipment they have to just go poop. It’s the way Telco sophistication with Telco equipment is, we have to allow them to come in and fix it and then leave that way you sustain the continuity of the environment.
“So specifically, from the Rack Center point of view that’s what we did, the interesting thing actually of being the CEO of a company like Rack Center and having been a CIO over the years is I can empathize with what CIOs are going through.
“I can empathize with the discussions we need to have, I can empathize with what they’re probably going through within their organizations and guide my staff as they engaging with all of our customers, the technical staff, the CIOs, to be clear that we can reassure them and they can reassure their own stakeholders in their companies of exactly what is happening and how we can work with them end to end.
To be continued tomorrow with submission by Charles Ayeteni, the CIO of Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA).