Business Management

Calum MacLeod (South Africa) - Security with a Smile: How IT is Implemented in South Africa


One of the privileges that my work affords is the opportunity to travel and meet with IT Security professionals in other countries. So although I'm by no means an expert on South Africa, I've been travelling there for the past ten years and worked with companies on many different projects.

But before getting into the technical side, what I have learned is that Identity Management in South Africa takes on a whole new meaning. For example, when your car is pulled over by the local law enforcement so that they can check if you're having a nice day, it is useful to have a "small contribution" at hand to help contribute to the lunch fund! After all, security does cost money, especially if you're a "local". If you can prove you're not a local, then contributions tend to be more voluntary!! But they do it nicely!

Anyway back to the IT space. What has always impressed me about South Africa is the IT security staff's resourcefulness and knowledge. One only has to look at the number of South Africans in key positions within the UK to realize that in general they are operating at another level. I suppose a legacy from years gone by has resulted in people who are now in senior positions being extremely knowledgeable and hands-on.

I guess the result of too many vendors selling products and not providing services has resulted in two things.

1. South Africans have learned the hard way: if you want to do it right, you will need to do it yourself

2. Any vendor who does not offer professional support to their clients is quickly found out and South Africans are not a very forgiving lot when it comes to being let down by their vendors

What is really refreshing is that no one can rest on their laurels. Vendors and integrators are continually placed in the position of having to prove themselves. How often in Europe do companies continue to buy from vendors and integrators that have let them down, and how often do you hear them tell you about their history. The fact is, European companies settle for second best when it comes to their partners. In my opinion, most of the integrators in Europe I've dealt with wouldn't survive five minutes in the South African market space.

What this results in is a very open minded approach to new technology. For example, in areas such as DLP and IAM, you find UK companies recruiting South African consultants because they are more effective at implementing enterprise solutions. I heard of a recent example where a UK integrator was competing for a large DLP project, and since they were not sufficiently knowledgeable about the technology, they were always inviting the vendor to join them in the meetings. However, unbeknown to the integrator, the same vendor was also meeting with the prospect, and using their South African integrator to provide the vendor with the necessary expertise about the product. Bottom line is that the South African integrator is now deploying solutions in the UK!

One area where I feel at times there's a weakness in South Africa, is a tendency in larger enterprises for key personnel to remain static in the organization. Often this can result in someone becoming indispensible, especially form their own perspective. Organizations find themselves at risk because these people become so embedded in a role, that they at times can hold the business to ransom. It is not unusual to find financial organizations depending on home grown application, particularly in an Identity and Access Management arena that has been developed by the "Gatekeeper" and is running on a server under his desk. So if you're planning to launch technology in South Africa, be prepared for a comment in the meeting like, "give me a few days and I'll build it myself".

If you're a vendor, my advice is don't waste your time sending your Sales Director if his only skills are collecting air miles and hotel points. No matter what level you encounter in South Africa, from CISO down, they know their stuff; so if you are a typical European sales exec who looks good in a suit but struggles to spell his own name, you will quite literally be thrown to the lions. And in South Africa that threat carries a lot more menace than anywhere in Europe! So my advice is, take your Sales Engineer and carry his bags - or actually just send the Sales Engineer and save some money.

Calum MacLeod is currently EMEA Director for Venafi, a digital certificate and encryption key management specialists. He has over 30 years of expertise in secure networking technologies. For further information visit: venafi


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