Be afraid, very afraid, of the nexus
Which in a way is quite appropriate, because at the Gartner Symposium in Cape Town last week, the message was being driven home to the audience who find themselves in the trenches of corporate South Africa's IT sector.
You need us to be the leader you can be, was the message.
However instead of spandex, masks and laced up boots, these warriors of business are clothed in distressed beige pants and collared shirts.
The Symposium, hosted annually by the analyst firm, is a gathering of IT professionals and technology workers, to hear presentations on trends and strategies for the future.
As was pointed out in the opening of the conference, there was 20 000 years of IT experience present at the conference last week.
But what was not pointed out was that these delegates each paid R20 000 to get into the room with Gartner's top analysts.
Tornado of forces
According to Gartner, "The nexus" is the tornado of forces that are circling the IT industry, shaping how we do IT and by extension how we do business.
Managing director of Gartner Africa Rene Jacobs welcomed the audience to the event and urged them, "The time to respond is now!"
She was talking about responding to "the nexus" of converging forces, the four pillars of the Gartner analysis, which have been branded "social, mobile, cloud and information".
"We need to start preparing for change now!" continued Jacobs, her voice stressing the severity of the situation.
This is not rocket science, what Gartner is saying is that social media, the quest for mobility, the move to storing data in the cloud and the trend towards using big data to improve your business are the four main forces affecting IT globally.
What's new is this catch all term, "The Nexus", which is Gartner's sales pitch. Gartner Senior Vice President Peter Sondergaard took up the rallying call.
"Today's IT professionals are shaping how business works and the global economy is shaped," he said. The stage-managed show creates a picture of a perfect storm, disrupting the sector.
"The nexus changes the fundamentals of business, not IT," continues Sondergaad.
He is pacing the stage, gesticulating with his hands to reinforce his points, his performance almost evangelical.
"Rise up and be leaders," he calls to the auditorium. "IT is changing the world, IT professionals are changing the world, you can't say that about accountants."
"Sorry that was rude, I meant lawyers," Sondergaard continues.
The auditorium chuckles to itself, breaking the tension.
I am relieved as I was having vision of technology geeks, stripping out of their beige corporate wear, exposing a spandex outfit with cape and tool belt and to go forth into the world of technology and servers.
To boldly go where no IT professional had gone before.
But then Sondergaard left the stage with a closing, "May the IT force be with you."
"What a load of crap," said one senior IT journalist, straight after the key-note address had been delivered, mapping out the terrain to be explored over the three days of the conference.
"They've been talking about this stuff for the last few years, now they've just come up with a name for the whole thing, the nexus," he said. "Most of that talk was just jargon."
A Cape Town municipality employee, who I sat next to in a later session on day one, ventured that he had found the whole presentation a complete waste of time.
"I'm allergic to a hard sell," said another delegate, overhearing our conversation.
Later that day over lunch, a SARS employee said that he would rather have a vibrant sales pitch than a boring analyst that would put him to sleep.
However he expressed concern that delegates paid R20 000 to attend when the information that they are getting is not new.
"There has been nothing concrete I can look back on and implement," he said before bitching about the fact that lunch was served without tables to sit at. "This whole thing is geared towards making you a Gartner client."
With that he relocated up against a wall to attempt to eat his lunch.
Another delegate who plays in the IT infrastructure space said Gartner's marketing pitch was very slick, but he felt that R20 000 was a lot of money to charge businessmen to sit in a room with their analysts just to hear their marketing pitch.
Two Ugandan executives said they expected the hard sell and that they felt the Gartner analysis was spot on.
"It looks like the way things are going," said one of the executives. "It's very interesting, but these are things Gartner has been talking about for years."
An American businessman told me he only attending the symposium to network with South African IT sector players.
On day two I find myself sitting in a presentation titled Machiavellian CIO 3.0: Love and War, delivered by Gartner Analyst Tina Nunno.
The presentation it appears is a follow on from one where Nunno had presented Machiavellian CIO 2.0: Mastering the Art of Manipulation.
IT super heroes
"Oh goody, repeat offenders," Nunno jokes when she notices some faces from that previous presentation. "Welcome to the deep end of the pool."
The presentation is premised on identifying the Italian philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli's strategies of war and teaching these delegates how to implement them in business.
Nunno, provides a disclaimer before she continues, "don't try this at home, unless you are feeling brave," she says, before adding, "you can't sue Gartner over this."
"CIO's regularly encounter warfare but often are not simply well prepared for it," said Nunno. "Would you rather be the invader or the invaded?"
All this talk of war and battle is taking me straight back to visions of IT super heroes, going into battle, except it's a lot more menacing right now, I am imaging getting clubbed in the back of the head with a keyboard.
Nunno, begins to run through strategies based on Machiavelli's ideas using bizarre sentences like, "Let's face it dictatorships can be fun".
The language is all about being "ruthless", "detached" and "opportunistic".
"It is better to subdue an enemy by famine, rather than by the sword," quotes Nunno.
"Tell that to Telkom", I thought to myself they starved their clients out of business as the recent decision by the Competition Tribunal showed.
"Use deception to get what you want done," said Nunno.
Again I think to myself, the South African IT sector is way ahead of Nunno there too.
While the language of the presentation left me feeling rather unsettled, I wonder what impact this Gartner Symposium has on South Africa's IT sector.
Are we producing the information technology super heroes of the future or are we producing more villains like those of the past.
The ones who have hampered broadband penetration, kept mobile prices high and cost South Africa thousands of jobs over the past decades.