Data Management Senior Expert, Enterprise Architect, Operational Technology SME
Alaa Mahjoub is a data management senior expert, focused on utilities, petroleum, transportation, and defense at various governmental organizations. His experience across the EMEA and the Far East regions includes leadership for a variety of programs as he served as a consultant and trainer in UAE, Kuwait, Egypt, Malaysia, Singapore, and the UK. Holding degrees in computer engineering, Alaa has lectured, published, and reviewed numerous research papers for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE), the International Council on Large Electric Systems (Cigre), and the Arab Union of Electricity. Alaa’s current research interests include real-time operational intelligence and applying digital business to create new business designs.
What attracted you to data management or IT, and why did you choose to pursue this career?
Since my early school days, I have always been driven by scientific curiosity. In 1972, I joined the university. Back then, people in my country used to call computers “electronic brains”. My curiosity stemmed from this term as I wanted to know how a machine was able to think. This eventually led me to decide to do my university degree in computer engineering.
Since then, my passion for data management and IT has never stopped growing, particularly when I got involved in the fields of operational technology and telecom. Over time, I came to realize that data management, information technology, operational technology, and telecom together form the “digital nervous system” of modern corporations. This perception has been proven true in almost all industries, especially in our digital age — now often called the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This realization is what helped me sustain a long-term interest in data management and IT.
What has been your greatest career accomplishment so far, and why has it been important to your career?
Building the Control and Information Network (AD-CINe) of the deregulated electricity market for the Emirate of Abu Dhabi.
AD-CINe has been important because, from a business perspective, it enabled the restructuring of the Abu Dhabi Water and electricity sector and prepared it to enter the era of market deregulation. The deregulated market stimulated economic activity because it eliminated restrictions for new businesses to enter the market which increased competition, improved innovation, and increased market growth. AD-CINe also enabled interconnecting the power grid of the Abu Dhabi Emirate with the power grids of the other six Emirates, forming, therefore, the Emirates National Grid (ENG). Moreover, it enabled the interconnection of ENG to the power grids of the other GCC countries to form the GCC Grid.
From a technical perspective, the architecture of AD-CiNe is very comprehensive. It spans across all enterprise architecture domains: business, data, applications, IT, operational technology, telecom, and cyber-physical security; therefore, it showcased how these domains were leveraged together in a consistent manner to enable a seamless transformation of the water and electricity sector.
What are the two or three biggest challenges you face as a data management professional / CDO and how can we address them?
I see effective data sharing and cloud security as serious challenges.
- Data sharing is a key digital transformation capability. Nowadays, digital business technology platforms enable corporations to share data (internally and externally) with almost all types of stakeholders including employees, customers, ecosystems, and even with physical assets (things). However, there are still many roadblocks to sharing data at scale and with trust. These roadblocks include stakeholder resistance based on fear, perceived regulatory prohibitions, and security risks. Data and analytics leaders can address data sharing challenges in several ways such as focusing on the risks and lost opportunities of not sharing data, establishing customers/ecosystems data sharing agreements that include warranties about data authenticity and customer/digital ecosystem opt-ins; and leveraging digital trust to instill trustworthiness and to be able to trust others through using trends and disruptive technologies such as blockchain, smart contracts, bring your own identity (BYOI), augmented data catalogs, algorithms, and responsible artificial intelligence (AI).
- Concerning cloud security, business leaders must not turn a blind eye to the risks of migrating their critical data or applications to public clouds (even if they are encrypted). This is because several digital industry giants, research centers, and other entities now possess very advanced technologies (e.g., Quantum Computers, 5G, and DNA Storage) which – if misused – could threaten the security of data and applications hosted on public clouds. In this context, it is worth noting that until now it is not clear how much public cloud platforms can safeguard the security of data and applications through leveraging confidential computing and quantum-safe encryption since these concepts are still in the innovation trigger stage. Therefore, I believe that it is essential to use other options such as on-premises data centers, private clouds, or community clouds instead of public clouds for hosting the critical data or applications of corporations.
How do you see data management / the role of the CDO / IT changing in the
next 2 – 3 years?
Concerning data management, augmented data management is expected to play a bigger role and offer more benefits in the next 2 – 3 years through the application of AI and ML for optimization and improved operations in the areas of metadata management, data integration, master data management, data quality management, and database management.
Chief Data Officers are expected to play bigger roles in generating exceptional value in driving digital transformation and building a data-driven culture within the corporation. The CDO role will stay focused on strategy, governance and risk management, data architecture, product management, as well as data value management or monetization. However, to avoid potential conflict between the CDO and the CIO roles, corporations need to develop strategies for a) new styles of business solution delivery and b) further collaborations between the CDO and CIO teams.
In the area of IT, I expect to see more convergence between the teams of IT, Operational Technology (OT), Internet of Things (IoT), and Telecommunications. Ultimately, this may lead to adopting organizational structures in which the IT, OT, IoT, and Telecommunications teams are under the same reporting line.
In addition to the expected shifting of Artificial Intelligence for IT Operations (AIOps) platforms toward domain-agnostic functionality, I also expect the functionality of AIOps platforms to expand to cover the automation of some OT and IoT operations processes.
Do you have any planned next steps for your career?
I expect to help people better understand what is going on in our digital world!
What is the single best piece of advice you have received in your data management / IT career so far? Why has it been so important to you?
“Show me this piece of information in your system”
My first manager said.
It was not a piece of advice but an instruction. However, it has been so important.
In 1979, I developed the first information system in my career. I developed it alone and worked on it as an analyst, designer, and programmer at the same time. Having finished, I asked my manager to demonstrate the system for him. During my demo, he asked me to stop and opened a large paper file, picked a piece of paper from it, and started reading some lines of unstructured text loudly, and said:
“Show me this piece of information in your system, I need it to make a decision”
And for sure, that piece of textual information was not in “my system.”
Since then, I learned that text is so important and should be leveraged together with structured data to support decision-making.
Can you share something about yourself as a person that people wouldn’t know about you?
In my secondary school days and early university days, I was an amateur boxer.
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