CIO interview: Mohamed Sater, head of IT at Mumtalakat

Mumtalakat’s head of IT, Mohamed Sater, is modernising the IT infrastructure of the organisation through cloud computing

Mohamed Sater oversees the government-owned group, Mumtalaket, which holds all the Bahraini government’s non-oil and gas assets.

Bahrain sovereign wealth fund Mumtalakat is a holding company with about 60 companies in 14 countries under its umbrella, the total value of which is about $15bn.

Most of the companies it holds have their own separate IT departments, but Sater runs a team of five people that do the IT for the group company and supports four member companies directly, because they have no IT resources.

Sater studied his undergraduate degree in computer science at Brunel University in London and completed his post-graduate studies in design and management of information systems at the London School of Economics. He has worked in the financial services and IT industries and has been at Mumtalakat since 2011.

He recently achieved a first in Bahrain by helping Mumtalakat become the first government organisation in the country to migrate cloud-based systems to Amazon Web Services’ (AWS) datacentre in the Gulf state. This was part of a wider cloud migration project that began in May 2018, when Mumtalakat realised that it and the four group companies it supported direct with IT, needed a new infrastructure.

Sater and his internal team of five people completed this migration for Mumtalakat and the four companies it supports directly. Mumtalakat estimates that costs have fallen by 50% by moving from on-premise to the cloud. The organisation’s core systems are its ERP, SharePoint and email.

But moving away from the traditional servers in datacenters model and the heavy maintenance that goes with it is not just about cutting costs. Modernising IT was the main driver, said Sater. “Mumtalakat recognised that there is a big change in the IT environment and the future, and we are trying to become more modern in our implementation of IT,” said Sater.

Moving to cloud services

He said the first step for the organisation was to move to cloud services. It chose to work with Amazon due to the company’s infrastructure in Bahrain – but it was not just about moving to AWS. While it largely uses AWS, certain systems sit in the Microsoft Azure cloud. “Where it makes sense we will use other cloud suppliers.”

AWS gets to the majority of the workload, and its local infrastructure provides lower communications costs and faster services. “AWS is also investing in Bahrain and we want to support it,” said Sater.

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AWS set its sights on a Bahrain-based region in September 2017, when it set up a hub there. It recently launched its Bahrain AWS region, with three datacentres, connected to its global network.

When the project started, Sater said there was a lack of the right skills in-house. “When we initially came into the project, there was not enough knowledge. We had an idea of what we wanted but didn’t know how to implement it.”

As a result, the organisation initially contacted a partner to support the migration. “But what we found was that the internal team were able to pick things and learn quickly how to do the migration,” said Sater. “We then thanked our partner for helping is with the first part of the migration, but we decided to complete it in-house.”

Since the migration, the IT department has been liberated when it comes to development. Sater said the difference between deploying new systems now from before the cloud migration is like “night and day”.

“Previously, when you are sizing systems, you were taking a stab in the dark and you would usually take 50% more just in case.”

Reduced timescales

Timescales have dropped dramatically. “We are currently working on a project for one of our customers that would traditionally have a timeline of a few years, but we now expect to complete it in a few months.

It’s experiences like this that will inevitably trickle down to the businesses that Mumtalakat oversees as well as general businesses in Bahrain.

Although companies held by Mumtalakat have different IT departments, Sater and his department are trying to build relationships with the IT departments at the group companies.

Sater said there have already been several conversations about the move to AWS, so he expects other companies to do similar projects. “I have had conversations with my counterparts at other companies, and have had positive feedback from companies that have moved quite significant workloads to the cloud.”

Beyond Bahrain, the wider Middle East is a growing customer base for AWS. Its customers in the region include Al Tayer Group, Anghami, Aramex, Classera, Dubizzle, Emirates NBD, Fetchr, Flydubai, Hassan Allam, MBC Group, Emirates NBD and Virgin Middle East.

AWS attracts customers of all sizes in the region. For example, delivery app service startup Fetchr runs its entire technology infrastructure on AWS, while United Arab Emirates (UAE) bank Emirates NBD is working with AWS with technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning.

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