How Alula Technologies’ head of IT services is cultivating growth, as the green-fingered IT executive.
When Gerhard Zeeman is not supervising and managing all aspects of Alula Technologies’ information technology (IT) strategy and operations, you can find him tending to his garden and embracing his role as a proud plant dad.
Speaking to CIO South Africa’s managing editor, Reabetswe Rabaji, Gerhard revealed he has a passion for camping, explaining that it serves to escape technology and find balance in his life.
Gerhard believes that constantly engaging in the same thing can be overwhelming, and having a healthy balance between work and leisure is crucial for wellbeing. And for him, this includes gardening.
“Technology is my work. I enjoy it, but you must switch off at some point; you can’t do the same thing all the time. You must have a balance,” he says.
The Cape Town-born father of three ventured into IT in 2001 when his parents encouraged him to pick a career following a gap year. He explains that many people were pursuing IT at the time, and he opted to study towards his MCSE engineering through Damelin.
After completing his studies, Gerhard started working at Stellenbosch University’s IT department, where he remained for about three to four years. Later, he and his wife moved to Pretoria, and he got an opportunity to work for SilverBridge as a contractor in 2005. Silverbridge was later acquired by ROX Equity Partners, a UK-based private equity company at the end of 2022, the team began to construct a new organisation called Alula Technologies, where Gerhard is now head of IT services – the new entity was always part of the group’s global expansion plans.
Today Gerhard is leading the IT team at Alula and explains that steering a global team has its challenges, including solving IT queries remotely.
The days where IT heads asked team members to pop into the office to resolve tech issues are long gone, and at Alula, the team had to expand its reach after the business went global. “It’s quite exciting and scary at the same time,” says Gerhard as he discusses the teething problems the team continues to encounter.
“There are a lot of unknowns that we must figure out and deal with because this is no longer a South African-based company. We now need to deal with global issues, because we have people in London and other locations. It’s a challenge,’’ says Gerhard.
Staying ahead of the curve
But he is no stranger to the challenges that come with keeping abreast of the tech space and being ahead of the curve, having been part of the team that saw Alula successfully migrate to the cloud.
“It was quite cool; we did a big analysis of the whole project beforehand, with an external company, but at the end of the day we did it ourselves using the available Microsoft Azure tooling, and it turned out quite well. We did it under budget as well,” he adds.
The move was a significant win for the team after the Covid-19 pandemic drove teams away from their offices. It meant the team at Alula could leverage the work done and seamlessly start working from home.
The business recently unveiled HealthCloud v7.0, a significant upgrade to its health and insurance data platform. The latest version marked the seventh major release since its initial launch in February 2020.
In the ever-evolving world of technology, there can be moments when things don’t go as planned, and challenges arise unexpectedly.
Despite meticulous preparation and careful analysis, unforeseen circumstances can disrupt even the most thought-out strategies.
At Alula, Gerhard explains, there have been moments where the team implemented products that didn’t work properly.
“For instance, we had a voice solution that was giving us a lot of grief, but we always look at it from the point of view of what we can learn from it. What mistakes have we made? What do we need to look for in future products? And what questions do we need to ask potential suppliers to make sure that we don’t make the same mistakes again?
“If something goes wrong, takes too long, or even goes south from our point of view, it’s always a learning experience,” says Gerhard.
Not your typical tech geek
Though Gerhard believes he might have studied architecture or an art or design-related qualification, he believes his current role allows him to work in the heartbeat of the institution, where he gets to help others in the business go about their jobs seamlessly.
“What I enjoy the most about what I do is helping people. Our department, or shared services department, is all about enabling the rest of the company to do what they need to do to support our clients.
Gerhard is also passionate about seeing innovative ideas come to fruition. He explains that the “Awesome Projects” innovation competition at Alula allows him to be creative while creating collaboration across the business.
“For me, it’s very important to be able to help other people. That is the thing that inspires me the most or motivates me to do what I do every day. I am not a traditional tech geek,” he adds.