Ascendis Health’s Nkosenhle Ngongoma is a product of youth development

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Nkosenhle developed an interest in IT at Saturday classes as part of the President's Award programme.

Nkosenhle Ngongoma, group CIO at Ascendis Health, was raised by his grandmother in Inanda township, north of Durban. With an eagerness to learn and empower himself, he joined the President’s Award, a youth development programme, which gave him access to weekend classes at the ML Sultan Technikon. There he was introduced to end-user computing, and fell in love with it.

Tough decisions

As Ascendis’s first group CIO, Nkosenhle started off on the right foot, but with that came several changes in the company. “Centralising and then decentralising the IT system at Ascendis was challenging. I had to make serious changes to the organisation’s IT infrastructure. I introduced governance structures (CAB, IT SteerCO and ARC Presentation), stabilised the IT team through restructuring, implemented some IT security and IT security management, and introduced some compliance, risk management discipline and project management portfolio,” he explains.

“In addition, our company has been struggling to get out of a major debt, which has resulted in group recapitalisation, head office retrenchments, and IT decentralisation – breaking down the centralised IT into small teams per business unit and keeping a portion of the operating functions running at head office.”

Frustration with exco

Although the role that the IT department plays in many organisations is fairly well recognised, Nkosenhle says there are times when IT leaders can feel a little undermined, especially at board level.

“I don’t think that some board members have fully come to terms with the fact that the days of IT being a back-office function are long gone,” he notes. “IT is at the forefront now in any organisation and that’s your competitive advantage these days."

Nkosenhle says businesses must let IT do its work with minimal interference and trust that they have everything under control, in the same way they trust other support functions in the organisation.

IT leaders are often the unsung heroes in the organisation, he says, as evidenced by what happened when the pandemic hit. “The simple, mundane things such as having access to your emails as an employee, while working from home, as well as migrating the workforce to a digital working environment became quite crucial at the time, and something only IT could see through,” Nkosenhle says .

“We had to ensure that it was business as usual during the pandemic and that the servers didn’t crash as well as making it possible for everyone to securely work from home, and we did just that. That’s when everyone realised that we actually know what we are doing,” he says.

Words of advice

Nkosenhle’s advice to young people who wish to enter the industry, is that they need to develop a tough hide, and not take it personally when they are not taken seriously, adding that choosing what direction you want to take in IT early, is also quite crucial.

“Decide early on what you would like to do in your career: do you want to be a specialist or take the management route?” he asks.

“If you want to be a senior manager, prepare yourself in advance and attend a course that can help you improve your people skills. In addition, don’t stop studying the game, attend seminars/workshops, keep yourself up to date, get a mentor, set yourself clear and attainable goals, and stick to them,” he adds.

Nkosenhle also points out that one of the worst mistakes you could make is staying in an environment that does not fulfil your life objectives and goals. For him, the right attitude far outweighs the best qualifications and/or work experience.

Council member appointment

As far as achievements are concerned, Nkosenhle has recently been recognised for his work in the IT industry and was appointed as a council member at the Sefako Makgatho Health Science University. “I was really delighted when I got the news. I now have an opportunity to put my expertise to good use elsewhere and to positively contribute to society, and I plan to use it wisely,” he says.

He plans to advise on emerging technologies that the university can use to improve their student lives and learning experience as well as provide oversight on technology-related matters and any other corporate governance matters he is called on to assist with.

Nkosenhle’s spare time is largely devoted to his family: he has four teenagers and tries to keep them busy and as far away as possible from their devices and outdoors instead, with excursions and the odd camping trip. When he does have some time to himself, he spends it running and competing in the occasional marathon on weekends.

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