CIO Day 2024: CIOs explore the future of technology leadership

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Tech leaders at CIO Day predict a future where CIOs are change agents and central players in the leadership of their organisations. CIOs say a critical skills injection and a culture change will drive them to that future.

A panel at CIO Day led by FSCA CIO Phokeng Mogase, Old Mutual group CIO May Govender, Entelect CTO Matthew Butler, and Transnet group CIO Pandelani Munyai discussed the future of technology leadership and its impact on CIOs.

CIOs need to become change instigators

May said over the years, the role of CIOs has evolved from technical experts who played a supporting role to critical business leaders driving change in organisations.

“I remember at one point in time we were regarded as the supplier of services: we were technical experts who used to worry about the IT infrastructure and ensure that everything was stable. Thereafter, we moved into enabling businesses where we were standing at the door and we were called in to be able to support them from that perspective,” she said.

She said CIOs then “moved into an era of being trusted advisers”, leading critical conversations involved in leading business strategies and directing organisations.

“Because technology is so embedded in everything that we do, the technology view is also quite critical. In that sense, you almost need to be the transformer in transforming the business and aligning business strategies,” said May.

She said having technology expertise has become a basic requirement, and CIOs need a broad skill set. “What is really the differentiator now is the skill set that’s required around becoming a technologist; which is becoming a mini CFO, a mini HR person,” said May.

She said CIOs need to understand the impact of their role on the organisation’s customers, finance, human resources and other parts of the organisation.

“Instead of technology leaders just being change agents, I believe we are moving to become change instigators. So we have to actually lead the change in the organisation,” said May.

Scarcity of skills and mentorship

Group CIO at Transnet Pandelani Munyai said there’s a need for IT leaders to have the required skills to execute and guide organisations.

“Many a time you’ll find that we’ve got people who sit in serious meetings like board meetings and exco meetings, but when it comes to issues where you are required to execute and to guide the organisation in terms of skills, you’ll find that we lack those skills – precisely because we were taught and told that as a leader, you don't need to know everything. I completely disagree with that,” said Pandelani. “I cannot be a general in the army who has never been a soldier,” he added.

“When the army on the ground comes and says, ‘We need new things,’ you understand what they’re talking about.”

He said IT executives need to be skilled enough to understand what they are doing and they need to actively mentor young professionals.

“As leaders and as IT specialists, we are looked upon by the youngsters and people behind us on what we’re doing, how we think, and how we demonstrate our behaviour.

Pandelani said there are multiple symptoms and causes behind the skills scarcity in South Africa and mentorship is critical in the battle against it.

“As an executive, when you leave, you have to be a role model, you have to understand what you’re doing, then you inspire conscience in the people that you have,” he said.

Pandelani added that organisations need to create structures that feed skills from international experts into their organisations, in order to build a pool of skills that are currently scarce in South Africa.

“The issue of scarcity of skills does not exist in my memory except to say that we create that problem, because we do not provide technology thought leadership in terms of creating that funnel to the extent that we are not dependent on three or four people.”

A new culture of learning

Matthew said new skill sets in IT require a culture that inspires experimentation and a different way of learning, which requires professionals to be curious.

“The challenge on the skills side in my view is that the way you learn some of these skills is very different to the way you learn traditional skills. The fundamental skill when it comes to AI is curiosity. It’s not the language and the tools, because they are changing too quickly. It’s about your ability to have enough fundamentals, and the room and the support in the seniority around you to be able to teach yourself. That is a different model of learning,” said Matthew.

He said leaders need to give professionals the room to experiment and to trust them enough to learn.

In addition to hard skills, Matthew said CIOs need soft skills including the ability to coach and influence decision-makers, as well as visual storytelling skills in order to make a convincing case.

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