CIO Day: the evolving role of the IT leader as a change initiator

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At CIO Day on 15 May, attendees delved into the evolving role of the future CIO, potentially evolving into tomorrow's CEOs, who possess a clear vision, are articulate and inspire others as change initiators.

Hosted at one of the country’s most sought-after venues and one of the tallest buildings in Africa, the Leonardo in Sandton. CIO Day proved to be the premier full day of networking and knowledge-sharing.

Not an event only for the now, but also for the future was a promise CIO South Africa’s trusted principal partner MakwaIT clearly kept and delivered by giving aspiring CIOs such as Nomashni Naidoo, IT business risk manager at Spar South Africa, a chance to mingle with top-notch IT leaders.

CIO Day was additionally supported by principal partners iOCO and Liquid Intelligent Technologies, executive partners Africa Data Centres, BCX and Equinix, and associate partners Communication Genetics, Nkgwete IT, SAS and Workday.

Into the CEO role

The day kicked off with a brainstorming session to discover how IT leaders see their role evolving over the next 10 years, followed by a debrief to hear what exactly that future looks like.

CIO South Africa MD Joél Roerig, Discovery Insure CIO Sne Dlamini, Busamed’s head of IT Servesan Moodley, Hollard Insurance CIO Viren Naidu and Multichoice group CTO Nyiko Shiburi shared key takeaways from their individual brainstorming sessions.

Joél prompted attendees to raise their hand if they saw themselves becoming a CEO one day. This call to action was promoted by a recurring theme, which emerged during the brainstorming sessions, underlining the emerging perception that CIOs are increasingly viewed as prospective CEOs of the future.

Although the request put many on the spot, a significant number didn't hesitate to raise their hands in response

“There is a need to upskill the technical knowledge of the board, especially for the non-tech-savvy members, and the need to use technology as an enabler for the business,” said Servesan.

On the other hand, Viren felt that the title itself has evolved. “I see CIOs as chief business enablers instead of chief information officers, moving forward. We’re no longer just IT anymore, but rather the business itself!” he said. “However, looking ahead, the only stumbling block I see is leading an ageing workforce, while your own role as a CIO also changes.”

Sne added that CIOs are slowly becoming the CEOs of the future. “There will be a transition from CIO as the technology manager to them as senior managers,” she said. “In addition, operational technology and IT will become more integrated, the IT department will become a fintech wing in the business, and generative AI will become embedded in the business – seeing CIOs integrating more seamlessly in the organisation.”

The future of tech leadership

Phokeng Mogase, CIO at FSCA, May Govender, group CIO at Old Mutual, Matthew Butler, CTO at Entelect and Transnet CIO Pandelani Munyai took attendees through an insightful panel discussion on the future of technology leadership.

“Tech leaders are also moving from being change agents to change initiators,” noted May. “Technology leaders are now needing to become more customer-obsessed, making decisions beyond the technology lens, which will require an overview of the business and regularly engaging with others to gain that understanding.”

Being an example to the young people was Pandelani’s call to action. “As an engineer-turned-business-specialist myself, I believe that IT leaders are looked upon by youngsters in terms of how we think and display our behaviour, while we sit on these boards,” he said.

“People don’t leave organisations, they leave individuals. As executives, you need to lead first, be a role model or a mentor – not based on company policies, but rather as an individual wanting to leave a legacy in your organisation,” he added.

AI in hospitality

Pragasen Pather, CIO of Sun International then took to the stage to deliver an intriguing presentation on the strategic integration of AI and gaming trends within the hospitality sector.

"We are looking at how technology is shaping the casinos of the future at Sun International, and experimenting with generative AI in the hospitality industry. Focusing on the completely immersed experience or rather hyper-personalisation,” he said.

“For example, the Marriott Hotel launched Moxy Hotels, where you could create an avatar of yourself from the comfort of your home, mixing AR and VR, and recreate the experience of a hotel experience. The concept was ultimately commercialised," he added.

What about gaming? “Hyper-personalisation has become a big thing to the extent that we have moved from a traditional gaming platform to an omni-channel platform, where you can start playing at home on your mobile and continue when you get to one of our casinos by transferring those funds from your phone and onto the slot machine – immersing yourself into the game,” Pragasen explained.

Avatars for training

After lunch, attendees joined breakaway sessions which featured industry heavyweights such as The Capital Hotel Group’s IT director José Soares, Assupol CIO Keneilwe Gwabeni, Dr Angus Hay, regional executive for South Africa at African Data Centres, Investec Specialist Bank SA CIO Shabhana Thaver, AECI CIO Toni Serra, Stefanutti Stocks GM for IT Kevin Wilson, and Adcorp CTO Unathi Thosago.

In the group discussion on IT’s role in shaping the future of work, Keneilwe spoke about how she has experimented with RPA and using avatars as far as training is concerned, she believes that some roles will become fully automated in future.

“I played around with an AI platform myself and it had me thinking about what would happen to the trainers if they are replaced with AI,” she said. “However, my role as CIO is creating new roles that work alongside technology (automation).”

Keneilwe highlighted the potential pushback from unions, from a jobs perspective, even while embracing new technology.

“Looking at AI, one must also consider that women more than men will be affected by AI because womens have in the majority occupied administrative roles in the past,” Keneliwe noted.

Angus noted that it all starts with infrastructure, the service layer which is something people rarely think about, the internet “dumb network”.

“Most of the rural infrastructure in the Eastern Cape has been built by our holding company Liquid Intelligent Technologies – that’s how we’re giving back from an infrastructure level,” he revealed.

Back by popular demand

To close the day’s proceedings right, CIO South Africa community manager Nomahlubi Sonjica, asked attendees to take out their phones and participate in an interactive live survey through menti.com. These were the results:

  • 54 percent of respondents revealed that AI will have the biggest impact on their role.
  • 45 percent said that communication and collaboration will become crucial skills.
  • 46 percent said that resistance to change within the organisation is their biggest challenge.
  • 70 percent said that demonstrating the business value of technology initiatives is a good example of effectively collaborating with other C-suite executives.
  • 67 percent see future CIOs as innovators and disruptors.

The night ended with drinks and networking on the 45th floor of the Leonardo, where attendees enjoyed uninterrupted views of the continent’s richest square mile while chatting with their peers.

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