CIO South Africa year-end dinner, a brainstorming session with a twist

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IT leaders discussed the power of the CIO community over a delectable meal.

On the evening of 1 November, IT executives gathered at the Saxon Hotel and Spa to wrap up the year. The dinner, sponsored by EOH, CIO SA’s principal partner, highlighted the CIO’s critical role in changing and educating society through IT.

The evening began with a round of introductions: the mood was jovial, and the guests didn’t hold back in revealing what they really get up to outside of work.

One CIO revealed that danger was lurking in their backyard; they had a crocodile living at the bottom of the garden of his childhood home. Another revealed that, despite leading a large organisation, he enjoys staying young at heart – he is a Formula One enthusiast and even has an F1 simulator in his home.

Other guests in attendance have even rubbed shoulders with royalty, having attended school with Princess Charlene of Monaco. On the sporting front, one guest, in his prime years, he says, competed in 10 Ironman Championship races. Another is a sports fanatic who collects sports memorabilia, his prized possession being a cricket bat covered with South Africa’s greatest cricket players’ signatures.

On the aviation front, one CIO revealed that in the past he flew helicopters in his spare time. Another came up with an elaborate plan to stop an aircraft from taking off so that he could hop on board – he was running late for a meeting.

The already-settled guests then got down to business, with what was essentially an opportunity to pick each other’s brains on solutions for the betterment of the country, and the best ways to respond to the unexpected.

“It’s important to move away from the noise sometimes as CIO; this way, you can focus on the serious stuff,” one guest said. “We deal with many things like choosing the right technology to invest in, KPIs, setting and monitoring departmental goals, and facilitating collaboration across the organisation, which can often be a distraction.”

Another believed that part of a CIO’s responsibility is understanding the business. This, he says, gives you credibility on the board as an IT leader. “Unforeseen or external factors have forced CIOs to think with a business mindset and speak that language,” commented one guest, who shared those sentiments about business knowledge.

Another guest was of the view that if you are an operational CIO, you are in the thick of things and have the benefit of understanding what’s really happening, which allows you to respond appropriately when things go wrong.

In terms of measuring business temperature, one guest suggested that the CIO serve as a barometer to gauge how much trouble the business is in or how calm it should be. This is because, according to her, the CIO is always in the firing line if things go wrong. As a result, they cannot afford to be unaware of what is going on in the business. “Take a cyberattack for example: this can cause widespread panic, and you end up managing the chaos or people rather than the attack itself,” she explained.

From a technological perspective, one guest said that it is one thing to be excited about new and emerging technology, but that technology needs to make sense at the end of the day. In fact, another agreed and said that some CIOs often find themselves chasing the next big thing and concentrating on the future rather than the current issues. “It’s all about preserving the present, but thinking about the future,” one said.

The guests all agreed that one of the biggest issues in IT is a lack of talent. However, one guest pointed out that the talent issue is not just a South African issue; it is a continental issue. In order to address it, CIOs must think across the continent rather than focusing solely on South Africa’s loss of talent. “Think outside of South Africa,” he advised.

“Despite the fact that the country is losing top talent to international firms, there is no reason why South Africa cannot become the next largest exporter of technical skills – we have the capabilities,”one guest said.

The issues don’t stop there, according to the guests: there are also challenges related to cloud restrictions. “Migrating to the cloud isn’t that simple in South Africa; there’s a lot of red tape when it comes to moving into the cloud, especially in specific industries,” she explained.

Strict regulations make cloud migration on the continent difficult. In fact, moving to the cloud is illegal in some African countries, with severe penalties imposed, and the guests suggested that education be used as a possible solution. “CIOs have a significant role to play in cloud education, particularly around regulation and policies,” one IT leader said.

Another guest mentioned that data sovereignty is important because no one knows when the next war will happen, so protecting that information now is critical.

And, in order to address the skills gap, one guest suggested that IT leaders look at school leavers and teach them about technology: let’s create our own talent pool.

“Technology is the future and a career in IT has the potential to both address the country’s unemployment crisis and close the IT skills gap, and bring change and prosperity into people’s lives,” he concluded.

Those in attendance were:

  • Faith Burn, Eskom CIO
  • Johnson Idesoh, Old Mutual Group CIO
  • Jörg Fischer, Standard Bank Group CIO 
  • Kim Sim, Mr Price Chief Information Officer
  • Lungile Mginqi, Sasol Group CIO
  • Mohammed Gause, Tiger Brands Group CIO
  • Willie Stegmann, Vodacom Group CIO
  • Ziaad Suleman, EOH Chief Commercial Officer
  • Stephen Van Coller, EOH Chief Executive Officer
  • Joël Roerig, CIO South Africa Managing Director
  • Reabetswe Rabaji, CIO South Africa Managing Editor

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