CIO Summit reveals that true partnerships are the real catalyst for change

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Top CIOs discuss the impact of external partnerships on their organisations’ change journeys.

On 2 March, at the CIO Summit, some of South Africa’s leading CIOs learned that they need to be the champions of change in their organisations. Throughout the event, guests shared different ways in which they can lead change, ranging from strategic change, to hiring the right people, and partnering with other businesses.

Head of innovation Alex Fenn unpacked how Sibanye Stillwater is creating solutions with partners amid complexity. “Sibanye was unbundled from Gold Fields in 2013. We were given three ageing assets that were supposed to deplete in 10 years. We put in a lot of hard work to optimise those assets, and have extended the lifespan of those mines by another 10 years,” he said.

He explained that Sibanye has grown its revenue line by 790 percent through smart investments, risky business decisions and innovative new ideas. “In order to get there, however, we had to apply incredible focus to our operating philosophy.”

Sibanye has a lean business model, which sees them only hiring experts in the fields they operate in. However, in the last three years opportunities and challenges in the industry have grown exponentially, making it hard for the mine to capacitate these challenges internally. The solution? Partnerships.

“We invest in universities, like UJ, who provide us with insights and research into what the future holds. In turn, we have given them technologies that help students learn about mining virtually,” Alex said.

He added that Sibanye recently launched a technology incubator for South African entities that are underfunded. “In that incubator we also attract talent that isn’t in our core business and leverage their insights for our own business.”

Sibanye has also changed its capital allocation structure to pursue corporate ventures at a much larger scale, which allows them to take some bigger bets on technology. “This has allowed us to invest in gold-backed credit cards, data factories in Europe, as well as a small French hydrogen business.”

In the ESG space, Sibanye is always working with other mining companies to do better than the industry was doing 30 years ago.

“We leverage these communities of intelligence to solve challenges for us in various shapes and forms,” Alex explained, using their investment into hydrogen as an example. “We’re trying to solve the infrastructure challenges that currently exist in that space, because if we can boost hydrogen, it’s beneficial for PGMs as well.”

This partnership model has created the perfect breeding ground for breakthrough solutions for the entire mining industry and beyond. “Our ability to create solutions that solve broader problems is something we’re proud of and ready to partner with the rest of the industry to make it better and safer,” he said.

True partnerships

The attendees later broke away into breakout rooms, where they had a chance to discuss the change that resonated most with them.

One CIO explained that partnership strategies like the one Alex had shared is a good way for businesses to focus on their core capabilities while still delivering on customer expectations. “A lot of our ideas involve partnering with other businesses that complement a solution we offer. This creates an end-to-end solution for our clients, and we don’t have to play in a space where we know we’re not strong.”

Two of the biggest areas for partnering that came up during the discussion were ESG and technology, which are currently at the forefront of stakeholder demands. However, everyone agreed that true partnership is not with big international companies, but with the small, innovative companies that can help grow the country.

“The idea that big companies bring big value is not true. We are giving the same things to the same people, most of which are aligned with companies overseas. None of them are innovative in a South African context,” one attendee said.

“We have to be true partners instead of just strategic suppliers,” they cautioned. “There are niche elements that South African companies can offer to other local and international companies operating in the country.”

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