CTO Schalk Visser shares his top four lessons after almost a decade at Cell C


As the digital revolution changes customer behaviour, Schalk has had to oversee changes at Cell C too.

Customer behaviour has changed substantially and the new normal has seen Cell C turn its focus to helping its customers through the journey of modernisation and digital revolution.

“Our ambition as a company is to empower customers with the ability to connect to digital services that they want. It is about understanding what the customer wants, not what you think he wants,” said Schalk Visser, the chief technology officer at Cell C, who is leading a 230-member team.

“I always wanted to be a farmer. My dad told me there’s no money in farming, and I needed to be able to do something with my hands,” he says. His introduction to technology was through attending boarding school at a technical high school. After his first year of engineering at Stellenbosch University, Telkom awarded him a bursary and he worked it back for a year and a half after graduating.

In search of a greater challenge, he then moved to Vodacom, where he spent nearly seven years, which included working in Mozambique as the executive head of department for the programme office. In 2012, the then chief technology officer of Cell C approached him.

“I knew him from Mozambique and we had a good working relationship. He needed someone to run the project office for him, so I decided to come back to South Africa,” he says.

Having been with Cell C for almost a decade, here are the top four lessons that he shares:

  1. Cell C has been on a change journey and in a transition you have to bring along the rest of the organisation on that journey from where you are today to where you want to be. People need to understand the context for change, how you will get there, and what their role is in the journey.
  2. “Putting the customer at the centre of everything we do and listening to their biggest pain points – that’s what your consumer is expecting from you,” he says as he highlights that this has been the biggest change for him in the last couple of years with the most recent 18 months being an acceleration.
  3. Silos are blurring with a lot more collaboration and a completely new way of working is required. “The only way to get value is by getting cross-collaboration and engagement within the organisation,” Schalk says.
  4. “Key to our strategy is to not build, own and run everything ourselves but to rather drive focused investment and partnering,” he says. Cell C prioritises partnerships and works closely with companies like Money4Jam and other partners. Leveraging partnerships is about value exchange that will contribute to giving great service to customers through a digital ecosystem.

Schalk believes that digital transformation happens in two parts. The internal aspect is about how the business optimises and automates its processes as well as leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to run it better and more efficiently. The external aspect is about removing customer pain points and friction.

“It should not take the customer more than three clicks to buy a data bundle or any other service on the app,” he says.

“There are nearly no limitations to how much technology can change lives. With the accelerated advancements in this sphere, the future is full of possibilities, and I am excited to be part of it.”


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