Culture and talent take centre stage at CIO South Africa Summit


Fostering a culture of change, people management, finding key talent and retaining critical skills are some of the challenges that CIOs need to address within their organisations.

By Kgaogelo Letsebe

Fostering a culture of change, people management, finding key talent and retaining critical skills are some of the challenges that CIOs need to address within their organisations.

This was revealed at the CIO South Africa Summit, which was held at the Bryanston Country Club on 2 March. Themed Champions of Change, the summit used various case studies to explore the effects of change in organisations.

Adaptation to change was top of the agenda, with many executives deliberating on how it is also being a contributing factor to stagnant change in organisations.

“When you have low levels of change, and low capability and desire to change in the organisation, it usually results in IT initiatives taking significantly longer than any other organisation. It then costs you a lot more money to execute, it takes a lot longer and one is faced with significant resistance,” explained Toni Serra CIO at AECI.

James Farnell, IT operations business leader at Flight Centre Travel Group said much of this can be solved by getting the buy-in from staff and employees.

“One thing that we’ve always looked into is to have that buy-in. Ultimately there is that one big decision that needs to be made to implement the change, but you need to sell it. It needs to be offered on a silver platter and it needs to be sold.”

Keeping and attracting top talent

Shabhana Thaver, CIO at Investec Specialist Bank SA, believes that the South African technology industry is tasked with the responsibility to retain, upskill and protect its home-grown talent.

“At the moment everyone is coming to South Africa for our talent because we aren’t just competing with local companies, but with global companies as well. Now there’s a responsibility amongst us because it’s simple economics: there’s a high demand and this is low supply, [so] there’s an increase that we need to make in terms of the pipeline itself,” she said.

“So there’s work that we have to do to increase the [promotable] people to take up software development, programming, and the likes of other AI, data science, etc. And you can learn things like programming on your own,” she added.

Moreover, the industry needs multiplier leadership.

“Leaders need to bring the best out of their teams by optimising their talent and allowing their teams to reach their full potential. The idea is you create an environment in which you amplify the capabilities of your team. The third aspect would be a seamless integration between ‘tech people’ and business people. With the technologies that are coming out, there’s the ability of tech people not only to be tech people, there’s the leverage of business people to also be tech people. So we’ve got experimentation happening in the business, where you see a business community allowing the democratisation of tech, so the business becomes tech-savvy,” she explained.

Mmule Sapula, IT executive at Nutun suggested that local companies have talent exchanges and structured programmes as means to retain talent.

“In effect, what we will be doing is retaining the IT talent within South Africa, by creating a diverse set of experiences for our tech people.”

Warren Hero, CIO at Webber Wentzel, who spoke on people management, said part of the solution to overcoming the challenge is changing how people think.

“So part of what we have talked about is how to get away from linear thinking and more towards exponential thinking. So our role in our organisations is to make them anti-fragile. And so it’s not about surviving dysfunction. It’s about thriving from disruption.”

By the end of the session, attendees agreed that change is the only constant and it is a matter of implementing it strategically so that an organisation can thrive in the future.


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