Dr Stella Bvuma is a tech mentor who helps to enhance CIOs’ expertise

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But it’s a two-way street: she mentors them while also learning from them.

Dr Stella Bvuma, head of department of Applied Information Systems at the University of Johannesburg, is in charge of driving the university’s academic objectives and ensuring that it meets its strategic objectives.

“From a research objectives point of view, I have a driven and robust passion in the area of ICT for development, and technology adoption for economic growth and sustainability,” she says, “particularly in the areas of seeing ICT as an enabler of digital inclusivity, particularly for township and rural communities – or the haves and have nots.

“We are now at a turning point where all stakeholders – governments, economic sector regulators, ICT service providers, academia, the research community, consumers, and civil society – need to change the way they interact with each other in order to create an enabling ecosystem, and this can be achieved through impactful collaboration.”

Stella’s primary research interest is in ICT adoption by SMMEs, focusing on their use of technology towards growth, development and sustainability, because, she explains, SMMEs are the engine for economic growth.

Her PhD thesis was titled “An ICT adoption framework by Township SMMEs”, and she previously served at the State Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA) board, demonstrating her passion for SMMEs and their participation in the digital economy.

Stella believes that technology can help us to achieve many of the challenges raised in the National Development Plan (NDP), and that it has the ability to multiply access to markets and opportunities and reduce poverty and inequality. She hopes that her role at the State Information Technology Agency (SITA), where she serves as a non-executive director and deputy chairperson, will allow her to make a positive contribution.

“The focus of the board at SITA is to ensure the execution of the SITA mandate, which is to improve service delivery to the public through the provision of IT, namely information systems and all the other technology services,” she explains. This, she says, focuses on a maintained information systems security environment in various departments. “SITA’s mandate is promoting efficiency for the government.”

A PhD adds value

According to Stella, having a PhD in the IT field not only gives you credibility on the board, but also positions you as an expert in a particular field. This also ties in with some of her nationally and internationally recognised work on digital transformation.

“You add value because you are essentially combining theory and practice,” she says. “However, I do see myself as a different academic, because I don’t work only within the confines of the university’s bricks and mortar. I take my work and challenge it outside academia and share it with industry. In addition, I ensure that my peer-reviewed work speaks to solutions for our society or continent.”

A mentor for CIOs

“I conduct a lot of research and engagement with many experts both locally and abroad, but the only weakness is that I am not an active participant in the corporate sector. As such, mentorship for me is two-way traffic between myself and the CIOs I speak with. They view me as a mentor, but I am also learning from them,” Stella explains.

“Among IT professionals, mentorship programmes are seen as having the greatest potential impact in the industry: they can also address the skills gaps and encourage industry growth,” she adds.

She sees herself as a tech mentor and believes this can be extremely beneficial in the non-linear path of an IT career. According to Stella, the current CIO is doing things that, 10 years ago, they would not be doing.

“Tech mentors, too, are different from career coaches and the like: we focus on enhancing the mentee’s technical expertise,” she explains. “In addition, mentoring is not merely about the exchange of knowledge, it is also about imparting skills without them sitting in a classroom.”

Stella points out that CIOs work in a very demanding industry, especially for women CIOs, and her role is to tap into that space and meet their specific needs. It’s also about motivating them and providing emotional support, which she believes goes a long way.

Upskilling and reskilling

“Let us not be afraid to educate ourselves,” she says. “IT is an ever-changing environment, so upskilling and reskilling yourself as needed is very important.”

But she also shares other priorities CIOs will be looking at next year, such as leveraging agile principles. “CIOs should consider introducing new time-saving tools in their organisations in order to bring back some fun and creativity in the workplace. They should also look at expanding their sprint planning, because we live and breathe cybersecurity,” she suggests.

As a result, Stella is looking into ways to fully integrate other functions into this type of sprint planning. But there is more: she also advises CIOs to get involved with academia and young people. “CIOs can engage with both academia and young people by hosting hackathons, something we push here at our institution through the Technopreneurship Centre,” she says.

Interestingly, despite having a PhD in IT and being extremely passionate about the industry, Stella never intended to work in IT. Her public speaking abilities paved the way.

“During my high school years, I was quite involved in public speaking as a matriculant, and at one of these speaking engagements, I was handed a book titled Introduction to Information Technology by the late radio legend Paul Rapetsoa, affectionately known as ‘Bra Paul’, from Thobela FM. He gifted me this book because he was really impressed with my public speaking, representing Limpopo province.

“This is how I ended up at UJ, in the very department where I am now the HOD. So, the amusing part of the story is that the lecturers who used to lecture me now refer to me as their boss,” she jokes.

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