IT leaders at CIO dinner reveal how the pandemic made IT the hero again


Businesses had to rely on IT during the Covid-19 pandemic – it was no longer a backdoor function.

This week, top CIOs gathered at Aurum Restaurant at The Leonardo in Sandton. There, key issues such as digital transformation, organisational culture, personas, and the great resignation were discussed, as well as key lessons learned during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The dinner was hosted by CIO South Africa in partnership with Software AG on the 7th floor of The Leonardo, Africa's tallest building. The evening began with a round of drinks and delectable canapés and starters to whet the appetite.

As the evening progressed, the IT leaders focused on the most important topic – how leaders navigated the Covid-19 pandemic. Two CIOs shared a similar experience: they both took over as CIO at the height of the pandemic. One said that the most interesting aspect for them was entering a new working environment during a time when everyone was working remotely and trying to get a sense of that organisation's culture, which was very difficult. The other mentioned that the biggest challenge in the beginning was trying to build relationships.

And, when it came to the role of IT during this time, it took centre stage: everyone was working remotely, and IT was the only part of the business that could make this happen. As a result, the company had to rely on IT, and it was no longer a backdoor function, they said.

Because the organisation had to rely on IT during this period, one CIO observed that the profile of IT within the business increased. IT now had a voice and could influence agendas. Another agreed, but from a different angle: for him, it wasn't about IT having a voice at the table, but about IT becoming a hero again.

According to the CIOs, a significant shift occurred in which business looked to IT for direction; however, at the time, this meant that IT needed to begin to understand business jargon. In terms of personas that emerged at one organisation, the first was of a fully remote worker who relied on collaboration for a hybrid working model, another of a leader and executor, and the last of a full-time worker whose function required them to be in the office.

The CIOs also revealed that hybrid working models created a different problem when looking at the pandemic through a great resignation lens. Key IT talent was leaving the organisation: they were being poached by overseas firms enticed by the prospect of earning big money while working from anywhere.

They offered a solution, which the organisation bears responsibility for. “We will lose even more people if we insist on people returning to the office full-time,” one CIO said. “People want flexibility, and we must provide it, which is where trust comes in. It is impossible to know exactly what one is doing 100 percent of the time – there are tools for that – but as a leader, you must have some level of trust in your team,” they added.

They believe that, while people returned to work, one aspect was overlooked: how their lifestyles changed as they worked remotely. They noted that some people’s lifestyles changed as a result of the pandemic. As a result, expecting them to simply get into the swing of things is unrealistic and will require some adjustment.

For one CIO, an effective solution has been onboarding for people returning to the office, which takes into account how their lives have changed since the pandemic, as well as treating people as individuals rather than assuming that everyone works in the same way. They considered how the workplace has evolved.

In terms of digital transformation, one CIO believed that the Covid-19 pandemic not only accelerated digital transformation, but that it would have taken longer if not for the pandemic. He went on to say that the most visible areas where the benefits of digital transformation could be seen were in digital money and the world of financial services and business. According to him, most digital tools are built on the premise of creating a sharing/shared economy, and he pointed at companies such as Uber and Airbnb that have successfully leveraged this system.

At the end of the evening, all of the CIOs agreed that the relationship between IT and business has changed, with the biggest difference being that business now consults with IT, highlighting that the collaboration between IT and business has been something incredible to witness. At the board level, digital literacy is critical, and CIOs have changed things by educating other executives about technology in order to have a more robust IT debate.

Those in attendance were:

  • Nigel Mangwanda, Absa Chief Architect: Enterprise Functions 
  • Nkosenhle Ngongoma, Ascendis Health group CIO
  • Mthokozisi Moyo, Hollard Insure Digital Head
  • Cobus Rossouw, Imperial Executive Vice President: Digital & Information Technology
  • Philile Mkhize, IT Executive: Corporate & Retail Liberty
  • Justin Freeman, Telesure CIO
  • Mohammed Gause, Tiger Brands CIO
  • Jacques Claassen, Vumatel
  • Patrick Shields,  Software AG CTO: Global Alliances & Channels
  • Itayi Mandonga, Software AG CTO
  • Joël Roerig, CIO South Africa Managing Director
  • Reabetswe Rabaji, CIO South Africa Managing Editor

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