IT needs to become a trusted advisor, says CIO Mohammed Gause


CIO Mohammed Gause took attendees at the CIO South Africa Summit on his journey to establishing the IT function as a business partner within Tiger Brands - and becoming a trusted advisor.

On the evening of 2 March, with the eyes of South Africa’s top tech leaders on him, CIO Mohammed Gause unpacked his two-year journey at Tiger Brands. He told attendees that his biggest priority has been to build and improve relationships in the company, and to become a trusted advisor and partner to the business.

He explained that, historically, IT was seen as the distributor of laptops and the people who fix the WiFi when it stops working, now there’s a move to establish the function as a true business partner to the rest of the organisation.

But you can’t embark on any journey like this without an action plan, and Mohammed shared the four steps that made up his:

  • Understanding the business and the people behind it;
  • Meet regularly, and with purpose;
  • Provide relevant and timely feedback; and
  • Let them know you care about them – they will care about you.

Get the ‘smell’ of the place
Mohammed explained that he first spent time with everyone in the company to learn and understand the challenges and opportunities they were facing. “You have to get to know the people, the decision-makers, and even the competitors. Visit the factories and the field workers, live their lives and experience their challenges.”

He then went to work researching best practice and technology innovations and used this thought capital in business engagements. “You have to look for small ideas that make an impact, and build positive goodwill with your people from the start.”

Create purposeful encounters
The second step is to meet with people regularly in a way that makes a meaningful impact in both their, and your own working life. “Whether it’s monthly updates, quarterly business reviews, or strategy sessions, learn how your team works and create power maps that will help them deliver their best,” Mohammed explained.

Provide relevant feedback
Mohammed said that, as a partner to the business, a CIO’s job is to deliver data-driven insights to the organisation. “Ensure that you are giving them timely updates on projects and initiatives, include your insights in decision-making processes and solving for issues, and report on metrics that make sense to the business and the industry.”

Handle with care
The final step in Mohammed’s plan was to let everyone know that he cares about them. He explained that, if leaders show empathy, people will show it back and they will care for you too. “This step will follow naturally if you get the first three steps right,” he said. “You have to make sure you build mutual trust and respect with everyone you encounter in the organisation.”

Change the relationship
Attendees later broke away into smaller discussion groups, where they got the chance to ask Mohammed, and other speakers of the evening, their burning questions around managing relationships.

One guest mentioned the transformational tech mandate putting pressure on organisations, and how it might be harder for multinationals that have less tolerance for democracy. “Our business has a legacy of growing through acquisitions, meaning we have a lot of different experts competing for power in the bigger group. How do you navigate that power struggle?” they asked.

“Go back to step one,” Mohammed advised. “Have an open, robust conversation about the value you both bring to the table. Listen to their concerns and let them know what you expect from them too. Start measuring performance on both sides, and hold each other accountable.’

He explained that it’s important to give people ownership over their success, as that’s how you build respect in any relationship.

“Digital transformation is not just an IT thing, it’s a business thing. Everyone has to take accountability and responsibility, and it’s your job as the CIO to coordinate that transition, not drive it,” Mohammed added.

Another attendee pointed out how business doesn’t always listen to IT when it comes to the strategy of the organisation, and asked Mohammed how to get them to pay attention.

“Regular engagement is the key,” he responded. “You have to go in with your ideas, even if it’s a hit or miss. It shows you understand the industry and business and that you can add value to the strategy.”

Again, he emphasised the importance of mapping out a plan. “You have to show how the business can benefit from your ideas, the impact it will have on the brand, on the people and on the clients.”

Mohammed used an example of when Tiger Brands recently looked at its systems and did a drive to measure where there were problem areas. “When we presented the stats to the business, they suddenly started listening and we could work together to find solutions.”

Everyone in the room also agreed that they need to let go of the IT jargon, and start talking to business in the same language they operate in. Only when they can communicate like business partners, will they be seen as such.

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