It’s difficult to talk about digitisation and innovation if infrastructure is poor

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IT leader at Corteva Agriscience Phyllis Mothiba talks about her IT infrastructure plans for the continent.

Although Phyllis Mothiba works in the IT space today, she’s actually an industrial engineer by training and holds a master’s degree in industrial engineering. She has also dabbled in some project management roles at some point in her career, backed up by a Six Sigma Green Belt qualification in project management methodology.

“You’ll find that there are several Industrial engineers now cropping up in the IT industry. I think businesses are starting to realise the value Industrial engineers bring to the IT space,” says Phyllis.

She also has diverse industry knowledge having worked in the manufacturing, logistics and waste management sectors. According to Phyllis, her previous role as Head of IT and Business Process in the waste management sector was specifically created, the company having realised that IT drives business growth. “I’m good with business processes, so wearing the same hat for IT and business came naturally to me,” she says.

Today, Phyllis is the IT leader for Africa Middle East at Corteva Agriscience, expanding her industry knowledge even further. “Going into farming has really been an amazing experience. Corteva is the largest, pure-play agriculture company globally, providing farmers around the world with the most complete portfolio in the industry; including a balanced and diverse mix of seed, crop protection and digital solutions focused on maximising productivity to enhance yield and profitability,” she explains

And on the continent, Phyllis is accountable for IT activities and investment portfolios in countries such as South Africa, Ethiopia, Kenya, Egypt, Morocco and Tanzania. Being part of a global IT team, Phyllis says her engagements with her global team members has opened her eyes to how the different regions differ. “Africa, in particular, is very different from other regions. Our infrastructure is behind and there is work to be done to improve that. Our regional priorities are different, whilst still aligning to the global strategy,” she explains.

Speaking of priorities, Phyllis’s biggest focus is the strong core centred around IT infrastructure on the continent. “It's difficult to talk about digitisation and innovation if you don't have adequate infrastructure – reliable internet connection and devices,” she says.

Engineering vs. IT

Initially passionate about engineering, Phyllis developed a love for IT once she realised that the two effectively work hand-in-hand. “I wouldn’t be able to do much as an engineer if my technology doesn’t serve me. A majority of the work an engineer does relies greatly on technology and that is how my passion evolved, pushing me into the IT space,” Phyllis says.

She goes on to say that much of how the world works today, relies on technology, even in developing countries. “I am passionate because I feel like I’m in an environment that helps businesses progress through IT,” she adds.

Her biggest accomplishments to date? Successfully upgrading enterprise resource planning systems (ERPs) and implementing CRM solutions are some of her accomplishments.

“If anyone knows one thing about IT, it’s that ERPs can be challenging. So, having been able to do this multiple times, while making it look so easy, was a huge achievement for me,” she says.

Coaching and mentoring

Although Phyllis has been fortunate enough to receive mentoring in her journey, she says that it is important not to find yourself stuck in the “mentoring hamster wheel”.

“I’ve had a lot of mentoring which I am grateful for, but over and above that, I took my learning into my own hands. At some point, we have to get out of being mentored and apply what we’ve learned. The student needs to become the expert and eventually the teacher,” Phyllis explains.

Phyllis is also part of the consciously digital movement, an initiative aimed at helping people use digital tools responsibly. “Technology can be good, but it can also be bad, especially if it affects the youth. People are spending an increasing amount of time on social media, and they don’t realise a lot of the tools in these platforms were designed to influence their behaviour,” she notes.

And when Phyllis came to that realisation herself, she decided that she wanted to be the change that she wanted to see and joined the cause. “Consciously digital helps to educate different people about the pros and cons that come with digitisation, and how we can protect ourselves from that,” she says.

“My coaching is largely centred around the youth and their mental health. Helping them become more aware of the tools/designs that influence their behaviour, she says. Spending four to five hours a day on your cell phone or on social media – exposed to the bullying and comparisons that happen online – is not good for well-being,” she adds.

As far as downtime is concerned, Phyllis says that despite the pandemic changing life as we know it, it has on the positive side, afforded her the opportunity to unwind and spend some time with her family, while she still works from home.

The flexibility of our new hybrid working system at Corteva is what Phyllis appreciates the most, allowing her to experiment in the kitchen or even read a book. She’s currently reading The Art of Doing Nothing by Veronique Vienne, a book she recommends to all professionals, to escape the fast-paced digital economy.

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