Jason van der Watt's law degree proved useful in both business and IT


He tried to avoid law, but it followed him throughout his career.

Jason van der Watt, group CDO at InsideData, might operate in the IT realm today, but he is actually a lawyer by training. Jason studied a BCom in law, and went on to complete his LLB. He joined InsideData while the company was in the process of concluding a huge contract, where he came in to run the implementation and set-up on that deal.

Despite the deal not being concluded, Jason’s skills as an attorney remained useful, so he stayed on with the company, and assisted with the reviewing of contracts. And although he is the company’s CDO today, he still puts his qualifications to good use, and reviews most contracts that come through the door.

Jason then transitioned from the legal realm to compliance, where he established the team in charge of all InsideData's compliance issues. However, he had always had an interest in IT, and during the time when he was in charge of all legal aspects of the business, which included acquisitions, one of those acquisitions was an IT company.

“My journey really consisted of understanding the printing world and all of its legal requirements, and then understanding an IT business and all of its legal requirements. As a result, I would say that my legal background led me to IT,” Jason says.

Jason had already established the legal and compliance requirements at InsideData and was now transitioning to his next major responsibility, focused on revenue and costs. “I joined the commercial team primarily because I had a knack for negotiating contracts and assisting our sales team with any new contract assistance,” he explains. “My transition to commercial was accompanied by a move into IT solutions; as we built these solutions, we had to ensure that we were also compliant with the security aspects of things, which was essentially the beginning of my CDO role.”

During this time, the company did not have a CIO: those responsibilities were handled to some extent by their COO. And Jason’s appointment filled that void.

His portfolio expanded: he was now involved in compliance, legal, commercial and client negotiations, and supplier contracts. He also oversaw the company’s data migration to Teraco, Africa’s leading carrier-neutral colocation provider and the region’s first provider of highly resilient, vendor-neutral data environments.

“While I am still new to the CDO role, I am well-versed in most aspects of the business, and I am able to identify endless opportunities. The only obstacle is getting buy-in: our system has made significant advances, but one question remains: ‘What’s next?’”

According to Jason, most of what is developed is only relevant or usable for a year or two, unless you are innovating and keeping up with the rest of the market.

“We’ve moved from pure customer communication, such as emails, statements, and SMSes, to the communication space without abandoning our roots, such as the printing aspect of the business,” he explains.

“Print is not dead; it has simply adapted; there are factors that have made printing less popular, and some clients have viewed print and post as a risk, and no longer want it in their portfolio; this is more prevalent in South Africa. However, in the UK, they still print and mail millions of statements each month, whereas some of our clients only do a few hundred thousand; the rest are sent out via email or other electronic means.”

As such, Jason says that the South African market has adapted quite significantly :they continue to print but have created more alternative print options, with the benefit of high-variable printing (customisation and personalisation) capabilities. He and his team are also paying close attention to the customer experience and journey.

“Your customer journey does not begin when the client joins; it begins when the client first hears about you, and if you think about the customer journey in that sense, everything else is fair game.

“It all comes down to detail and the client’s first introduction to your business: if someone signs up on your website and shares their details with you, but when they arrive at your offices, no one knows who they are – that’s what I consider poor customer experience. This is a gap that we have tried to bridge at InsideData, avoiding the disconnect and adding that personal touch to customer experience,” he continues.

“My approach to IT is to work with what is possible rather than what is practical. And, when you think of it that way, your ideas are limitless.”

At the age of 33, Jason has taken on a number of critical roles at InsideData. What’s more surprising is that after matric, he had no idea what he wanted to do: the only feedback he got from the psychometric tests was that he was very adaptable, which made little sense at the time, but proved to make a lot of sense years later in his ability to wear multiple hats.

Even though he has a full plate, he believes in the importance of living a balanced life. “Work-life balance to me essentially means devoting enough time to all the important aspects of your life: I am quite happy to work in the evening: I generally finish my day at 4pm, and 4pm to 7pm is dedicated to my family and spending time with my daughters,” he says. “I also enjoy watching series and gaming, but time well spent outdoors is on the golf course."

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