Sandy's consulting background has enabled her to bridge the gap between business and IT.
Sandy Rheeder, CIO at Mukuru, has always been interested in combining communication, literature, history, mathematics and science. Sandy initially went to Rhodes University to study a BSc with a mathematics major, but in her first year took computer science as an extra credit. She enjoyed the thinking and possibilities linked to IT, and also took management as an extra credit.
“The combination of loving business strategy, communication elements, strategy clarity, and a genuine interest in what it means to build great systems for people worked perfectly for me within the information systems degree,” she says. "I ended up changing in my first year and completing my honours in information systems.”
Sandy then went on to work as a consultant for Business Systems Group (BSG), where she spent 16 years. She has spent the majority of her career as an IT business analyst, working her way up to translating IT strategy into business strategy across almost all of South Africa’s major banks as well as the healthcare industry.
“The translation of business strategy into IT strategy is critical here: we have wonderful developers and tech skills in this country. However, there is a lot of work to be done in the gap between what the business needs and what IT eventually implements; a space in which I’ve focused heavily throughout my career,” she says.
Sandy later joined Mukuru as a business architect to bridge this gap: to help translate what the business strategy is and how it can be translated into a product strategy, both in terms of IT products delivered to customers and actual IT delivery from a strategic intent. Sandy was promoted to CIO two years later.
A specialist facilitator
Sandy believes that her background in information systems and consulting has enabled her to bridge the gap between business and IT. “Consulting is a very commercial enterprise, and I had the benefit of management accounts while being actively involved in designing systems and technical specifications that would make things work,” she adds.
“In the world of fintech, you need to think business and IT with one brain,” Sandy says. “In a fintech organisation, we define and drive business intent through technology: it is really about understanding what gives business executives sleepless nights, and how those concerns can be translated into technical roadmaps that can support that agenda, not be alongside it; it needs to be a collective,” she continues.
The challenge, she says, was getting these very different beasts to have a single conversation, and it was this challenge that shaped Sandy into a specialist facilitator in this regard. “My main role as a facilitator was to ensure that IT could roll up to have a conversation with business, and that business could roll down to have a meaningful conversation about the nitty gritty of system design and specification,” she explains.
According to Sandy, the real challenge is being able to have great, facilitated conversations that move strategy on both sides towards the same endpoint. She adds that it all comes down to communication: how to translate, summarise, play back, and hear what people are saying in order to ensure that the message is understood and can be played back.
A fintech for the people
Sandy’s most memorable project is Mukuru’s Booth Network, which debuted in 2017. “The technology behind it is supported by an app on android devices that allows us to manage the collection and distribution of cash remittances across the SADC region, which is a historic moment for our organisation,” she explains. “It has come to define our strategy of entering a region and connecting with customers.”
Mukuru was also one of the first financial institutions in Africa to use WhatsApp as a business partner, with customers able to access all Mukuru services through the messaging service as the primary interaction channel.
According to Sandy, Mukuru’s brand ethos is centred on financial inclusion and bringing products to customers – regardless of where they are in their financial inclusion journey, which is also linked to a migrant journey. While Sandy enjoys engaging on a strategic business level and understanding customer needs, and translating them into a product set that can meet those needs, seeing Mukuru’s tech in action, in real-time, is what brings her even greater satisfaction.
“I’ve been in situations where I attend a work function/dinner booked under our name, and would be approached by a waiter: either asking for help or showing me how they are using our product,” she says. “This is my favourite part of the job, and being part of an organisation where you can see the impact that our tech has on real people.”
Sandy has benefited from the advice and support of colleagues along the way, but her most consistent mentor has been her father, who has exceptional business acumen.
“I think the most important thing my father has instilled in me is confidence: he has always told us that we can do anything we want. A powerful message, I believe, especially as a woman in IT who has advanced in her career,” she concludes.