Never lose touch with what’s happening on the ground, says Warren Koopman

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Warren believes that techies often sit in ivory towers once they occupy the CIO role.

Warren Koopman is the group CIO of Alternative Prosperity (Apros), a holding company with various business units. Alternative Prosperity helps shape organisations to contribute to a prosperous society, providing transformation services that support developing a sustainable, business-aligned transformation strategy in businesses.

Some of its subsidiaries include Diversifi, a BEE consulting firm that helps with BEE training and scorecard improvement, Six Capitals ESG Advisory, an independent firm that provides environmental, social, and governance (ESG) advisory services to South African and African investment firms such as retirement funds, fund managers, and the broader investment industry, and SolveSA, a socio-economic, impact-driven, and development agency that assists clients in implementing transformation projects and solutions.

Warren’s main responsibilities at Apros include overseeing all aspects of technology, assisting with business strategy, and ensuring that business and IT are in sync. “IT should align with business and vice versa, but our philosophy is that technology should support business, particularly as an investment company. IT must provide tools that are appropriate for your type of business,” he says.

Warren is also heavily involved in user/customer product experience, going through the entire customer journey as if he were the client himself, and attempting to align technology with the product as a nice add-on.

He believes that less is more when it comes to technology. “We would rather have less technology, but a more stable environment, than a plethora of features, but the system goes down every other day,” he says.

Smalls wins become big wins
The most fascinating aspect of working in technology, according to Warren, is how it is constantly changing. “I enjoy the ‘small’ wins that turn out to be big wins for the company overall,” he says.

“I would describe myself as a people person, so I enjoy and spend a lot of time working with internal employees and assisting customers, and it’s very rewarding to hear that our systems are always running smoothly and there's very little to no need for them to ask for help – that’s what I consider a big win.”

According to Warren, Apros is also open to change, and the company launched a virtual reality (VR) project last year, which Warren initiated. “I felt that technology needed to play a larger role in the business, and this VR project is part of a larger five-year business strategy. I had a lot of fun pitching this idea and getting buy-in, and it was well received and added to our current product offering,” he says.

“IT and technology aren’t just seen as a support function within our company, and I’ve felt it with previous companies where you were just seen as the IT guy doing support work,” he continues. “Whereas with Apros, you are the technology person, who is seen as someone who can add value to the business and help it achieve greater success. Being a techie myself, it’s difficult to express how satisfying this level of appreciation is.”

What’s next for CIOs
While the CIO has moved away from a deeply technical role and toward that of a strategic business partner over the years, Warren believes that the CIO will also begin to focus on research and development, and innovation.

“I am not your typical white-collar CIO,” Warren says. “I don’t sit around the office barking orders at people all day. Instead, I am actively involved at the ground level, which can include setting up a laptop for a user.”

Warren says that he has spoken with several CIOs who do not take this approach: they have large teams and rely on them to manage everything. This, he believes, is what sets him apart.

He says when CIOs reach a certain point in their careers, they often lose touch with what is happening on the ground. “I don’t have that luxury: I feel like if I’m involved, I know what’s going on,” he says. “The trick is to walk the line of business partners as CIO, but don’t forget about the user touch – if you’re out of touch with what the user is experiencing, good or bad, you’ll just implement or move on without having identified the main issues.”

According to Warren, CIOs will need to start clearly articulating what their core function is in the business, as well as what that function entails, in order to have a seat at the table.

And for aspiring CIOs, Warren says the key to his success has always been effective communication skills, patience, and being goal-oriented, which means not setting goals that change every three months.

“Never give up, even if things don't go as planned. I have a five-step success rule that I share with my team: be able to work from the first to the last step. However, you must also be able to work backwards because you will never be able to see what has or hasn’t worked for you, unless you retrace your steps,” he concludes.

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