Peermont Global CIO Gona Rajoo on building IT environments and being a broker of technology

post-title

The CIO’s innovation journey has helped shape hospitality and the customer experience from the ground up.

Gona Rajoo oversees major IT builds and operations in the hospitality industry for Peermont Global, a leading casino and hotel group. As CIO and Group IT executive, he believes in leading by example and that customer experience is key, no matter the end user.

Gona, who hails from the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast, originally started his work life in the nineties as a maths and science high school teacher. It made sense coming from a family of educators, even though he’d always had a passion for IT. Unfortunately, his 1980s segregated high school education did not afford him opportunities to explore technology. “Computer science wasn’t a subject, with no access to facilities and resources, and a lot was self-taught,” he adds.

Despite these obstacles, a few years later, Gona found himself out of the classroom and in the IT side of hospitality at the Wild Coast, where he was also involved in the IT infrastructure builds for Zimbali Lodge.

Looking for a challenge and nothing to lose

This career path would take him up to Sandton and down to Umhlanga. It would see him get involved with many large casino technology builds for major, new properties across South Africa, the likes of GrandWest in Cape Town, the Boardwalk in Gqeberha (formerly Port Elizabeth), and Sibaya in Durban.

In 2008, he felt he needed more of a challenge, and he found himself back in Sandton, working for Sun International as IT technical manager, GM for IT Infrastructure, and then GM for IT Infrastructure and Operations. He’d spent 14 years here, where he’d move up the ranks and oversee the opening of properties in South America as well as on the Victoria Falls in Zambia including upgrades and standardisation, implementation of gaming and hotel systems, and the entire IT infrastructure and operations portfolio.

In 2022, Gona pursued an opportunity to head up IT at Peermont Global, as this decision made sense at that point in his career. “I’d been in the industry for 26 years with Sun International, and I felt I still had a lot more to contribute to the hospitality sector!” enthuses Gona.

Customer experience, front and centre

As CIO at Peermont – which has the massive Emperors Palace entertainment and hotel complex, located near OR Tambo International Airport, under its portfolio – Gona has been able to not only oversee major IT refreshes and projects, but also focus on customer experience, mentorship and, of course, helping the business achieve its bottom line.

At Peermont, superior customer experience is important, says Gona, and that’s constantly top of mind for him: “How do I give you consistent and seamless tech experience across the complex ranging from HD TV, Mobile App to Wi-Fi 6 without the pains of signing in and authenticating?”

Gona adds that one of his goals has been to combine all the mobile gaming and hospitality functions when presented to customers. “We’re about to hit the ground with a combined app that services the hotel and casino customers, so that they can transact directly using the app – loading funds or cashing out casino winnings directly to their bank account. We’re introducing a facility where guests can check into their hotel room remotely from their smartphone, so there’s no queueing at the front desk – they can also activate their room key on their phone.”

At Peermont, because Gona has had to put customer experience front and centre, he’s had to consider pain points and how to improve someone’s stay and gaming experience. “Only after considering these pain points do we look for the solutions, otherwise you may have solutions to a non-existent problem,” he adds.

Solutions to business problems and broadening horizons

A highlight for Gona has been the end-to-end IT opening of Time Square at Menlyn on Main, the largest casino in Pretoria. He was responsible for overseeing the infrastructure, cabling, networks, firewalls, systems, datacentres, virtualisation layers and more. He admits there were “lots of tough conversations that had to happen”, as there were many resources and contractors to juggle, and it was “a full-on infrastructure project”.

Gona describes his leadership style as open and engaging, and, speaking of tough conversations, he says he prefers to deal with issues head-on so everyone can move forward together on the path to progress. He enjoys the mentorship aspect of being a CIO, and he’s been able to guide people to grow up the ranks and lead their own IT teams, even if it meant they had been snapped up for other opportunities.

“I’m proud of that,” adds Gona. “I believe in recognising the talent in people, then helping them to grow; it’s quite rewarding. I also enjoy helping to think out of the box, challenging them to broaden their horizons.”

Gona believes that wherever you are in the tech field, you must enjoy what you do, and you have to understand the business you’re working in. “The role of IT is to become a broker of technology with solutions to business problems,” says Gona. “As a CIO, you have to want to make a difference with the people you work with, and lead by example; people should be able to see you’re excited, passionate and want to innovate; that energy flows,” he concludes.

Related articles

How and where will the future CIO work?

What is the workforce of the future? Who will be doing the work? And where will you be doing work? During a discussion with Eskom CIO Faith Burn at the 2024 CIO Day, Investec CIO Shabhana Thaver discussed the role of IT in shaping future work.

Warren Hero joins SARS as new CDO

The 2023 CIO Awards winner will be responsible for designing the South African Revenue Services’ business model for antifragile digital transformation.

Top