The last few months have shown how advanced technology has become

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IT leaders discussed the power of AI, its risks and potential at a CIO dinner this week.

On 16 February, top CIOs gathered at the Cellar Door at the Four Seasons Hotel in Westcliff for CIO South Africa's first dinner for 2023. The dinner was hosted by CIO South Africa in partnership with SAS, where IT leaders discussed how to accelerate delivery, tackling 2023 and its challenges as a group, and the power of AI: its risks and why it should be used responsibly and for the greater good.

The dinner began with a round of introductions, during which the IT leaders shared some of the most interesting things they'd done in 2023 thus far. One CIO revealed that they began an unusual morning routine of taking deliberate cold showers, but there was a method to his "madness". It had little to do with the theoretical reasons for and claimed benefits of it, he said, and everything to do with the fact that if you've experienced the worst first thing in the morning, like taking a cold shower, your day couldn't get any worse than that – it builds your mental strength and prepares you for the day, as he explained it.

Another guest continued the theme of testing one’s mettle or resilience, and had the “crazy idea,” as he put it, of competing in a triathlon, which also has a lot to do with testing one’s resolve.

For another CIO, it was more about being able to sit across the dinner table from some who used to be his senior in his early IT career and now sitting together as both CIOs as a full circle moment for him.

As the evening progressed, the topic shifted to technology and how quickly it has advanced, with AI chatbot ChatGPT and its popularity being a hot topic. Almost all of the guests, being techies, had tried it out, both personally and in their day-to-day work, and were blown away by how impressive it was. However, one CIO felt that while it is important to celebrate how far technology has come, once the initial excitement wears off, it is critical to consider the risks associated with this type of technology. “It’s a powerful tool that can be used for good, but it can also be used for nefarious purposes,” he said.

He was particularly concerned about the AI tool’s cybersecurity risks. According to some experts, it inspired hackers to use ChatGPT to create malware, while others believe that non-malicious code written with it may be of lower quality than code created by a human, making it vulnerable to exploitation.

On the other side of the table, one CIO mentioned that it was fantastic because it is a tool that is accessible to the general public, including those who aren’t techies, and allows them to experience what they get to experiment with on a regular basis as IT. However, one guest said that it was eye-opening to see how advanced technology has become in such a short period of time.

“ChatGPT is a fantastic demonstration of the power of technology and what is possible. It also asks what other technologies can be developed to support such tools for the benefit of business,” one guest said. “This type of technology encourages you to initiate a conversation.”

Another guest commented that it is a game changer in terms of the power of technology, and that it has inspired his team to launch an innovation day at their organisation to see what kind of ideas and technology they can develop, but he, too, was concerned about it being a threat from a cybersecurity perspective. “Its ability to answer questions thrown at it – accurately so – gave them great insight into what other businesses are doing in terms of their integrated report and how they present digital.”

At the end of the evening, the guests reflected on the previous year and looked ahead, and the CIOs said that the biggest challenge for business was budgets and different departments competing for them. And, in terms of delivery, expecting IT to deliver to the utmost satisfaction of the business, checking every box while competing and solving business problems, is simply unrealistic. In other words, as one guest put it, IT supply will never meet business demand.

They believe that accelerating delivery is a matter of managing budgets and dealing with legacy issues. According to them, legacy issues necessitate a different approach – spending faster to solve a problem in a shorter period rather than spending many years trying to get a project to land.

Those in attendance were:

  • Justin Freeman, Telesure CIO
  • Mohammed Gause, Tiger Brands CIO
  • Lungile Mqingi, Sasol CIO
  • Trishen Moodley, Liquid Telecoms Head of IT
  • Viren Naidu, Hollard Insure CIO
  • Ashley Singh, Sanlam Corporate CIO
  • Josh Souchon, Sasfin Bank CIO
  • John Vaquer, SAS Principle Business Development Manager
  • Essie Mokgonyana, SAS Country Manager
  • Stephan Wessels, SAS Head of Customer Advisory
  • Joël Roerig, CIO South Africa Managing Director
  • Nomahlubi Sonjica, CIO South Africa Community Manager
  • Reabetswe Rabaji, CIO South Africa Managing Editor

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