The inaugural South African CIO Awards marked a historic moment in the tech industry, illustrating the brilliance and ingenuity of visionary leaders who are transforming the landscape of innovation.
This momentous occasion, affectionately known as the “Oscars of IT”, brought together luminaries, sponsors, and the broader tech community for an unforgettable night of recognition, celebration, and inspiration.
Comedienne Celeste Ntuli, armed with her animated and original jokes, orchestrated the festivities, skilfully weaving humour through the ironies and dark sides of technology and the ever-evolving metaverse.
The enchanting notes of the Kopano Jazz collective welcomed attendees on the red carpet, setting the stage for an evening that transcended the ordinary. Onstage, the iconic South African musical trio, The Soil, cast a spell on the audience with soulful, rich sounds, creating a heart-stirring a capella atmosphere infused with an upbeat celebratory vibe.
The brilliance of the night was further enhanced by the support of key sponsors — EOH, Workday, Makwa IT, Deloitte, Entelect, Liquid Intelligent Technologies, Accenture, and Indsafri — whose commitment to innovation shone through, adding an extra layer of prestige to an already illustrious occasion.
Honouring excellence: a recap of the winners
The awards ceremony unfolded as a testament to the impactful roles CIOs play in steering technological advancements. Jörg Fischer of Standard Bank emerged as the star of the night, securing an impressive triple crown – CIO of the Year, Strategy & Leadership Award, and the Cybersecurity Award. Jörg, humbly acknowledging the challenges faced by CIOs, dedicated the Cybersecurity Award to his vigilant team, stating, “I acknowledge the worry all CIOs have about cybersecurity and dedicate this award to our head of CISO and the cyber team that keeps the business safe.”
Faith Burn of Eskom was named Public Sector CIO of the Year. In a poignant and powerful moment, she not only accepted her well-deserved accolade, but also took the opportunity to passionately underscore the critical importance of recognising and celebrating women CIOs within the tech landscape. With conviction in her voice, Burn spoke eloquently about the transformative impact that women bring to the realm of technology and innovation.
Dr Denisha Jairam-Owthar, former group chief information officer at Stellenbosch University, received the Young CIO of the Year award, highlighting her significant contributions to that organisation before she took on her new role as group chief information officer, Council for Medical Schemes.
Josh Souchon of Sasfin Bank received the Digital Innovation Award, attributing his success to a collaborative team effort that transformed the bank into a fully digital entity. Josh also clinched the IT Project of the Year award, underlining the transformative power of innovation.
Nikos Angelopoulos, Group CIO of MTN, received the Smart Data Award, expressing gratitude to colleagues across the continent for making data generation possible.
Warren Hero, CIO of Webber Wentzel, received the High-Performance Team Award and shared insights into his team's ethos of embracing failure as a tool for success. “Our team lives by the acronym FAIL – finding an intended lesson,” Warren remarked, highlighting the unique culture that fuels their achievements.
He delved into the culture of collaboration and the importance of nurturing talent within the organisation. He further revealed that 98 percent of people who were promoted within the organisation had risen through the ranks internally. Notable roles, such as CISO and cyber analysts, had evolved from within, emphasising the organisation’s commitment to recognising and cultivating internal talent. Warren’s words resonated with the audience, underlining the importance of a supportive culture and collaborative ethos within the tech community.
Kirsten Neuschafer: a journey of endurance
The night reached its zenith with guest speaker Kirsten Neuschafer, the 2023 Golden Globe race winner, sharing her awe-inspiring journey of sailing solo around the world. Describing the Golden Globe race as a test of endurance, she revealed the challenges of sailing alone and how after 235 days at sea, and having raced 30,000 miles against 60 other adventurers from across the world, she emerged victorious, emphasising the importance of resilience, hard work, and intense planning.
Kirsten’s odyssey resonated profoundly with the challenges faced by CIOs navigating the ever-evolving digital landscape. Her reliance on celestial navigation, constant checks for wear and tear, and limited technology on her boat drew intriguing parallels with the meticulous planning, constant adaptation, and reliance on robust cybersecurity measures that CIOs employ to navigate the complexities of the tech world. Kirsten’s rescue of a fellow racer underscored the collaborative ethos that mirrors the importance of teamwork and support within the CIO community.
Closing reflections: a special moment
Joël Roerig, MD of CIO South Africa, brought the evening to a close by reflecting on the significance of the CIO community coming together to celebrate. He highlighted the purpose of sharing and the community’s role as a place where CIOs could lean on each other’s shoulders, emphasising the unique and special bond that had formed among the tech leaders. Joël encapsulated the essence of the evening, saying, “CIOs have embraced the community and come together to celebrate, which is a very special thing.”
The inaugural South African CIO Awards not only celebrated excellence, but also set the stage for future endeavours, solidifying its place as a pivotal event in the country’s technology landscape. This night of recognition, innovation, and celebration will undoubtedly inspire the next wave of groundbreaking achievements in the world of IT.