He believes industry-wide issues can be better addressed as a collective.
Mohammed Gause, group CIO at Tiger Brands, grew up in two small farming towns, Estcourt and Mooi River. Through his youthful curiosity he discovered an interesting hobby to pass the time called radio DXing. Mohammed would build large antennae and sit in front of his radio, trying to pick up distant radio stations on shortwave bands, from the Bahamas all the way to Russia.
Once he had picked up a frequency and identified the station, he would write them a letter giving a report on their signal strength and quality. In turn, they would respond with a QSL card, acknowledging the report. He built a vast collection of these prized responses.
These days, he’s switched gears. He’s not only a Formula One enthusiast, but has also been behind the driver’s seat on the Kyalami Grand Prix circuit.
“I’ve always had a scientific and enquiring mind and wanted to become an engineer, which I studied for, but never practised as a professional engineer a single day of my life,” he says. “The U-turn came when companies came to our university during what was then called recruitment week. I decided to hone my interviewing skills with the first company on the list, Andersen Consulting (renamed to Accenture in 2001), without considering them to be a serious employer,” he explains.
However, this interview introduced Mohammed to management consulting, an industry that was at the time in its infancy. He found it intriguing and managed to ace his first and second round of interviews, receiving an offer shortly thereafter. Mohammed took the job, but with the intention of working in the industry for a maximum of two years, which ultimately turned into 21.
He returned to IT leadership as a director at Absa. At the time, Absa was undergoing the largest technological transformation in South Africa, and Mohammed felt he could play an important role in this transition, and later became CIO at Barclays Africa.
A serious transition, spearheaded by IT
Mohammed says IT sometimes struggles to create strategies that are for and informed by the business, something he and his team have done well at Tiger Brands. “We have several business units, and many iconic brands that have been around for a long time. What is clear is that we need to do some leapfrogging in terms of modernisation, from an infrastructure, application, and production point of view,” he explains.
Mohammed and his team’s strategy is informed by various themes, primarily automation, data analytics, e-commerce, digitisation, and supply chain, within which their current initiatives reside. “As a result, we’ve defined a three- to five-year roadmap to achieve that; execution has already begun, and this has become the central golden thread that runs through everything,” he says.
“This journey is well underway, and we have a nicely laid out roadmap. However, while all of this is going on, we need to also focus on the backend and fix the engine: we’ve been running at a reasonable speed, but now need to turbo-charge this process to get it moving much faster. Specifically, it must meet the new business demand with greater speed, consistency, and quality using the existing capacity and without increasing our costs.
“This implies that a parallel internal transformation is required, including the use of AI and machine learning in our operations, the modernisation of our processes, and being more agile using hybrid delivery methods.”
Mohammed says that this internal transformation will entail becoming more responsive and shifting Tiger Brands’ IT focus from simply keeping the lights on to assisting in the transformation of the business.
“There have been some successes and some setbacks so far, but definite progress has been made,” he says. “However, as we transform how we deliver to the business, those successes will lead to exponential gains and differentiation in the market.”
As far as mentorship goes, Mohammed has not benefited from a primary mentor, but rather from what he calls micro-mentors. “These are individuals that I’ve had interactions with through the various stages of my career. While I did lean into some of them as a sounding board or coach, I preferred to observe and learn from the rest of them.
“I would often look at a leader and analyse their style and how they responded to situations and use that as a learning point. It’s important to learn from good and bad leaders: I believe you can gain from both experiences,” he says. “A good leader teaches you what you should do and a bad one teaches you what you should avoid.”
“I can reflect on many projects that I have delivered and the successes I’ve had, but there is nothing more fulfilling than seeing somebody with whom I either had a direct or indirect role in developing their career, flourish. That’s what motivates me to come to work every day.”
Let’s band together
Mohammed says there is a disconnect between consultants and people within the organisation. “Consultants often talk about concepts that are geared towards the future and are more applicable down the line. However, there is a lag between the applicability of those concepts, new hype cycles starting and what is currently challenging the business,” he observes.
“CIOs, on the other hand, deal with the day-to-day challenges and how to solve them: focus on the future, but also deal with the current issues,” he says. “It’s all about finding the balance between how you are gearing up for the future and how you are dealing with the challenges we are all facing in the industry.”
According to Mohammed, one of the biggest problems with the IT body today is information sharing: it’s not happening enough, he believes. “We discuss issues as a community, but have failed to create something that we can use to take action and drive the solutions,” he notes.
In fact, Mohammed believes that the IT community should aspire to be recognised as thought leaders for the industry. In addition, the community should aspire to get to the advisory level and in positions of influence in government, not only to start shaping decisions and direction, but also co-owning the actions.
“We cannot discuss similar problems as a group (e.g., brain drain or skills shortage), but then come up with solutions individually or solely for our organisation. It needs to be done as a collective, so we strengthen the industry as a whole, and attract and grow new talent and future leaders,” he concludes.