UBS CIO Dido wa Kalonji has been making big moves since primary school

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From taking apart his dad’s computer to leading an entire IT department, Dido’s passion for tech is clear.

Growing up, Dido wa Kalonji always had a passion for technology. When he was in primary school, he would take his dad’s old box computer apart to see how it worked on the inside, and his passion just grew from there.

After finishing high school, Dido pursued a career in technology. While studying, he was working as a contract-based technician, working on speedpoint machines. When he finished his bachelor of arts degree in information science and visual communication, Dido entered the workforce, providing technical support services at various large organisations, including Bytes Technology and Mix Telematics.

In 2013, Dido joined Deloitte, where he was responsible for managing the application administrators team within the IT department. “I was in charge of running applications on a global scale, while at the same time building a software development competency within the organisation,” he says. “So I built a development team and managed a few data centres.”

He explains that this was a defining moment in his career, as it gave him an overall knowledge of how an IT department should work. “We could move across to any department in the organisation and see what they were doing. I got involved with the IT security and infrastructure teams, which gave me the exposure I needed to move into my next role.”

Having completed a Master’s degree in information systems and technology, Dido explains that his time at Deloitte was a stepping stone to achieving his goal of becoming an IT leader, and when he was approached by UBS to become the head of information technology for its South African operations in 2017 and now its CIO, he was ready to take on the opportunity.

A hands-on approach
When it comes to his role as an IT leader, Dido has a very hands-on approach. “I wanted to be an IT leader with the technical skills to back that up,” he says. “I have access to the code repository, and when it comes to networking and infrastructure, I’ll go into the server room and see what’s going on.”

Dido also prefers to get his hands “dirty” when it comes to implementing new projects in the organisation. “I want to see what is being done and give my inputs. And when we have issues, I roll up my sleeves and get involved in resolving them.”

Making big moves
In 2020, Dido was tasked with a project to migrate the company’s operations from its Sandton office to a new office in Rosebank. “Everything from the infrastructure, to connectivity, to applications, to chairs had to move. We were building a new office from scratch,” he says.

He explains that, at the core of this project was technology, as it plays a critical part enabling the company to operate.

In the same year, Dido also had to move his disaster recovery site to a new provider. “This was in the middle of the Covid-19 lockdown, when people weren’t able to travel and come into the location to give input.”

Having moved both the office and disaster recovery site to new locations in less than a year while maintaining business-as-usual operations, Dido says that this achievement is something his team is very proud of.

Different strokes
Dido says that rolling out projects like these isn’t always easy, as the South African company has to align with the global organisation’s strategy. “Our global strategic initiatives filter down through the business and our IT department receives a technology strategy from the global chief digital information office (CDIO). We then have to apply these initiatives to the local offices, which can sometimes be challenging as it’s not as easy as copying and pasting.”

He explains that the South African offices don’t have the same connectivity as Europe and the US, so if the CDIO rolls out new initiatives, it might not work in South Africa. In cases like these, Dido will adapt the initiatives and come up with local solutions that align with the architecture of the entire firm. “When you start a project, you have to explain to the global offices that we have loadshedding, for example. When I’m implementing a solution, I have to factor in what will happen if I move my data centre to a place that doesn’t have sufficient power,” he says.

Despite the challenges, Dido uses the opportunity to educate the rest of the organisation on the technology needs of the company, and the South African region especially. “People start understanding that not all regions are the same. They rely on us to be upfront and open with them, because we are the subject matter and location experts. If we don’t raise our challenges as a country or location, they wouldn’t know about it and think that everything is the same across the globe.”

A football fan
When he isn’t working, or spending time with his family, football gets Dido excited. Not only is he a Chelsea supporter, but he also plays football with his social soccer team over the weekends.

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