Vuyiswa Ramosangoana’s approach blends IT and geology

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Four months into her role as CIO of the Petroleum Agency South Africa, Vuyiswa is firmly focused on change management, and building a one-stop data shop for all oil and gas explorations.

Vuyiswa Ramosangoana, CIO at the Petroleum Agency South Africa, grew up in the Eastern Cape town of Aliwal North. She enjoys travelling in her spare time, and her current favourite destination is Zanzibar. “I really enjoyed how friendly the people were, and they also love South African music, which was that extra cherry on top for me,” she explains. Vuyiswa has also visited Senegal, but she has made it a point to travel every year on her birthday, and during her birthday month of September, she visited Dubai.

Back home, Vuyiswa loves travelling to Cape Town for both work and leisure. She’s there almost every week and that’s because the Petroleum Agency has offices in both Cape Town and Pretoria, and they are required to be in the office at least once a week, which means a weekly flight down to the Mother City.

Vuyiswa is four months into her role as CIO at the Petroleum Agency and the biggest challenge on her hands is change management. “It’s always the case when you enter a new environment,” she says. “People have become so accustomed to doing things in a particular way, and when you come in and suddenly want to change things around, you’ll surely be met with some kind of resistance, and that’s across the organisation, including in IT.”

There are two ways to go about it, she says. Firstly, the CIO needs to keep up to date with the latest technologies, but they also need to elevate IT to a strategic position. Failure in doing so will result in some pushback any time you want to introduce any sort of change. “I’ve been fortunate because they’ve managed to elevate IT at the Petroleum Agency with a CIO who sits in exco, which is a first and was never the case in the past.”

Vuyiswa is responsible for the data management division of the agency as part of her responsibilities as CIO. She is in the process of a huge consolidation of the systems, and requires an entire overhaul of both the internal and customer systems.

Each division ran its own system, but Vuyiswa wants a centralised set-up, which is more integrated and streamlined, and changing this comes with resistance. “I do have a very supportive exco, which I believe will make my job much easier,” she says. “It also helps that the board itself is relatively clued up on IT: they understand why you need a particular integration to happen. It would improve systems: supply chain, stakeholders and data management, the data that we essentially sell as an agency.”

Vuyiswa’s work is demanding, and she had to hit the ground running as soon as she joined the agency. She had to submit her three-year plan just a month after she joined, and that was in between her flights back and forth from Johannesburg to Cape Town each week.

It’s all about balance, she says, and that’s how you manage or rather prevent fatigue. “There are two aspects in my life – work and family – and I try to separate the two,” Vuyiswa explains. “I think evenings are best for me, especially when I really need to get a lot of work done. Work-life balance for me, is about striking the balance between your work, your family, and yourself.” A key part of that, she says, is managing your time, and that there’s no point going to bed at 1am, as you’ll be very unproductive the next day.

At work, Vuyiswa’s biggest strength is the ability to strike a balance between getting results and pushing people to deliver, while giving them the necessary direction. At the same time, she’s aware that she’s dealing with human beings, who have their limitations, and is cautious not to push too hard. “It’s about the organisation’s vision and not the CIO’s personal vision, and that’s what I’m able to drive across and bring my team along the journey,” she adds.

Vuyiswa was the CIO of the Information Regulator prior to joining the Petroleum Agency. She built IT at the regulator from the ground up, and built the entity’s digital footprint from scratch. She was also the executive manager at Saab Grintek Defence: Saab provides a broad range of world-leading products, services and solutions within military defence and civil security to the African market, and there’s a particular solution that stood out the most to Vuyiswa during her tenure.

“It was a flare solution, where when a missile was approaching a helicopter, for instance, it would flare up and confuse the missile, giving it the illusion that the aircraft is on one side – helping it evade the missile,” she explains. Saab also produced and supplied armoured vehicles for dignitaries and other officials.

From an educational perspective, Vuyiswa studied IT, which at the time focused on software development, but the working world was surprisingly different. That’s because despite being taught software development, Vuyiswa never really developed any software: she ended up as an IT technician in her first role, and development fell by the wayside.

The Petroleum Agency of South Africa regulates and promotes the exploration of onshore and offshore oil and gas, and production of petroleum in South Africa. Vuyiswa is responsible for securing the data needed for exploration.

Energy giants like Total Energies are required to approach and submit an application to the agency first to express their interest in oil and gas exploration. The agency is the custodian of the data that the energy company would need before they begin with exploration, which is – in most cases – derived from the cores kept from previous explorations, and it informs in which areas onshore and offshore, oil and gas exist.

“We have a petroleum data management division and when these operators conduct exploration, which involves the drilling of the cores, and checks samples, they end up collecting data. A large part of it is geological data,” Vuyiswa explains. Her division ensures that the data is captured correctly, and when a different entity wants to explore that data it will be fully packaged. They are allowed to view that data, she says, but they are not allowed to download the data. In that instance, they would then need to buy that data from the agency, a practice that is core to how they generate revenue.

Vuyiswa highlights that her sector is fundamentally a synergy of geology and IT, and having people on your team who have both a geology and an IT background is critical. She observes that geology has developed and is gradually going into the world of data science, and she dabbles between IT and what they want to get out of the data they collect as an agency.

“One of the biggest projects that we’re currently working on is consolidating all the data that we have from different applications, and if an entity wants to acquire that data, we would then need to gather it from multiple sources,” she says. “The plan for the next two years is to have all that data into one database, a one-stop digital shop, where energy companies and even universities can log into our portal, pick the data, put it in a cart and it gets delivered.”

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