You have the technical expertise, but do you understand the business?

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CMS’s Ephraim Tlhako believes that industry knowledge is also important.

Ephraim Tlhako, CIO at the Council for Medical Schemes (CMS), has vast experience in multiple industries, including the utilities, banking and healthcare. “The Council for Medical Schemes (CMS) is a regulatory body for medical schemes, and healthcare – much like finance and banking – is highly regulated,” he says.

The majority of CMS’s stakeholders are medical schemes, including medical scheme beneficiaries, and there is an abundance of information flowing between these parties, which means POPIA compliance is a must.

“I am very excited about our latest project, the Beneficiary Registry,” says Ephraim. “Our overseeing body, the Department of Health, is actually on a huge national health insurance (NHI) drive. It’s meant to push South Africans into more affordable healthcare, since we are all aware of how expensive private healthcare is,” he continues.

He points out that the registry is meant to create an environment where everyone has an equitable share of healthcare services. “The beneficiary registry will intentionally be a database of all private health entities, key services as well as information about how much patients are spending on healthcare,” he explains. “This way, when NHI is eventually rolled out: these analytics will give a clear picture of how the healthcare industry works, and this is our main role in this endeavour as CMS – the department’s ear on the street in terms of what is happening in private healthcare.

“We don’t want to start from scratch,” he says. “As such, we have already started engaging with medical schemes, private health care providers and other key role players in the sector to understand how best we can lay the foundation for NHI when it becomes a reality.”

According to Ephraim, while the percentage of the South African population using public healthcare services outweighs those utilising private healthcare services, there are some valuable lessons to be learned from private healthcare.

As far as projects are concerned, Ephraim says that IT is often seen as the cost centre of the business. As such, there will always be a struggle in trying to motivate why you, as CIO, need funding for IT projects. This can all be avoided, he says, “if the business becomes the champions for those initiatives, rather than these initiatives being launched by the CIO or my IT team.

“I would further suggest that my peers engage a lot with business in order for them to drive these initiatives. And if this happens, building a business case becomes much easier for you.”

From an IT perspective, Ephraim notes that hybrid working models have created a ‘brain drain’. “The pandemic has given people the courage to pursue opportunities that they may have not chased in the past,” he says. “It has also created more options for them, to work for companies abroad, remotely. It’s good for them, but bad for us as an organisation,” he continues.

“I’ve been hit the hardest in my software development team: software developers can work from anywhere, and if the opportunity arises, they will not hesitate in taking it. It has pushed us to think much more broadly where talent retention is concerned, both from IT’s side and from HR’s.”

In closing the talent gap, Ephraim has taken a simple, yet effective approach. “When I look for talent, I generally focus on those that have an in-depth understanding of the industry they are going to work in,” he says, adding that it goes beyond technical ability; industry knowledge is also important. “Immerse yourself in that business with the intention to understand the key functions in that organisation and where you fit in,” he argues.

He has also noticed that whereas entrepreneurs in any field can readily position themselves to comprehend what IT does, IT experts struggle to understand what the business does.

“For those just entering the IT industry ,we are not only looking for qualifications, it’s about attitude, industry knowledge and being teachable,” he concludes.

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