Zuko Mdwaba: CIOs must help the company do more with what they have

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Salesforce’s area VP and 2023 CIO Awards judge believes that resourcefulness is one of the true markings of an awarding winning CIO.

CIO South Africa caught up with Zuko Mdwaba, Salesforce’s area VP, and one of the judges for the first CIO Awards taking place on 15 November, to find out what he looks out for in a CIO.

According to Zuko, across every industry, leaders have been asked to be more efficient and productive as we face unprecedented headwinds and economic uncertainty. For CIOs and IT leaders, identifying where technology can drive growth, increase efficiency, and create more business value will be incredibly important in helping their organisations navigate challenging times.

1. What qualities do you look for in an outstanding CIO, and how do those qualities contribute to their success?

When the stakes are high, CIOs and their teams must help the entire company do more with the tools and resources at their disposal. To be successful, CIOs must embrace “business intimacy” – focusing on ensuring direct alignment with colleagues across every line of business to truly understand their needs.

CIOs can increase their relevance and ability to deliver business value by bringing a new set of skills and operating processes to the executive table during a radically different business environment.

They need to champion “business intimacy” as a strategy: closely partnering with key business leaders can help CIOs prioritise amid budget constraints and deliver the technology they need to increase efficiency, improve results, and lower costs.

But to do this, they first need to understand broader business needs – what are the priorities, the pain points, the processes, the investments and, most importantly, the technologies their colleagues are dealing with? Only once CIOs understand the full picture, can they effectively support teams in driving down costs and boosting efficiency.

2. How important do you think it is for IT professionals to continue learning and developing their skills, and what are some resources and strategies they can use to stay up-to-date with the latest trends and technologies?

The rapid acceleration of artificial intelligence (AI), data and CRM innovations presents one of history’s most profound technological shifts. Just as emails and SMS transformed the way we communicate, generative AI alone has the potential to revolutionise all aspects of our professional and personal lives.

3. What role do you see IT professionals playing in addressing some of the biggest challenges facing society today, such as climate change, healthcare, and cybersecurity?

Extreme weather conditions brought on by climate change need to be regarded as much more than an environmental risk. Climate change is the most pressing issue facing humanity today, and business has a key role to play in addressing this mammoth challenge.

Evolving priorities of stakeholders and customers are also helping to shape today’s CIOs’ agendas and even skill sets.

Take the example of environmental, social, and governance (ESG). CIOs are uniquely placed (with the support of the CFO) to help drive these initiatives forward, aligning technology, finance and non-finance teams to the organisation’s goals, and also driving the conversation around transparency and reporting.

4. What advice would you give to aspiring IT professionals who are just starting their careers, and what qualities do you think are essential for long-term success in this field?

To maximise the full potential of new and emerging technologies like generative AI, it is important that business leaders take steps to prepare their workforce for the jobs of the future – providing the necessary skills and confidence to train and incorporate them in their day-to-day work.

As AI becomes democratised, it’s projected to alter tasks within at least 80% of all jobs. In healthcare, for example, automation will help professionals sort through medical images to better advise patients and diagnose conditions faster. In manufacturing, tasks of quality control and inspection will free up workers' time so that they can focus on more strategic jobs.

5. Why are events like the CIO Awards so significant, and what do they accomplish for the nominee, his or her organisation, and team members?

Events like the CIO Awards create a platform for IT professionals to learn from one another and continuously calibrate to stay abreast of the evolution of technology. It is also of paramount importance to recognise the amazing work that is done by CIOs in an ever-demanding environment of doing more with less and invariably inspiring others.

In a digital-first world, it is essential that business leaders everywhere keep a skills-based approach to recruiting and training top of mind. To ensure everyone reaps the benefits, companies must cultivate a culture that encourages innovation and continuous learning, empowering employees to be curious, experiment with new technologies, and develop their skills as AI becomes integrated in all aspects of our working lives.

6. What are you looking forward to the most at the CIO Awards?

I am looking forward to CIO Awards to be part of acknowledging the incredible work that is done by CIO and IT Professionals, not to mention the inspiration for others to do more in the ever changing world we live in. I am also keen to experience how IT executives are adopting the latest technology advancements in data and AI, in an ethical and responsible way.

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