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CIOs of the future can’t rely on technology alone

Christopher Tredger
By Christopher Tredger, Portals editor
Johannesburg, 02 Aug 2023
Sasol Group CIO Lungile Mginqi.
Sasol Group CIO Lungile Mginqi.

CIOs of the future must move beyond a focus on IT and business alignment to leading innovation across the organisation, and their degree of success in that focus will be a key factor in their business’ ability to pivot and adapt to change.

These were just some of the key points raised at the inaugural Enterprise Forum, hosted by ITWeb Brainstorm in partnership with BCX in Johannesburg this week.

The event, themed ‘The CIO of the Future’, attracted decision-makers from across the private sector. 

Delegates agreed that digital transformation has forced CIOs to reevaluate their role within the business and cement their place at the boardroom table. Traditionally, CIOs focused mainly on ERP systems, datacentre and ICT infrastructure management, and generally ‘keeping the lights on’ in business. This has now changed, and the trend is to unify business and IT responsibilities, with the CIO at the helm.

Sasol Group CIO Lungile Mginqi said the role of the CIO has had to change and keep up with the pace of transformation of the IT landscape. He said the well-rounded CIO of the future must do a lot more than just understand technology, they must be able to apply it to business rationale.

“It is not just about being visionary, influential and being good with your technical understanding of IT, it is about contributing to the company’s bottom line – it is about moving back-office support to the front office. IT executives must be seen as essential to business – from digitalisations a few years back to generative AI today, we need to build new ways of thinking about how to assimilate and prevail in such an accelerated rate of change.”

He said the role of the CIO is to enable enterprise, safeguard against cyber threats and facilitate best practice. It is also to set policy, standards across IT, enable digital and data landscape to deliver shared outcomes.

Bramley Maetsa, head of delivery enablement at Sasol, outlined the company’s approach to generative AI. He said Sasol is currently focused on phase one, which is to identify quick win use cases, draft the comoany policy or operating model, explore tools, and consistently deliver communications to stakeholders. This will be done alongside preparations for phase two, involving business-led use cases, in Q2 of the 2024 financial year.

Sasol plans to establish a group of ‘enthusiasts’ to eventually form the AI Centre of Excellence that will morph the two phases of the GenAI approach.

Pivot to adapt

Dr Sylvia Sathekge, partner and CIO, SNG Grant Thornton.
Dr Sylvia Sathekge, partner and CIO, SNG Grant Thornton.

BCX chief sales officer Siyabulela Mphahlwa said CIOs now have a seat at the boardroom table, but are expected to lead the organisation in terms of innovation.

The ability to pivot was a recuring theme that dominated discussion at the event. CIOs of the future must drive change in the adoption of new technology. They are also expected to identify new revenue streams and integrate risk from a cyber perspective.

Dr Sylvia Sathekge, partner and CIO, SNG Grant Thornton, said the term CIO should stand for ‘chief indefatigable officer’, to demonstrate the CIO is a tireless agent of change working to achieve equilibrium between technology, processes, and people in an organisation.

The term CIO should stand for ‘chief indefatigable officer'.

Dr Sylvia Sathekge, SNG Grant Thornton.

According to Sathekge, the CIO must be a commander to have a vision and determine policies, a communicator and a collaborator across the organisation, and a co-creator, and in so doing avoid being the enemy of innovation.

“The CIO of the future must bring resources together and protect the camp they are in, (they cannot) have excessive policies or frameworks that impact innovation. CIOs must navigate turning points, diversify knowledge, listen, and learn from peers in the industry and in other sectors, and prepare for unknowns. They must adequately respond to change.”

The event wrapped up with a panel discussion that featured Tshifhiwa Ramuthaga, group CIO of  Barloworld; Mohammed Gause, CIO of Tiger Brands; Warren Hero, CIO of Webber Wentzel; and Mpho Matsitse, executive business & digital advisory, BCX.

The discussion concluded that technology should not be seen as a panacea for all business challenges, and while there are costs to proactive delivery on performance expectations, doing nothing will ultimately cost more.