Tech enablement in a user requirement world
For the NLC’s CIO, Mothibi Ramusi, digital transformation is about understanding user requirements and delivering the right tools and technologies to meet those requirements.
Mothibi Ramusi, CIO at the National Lotteries Commission (NLC), considers himself a business strategist.
People often think that effective tech leadership is all about technology, but it’s actually all about the users, he says. You need to spend time gathering and understanding user requirements so that you can source and supply the right technologies to meet these requirements.
“In any organisation – whether large or small – you can’t just buy technology. You have to find out what will make your users’ lives easier and what technologies will boost their productivity. I work closely with my team to ensure that any software and infrastructure we deploy delivers real efficiency gains for our users.”
So, what technologies does the NLC need?
Ramusi has been with the commission since 2014. When he started out, the organisation was very siloed, with each business division procuring their own systems and nothing really integrating with each other. But you can’t work in isolation, he stresses.
During his tenure as CIO at the NLC, Ramusi has been hard at work to fix this. One of his biggest projects has been deploying an ERP solution to give the organisation a single version of the truth. The deployment happened in phases, he notes, with the team onboarding different business divisions over time. Today, the NLC has a fully onboarded ERP system running across the entire organisation.
I have no doubt that the technology works, so when users are having trouble, I know that the issue either calls for more training or for a change to the workflow.
“The whole idea behind this is to make sure that it’s possible to have a view of the entire business’ performance from a single place – be it finance, supply chain, asset management or procurement.” But it’s not just about seeing information inside the organisation. As a government entity, Ramusi needed to make sure that the NLC’s on-premise ERP platform – Oracle Fusion – also seamlessly integrated with solutions used by other public sector institutions. “We need to validate a fair amount of information when issuing grants so we needed a system that was designed on an open protocol so it can easily interface between us and other government entities. APIs are used to make sure that this is possible and that the systems speak the same language.”
Garbage in, garbage out
The government’s mission is to have one, integrated government, he adds. This demands that there be a common view of each and every citizen and that all of this information can be accessed by all government entities, from the Department of Agriculture to SARS.
When he first suggested that the organisation deploy the ERP solution, there was a fair amount of pushback from users who didn’t understand why the software was necessary. “But when Covid-19 hit, it was business as usual because we had all of the support technologies in place.” The move made business continuity a success. To this day, almost two years into the pandemic, NLC staff can work from home and access all the solutions and information they need, securely.
With any new way of working, change management is important. Ramusi opted to adopt a very hands-on approach to handling his users’ issues and concerns. “As and when calls are logged, I actually take the user through the process from start to finish. I take the time to engage with the user so they can see where they have gone wrong and they don’t have to log a call next time. Often people will type something in and the system hangs. But the issue isn’t with the system, it’s with the data; garbage in, garbage out.” In this context, he believes that it’s important to separate people, processes and technology so one can identify what the root cause of the issue might be. “I have no doubt that the technology works, so when users are having trouble, I know that the issue either calls for more training or for a change to the workflow.”
Ramusi is currently fielding requests for the next innovation. “I’m now looking at what’s new out there. “Users will hear their friends talking about the latest technologies at a braai and they come to me, saying they want to try these things right away.” Understanding this tendency, his strategy has always been agile, embracing a willingness to adapt when necessary. “I’ve never wanted to be too strict or rigid about what I deploy and how I deploy it because I understand that our needs and requirements change as the market changes and as our users mature.”
He has already moved the NLC to a hybrid model, migrating certain elements of the business into the cloud. “For me, it’s important that users can still access everything from one place and use one username and password to access all of the business applications and information they need. The same frameworks must carry across all systems and technologies in order for it to be beneficial for users.”
Going forward, the NLC is planning for the workforce of the future, which entails using the human insights they have to build the platforms that will drive decision-making going forward. “When someone mentions automation, people think about job losses. But this isn’t our approach,” he notes. “As an example, if we are to automate our data-capturing function, we acknowledge that the person who previously did the job has a good understanding of the process. So, they become subject matter specialists who work closely with the developers to help them create an effective data capturing tool.”
You can’t do things in isolation, he adds. “I can decide that I want to deploy a solution, but if it’s not what my users want or need, it’ll be a waste of time. It’s not a technology world. It’s a user requirement world. You have to listen to your users. When you listen to what users are saying, then you are better able to respond to their needs.”
* This feature was first published in the November edition of ITWeb's Brainstorm magazine.