2019 IT Personality, Visionary CIO named

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Alexander Forbes group CIO Sandra La Bella and Geekulcha co-founder Tiyani Nghonyama.
Alexander Forbes group CIO Sandra La Bella and Geekulcha co-founder Tiyani Nghonyama.

Tiyani Nghonyama, co-founder of Geekulcha, scooped the 2019 IT Personality of the Year award, while Sandra La Bella, group CIO of Alexander Forbes, won the Visionary CIO title.

This much-anticipated announcement was made at the Institute of Information Technology Professionals South Africa (IITPSA) President’s Awards, in Johannesburg, this morning.

The awards are presented this year in partnership with ITWeb, EngineerIT and the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS), under the theme ‘NE><T’, in line with the IITPSA’s forward-looking focus on industry progress, youth skills development and increased future partnership efforts.

Twenty-one nominees battled it out for six categories: Visionary CIO Award, IT Personality Award, Social Responsibility/Community Award, Distinguished Service in ICT Award, Fellowship of the Institute Awardand Technology Excellence Award.

This year marks the 41st IT Personality of the Year Award, which recognises an outstanding ICT professional who has made a significant technical or academic contribution to the industry, been successful in building a highly-respected IT organisation or business, and/or made a major contribution to the IT profession over a number of years.

Discussing the criteria, Thabo Mashegoane, IITPSA presidentand board chairperson, told ITWeb: “Candidates for the IT Personality of the Year Award are not necessarily career ICT professionals; they are also leading ICT-focused academics, heads of ICT companies or dynamic leaders who are championing the use of digital technologies to drive positive change, which is what Nghonyama has achieved.

2019 IT Personality of the Year Tiyani Nghonyama and IITPSA president Thabo Mashegoane.
2019 IT Personality of the Year Tiyani Nghonyama and IITPSA president Thabo Mashegoane.

“He is a forward-thinking, driven and dynamic leader, who has made a significant impact on youth and in society as a whole.”

Past IT Personality and Visionary CIO award recipients include Etion CEO Teddy Daka and Absa CIO for virtual channels Jacques Barkhuizen (2018); Entelect CEO Shashi Hansjee and former Sasol global CIO Alec Joannou (2017); and Adapt IT CEO Sbu Shabalala and business banking CIO at First National Bank Peter Alkema (2016).

Nghonyama (26) is also COO of Geekulcha, which aims to address the country’s ICT skills challenge and groom future geeks.

He is involved in driving and cultivating geek culture activities in the Northern Cape in particular, and has established NCDev, a platform for all things tech and entrepreneurship in the province.

Nghonyama also lectures at higher learning institutions such as Tshwane University of Technology, UNISA, GIBS and various FET colleges.

Moira de Roche, IITPSA non-executive director and one of the IT Personality judges, said: “Tiyani always made our heads spin during the judging process. He has an amazing amount of vision and espouses what an IT Personality should be, which is very unusual for a person of his age.

“In his short career, he has made so much impact in the ICT sector, driving social development initiatives and hackathons such as RHOK Pretoria, Arduino Day South Africa, and Geekulcha VacWork, among others.”

Accepting the award, Nghonyama said: “This is awkward… I have always said to myself that before I turn 27 years I want to be known as an ‘inja ye game’ (a top dog) in the ICT sector, and that day is today.

“In 2012, I attended my first hackathon and my team came last, which was horrible. But that gave me a vision because I was so inspired to see what other innovators were doing in this beautiful sector. That’s when I promised myself that I will always try to be on the ground, helping young people use technology to make a difference. This goes out to all the young geeks out there.”

Nghonyama praised professor emeritus Barry Dwolatzky, director of the Joburg Centre for Software Engineering: “Everyone has to go and see what professor Barry has done in Braamfontein’s Tshimologong Precinct. One day, I want to be like him.”

Nghonyama faced off against five finalists: Jaco van der Merwe, CEO of DVT; Jean Greyling, associate professor ofthe Department of Computing Sciences at Nelson Mandela University; Lillian Barnard, MD of Microsoft SA; Peter Searle, CEO of BBD; and Tebogo Makgatho, CEO of Netcampus.

CIO with a vision

The Visionary CIO Award, now in its 12th year, honours a CIO who has demonstrated visionary leadership in using IT to support, grow and transform business, and/or who has established best practice in implementing technology solutions in an organisation.

With over 34 years’ technology experience, Sandra La Bella has driven the transformation and overall strategic direction across diverse industries, including financial services, manufacturing and retail. At Alexander Forbes, La Bella has successfully implemented an ICT turnaround strategy in a traditional financial services firm riddled with legacy systems.

Mashegoane explains: “It is not easy to define what traits make a leader stand out as a visionary CIO. However, those accorded this accolade are typically dynamic, agile, on top of – or ahead of – global trends, able to secure buy-in to transformational change from the rest of the C-suite, and people whose track records and professional conduct inspire trust. They are typically the catalysts for change within their organisations, who help reinvent and grow their companies into digital enterprises, which is what Sandra has done at her organisation.”

Accepting the award, La Bella said: “I feel truly honoured today to receive this award and certainly the work that I have done previously is not what I intend doing in the future because the world needs technology and it takes a lot of technologists to make sure businesses do what they need to do in order to succeed.

“Nothing is done on your own; I have managed to do what I have done in the last year through team work and I want to thank those who have been with me along this journey.”

La Bella competed against four other top CIOs: Avsharn Bachoo, CTO of PPS; Derek Wilcocks, Group CIO of Discovery; Helen Constantinides, CIO of Avbob Mutual Assurance Society; and Louise van der Bank, CIO of Afrisam.

2019 Visionary CIO winner Sandra La Bella and IITPSA president Thabo Mashegoane.
2019 Visionary CIO winner Sandra La Bella and IITPSA president Thabo Mashegoane.


More winners

  • Social Responsibility/Community Award: Recognises a person, team or project that delivers the benefits of IT on a not-for-profit basis into the community, or brings the community into the IT space. It went to Frans Kalp, CEO of Ligbron E-Learning Systems, a model for streaming educational content to bridge the rural-urban divide.
  • Technology Excellence Award: Recognises a person/team who has made exceptional/innovative use of IT, or designed an innovative new technology. It was scooped by Benji Meltzer, CTO and co-founder of Aerobotics, an agriculture tech start-up providing tree crop protection to farmers through early problem detection and alerts using satellite data, drone imagery and machine learning.
  • Distinguished Service in ICT Award: Awarded jointly by EngineerIT and the IITPSA, it recognises a significant, career-length contribution to the ICT profession and/or the ICT industry. It was won by professor Rossouw von Solms, director of the Centre for Research in Information and Cyber Security at the Nelson Mandela University School of ICT.
  • Fellowship of the Institute Award: Given in recognition of an individual who has made an extraordinary contribution to the institute or the profession as a whole. It was won by professor Elize Ehlers, head of the Academy of Computer Science and Software Engineering at the University of Johannesburg.

IITPSA CEO Tony Parry said the winners and finalists for the 2019 awards were exceptional, highlighting the overall calibre of SA’s ICT industry.

“Our judges had a difficult task in singling out finalists from yet another field of sterling ICT leaders, innovators and change-makers. As the industry’s professional body, IITPSA is proud to see SA’s ICT professionals remain world-class and abreast of global innovation.”

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