As ICT transformed from being just an enabler to becoming a nerve centre of almost every organisation, a deep know-how of ICT has become a basic requirement for survival.”

So says Poppy Tshabalala, vice-principal: ICT & CIO at the University of South Africa (UNISA), who will be one of the keynote speakers at the Experience Micro Focus Universe 2019 event on 29 August.

“With digitisation, cloud and analytics, companies in different industries are compelled to adopt technologies at a much faster rate than before to remain relevant,” she says.

The adoption of technology, and the need to think deeply about the role of technology in government, particularly at higher education level, was already a ‘no brainer’ a couple of years ago, she says. “But with the demand for tailored, individually targeted and suitable teaching methods and courses, most tertiary institutions find themselves having to move more rapidly to adopt and implement technology, to reap such benefits as increased enrolment figures and improved student pass rates.”

But being in the fast-changing world of technology has made most industries vulnerable to being taken advantage of by ICT vendors and service providers, and this has driven the need for investment in technical skills at strategic levels for some organisations, Tshabalala adds.

When it comes to software, gone are the days when customers bought a box off the shelf, or whatever else was available from the various vendors, she says. Today, they want customised solutions, so vendors need to listen to the customer’s requirements and tailor-make a solution for them. And those that don’t, will lose their competitive edge.

“The agility and ability to predict, based on usage trends, social media and suchlike, cannot be achieved without the digital capabilities brought by artificial intelligence and machine learning (ML).”

Becoming a CIO

So how has digitisation impacted Tshabalala’s journey?

“Having been in the ICT sector for most of my career, I’ve been exposed to the various stages in transformation of ICT in different sectors.

“My observation is that, despite the rapidness and just-in-time efficiencies that most new technologies and technical concepts have come with, the role of ICT across all industries has not changed much.

“What is constantly changing is the world’s view of technology, rapidly making ICT a nerve centre of not only companies, but of life as a whole across societies. In the past, it was impossible to talk to non-technical entities about ICT products and services, let alone persuade them to adopt them.”

Digitisation has made ICT deliverables tangible and less imaginary, more towards being about feelings and emotions, adds Tshabalala. “It’s easily understood, replicated and re-designable even by consumers themselves. This has called for constant transformation in the ICT profession, from being hands-on and hard-core, to being strategic and visionary.”

That transformation, she adds, requires ICT professionals to gain a deeper understanding of business, to a point of knowing it better than the business experts themselves.

“Digitisation has given me, in the consulting space, sales and even as a CIO, the opportunities to interact at the highest levels of organisations, driving and directing the transformation agenda using ICT,” Tshabalala says. “This is not possible with a shaky knowledge of business.”