CIOs have a crucial and multi-faceted role to play in helping their organisations transform for the digital age. This is according to Sandra La Bella, winner of the Visionary CIO title at the Institute of Information Technology Professionals South Africa (IITPSA) Presidents Awards 2019, and Executive of Information Technology, the Unlimited, who was speaking on the centre stage at the Africa Tech Festival earlier this month.

“We as CIOs need to be the champions of enterprise transformation in the context of accelerated digital disruption,” she said. “We can’t conform to what was; we need to move into the future. And we can’t do it in silos – we need to do it enterprise wide. We are the catalysts of change into the digital world.”

To enable their organisations to adapt and thrive in the face of disruption, La Bella highlighted several areas where CIOs had to participate and drive change.

She said CIOs had to take their place at the table when business strategy was defined, in order to build systems to support that strategy: “Make sure as the CIO that you are part of defining the group strategy. You need to understand how that fits into the business architecture, so that when it comes down to having to build the system, you’ve already been building ahead of time and you’re aware of what needs to happen, or you’ve influenced to make sure that the architecture is correct. Don’t work in a silo.”

La Bella said CIOs had to champion agility and customer centricity in the organisation: “We must take ownership and influence our organisations, with the right operating models in place and the climate for innovation. We need to ensure that our organisations are moving a lot quicker than they used to in the past. We also need to ensure that our customers are involved when we and our teams define what our digital world and landscape look like.

“Some things we really need to be watching are design and architecture – you, as CIO, hold the key to the future flexibility of your organisation and in order to move quickly with change, your architecture needs to be loosely coupled; built up of services that can be plugged and played as you need them, keeping agility.”

She cautioned against retaining legacy platforms for too long: “The problem is, when you start putting your new world of digitisation on top of it, your old legacy platforms start making it extremely difficult to do this, and your competitors are getting the edge. You’re left with heavy costs and you won’t be able to move with the speed that you need to.

“In the new world of digitisation, user experience and user interface is being built into your architecture, and your design is extremely important.  You have to make sure the user experience and user interface are built at the appropriate levels, so employ experts to do this; it makes a world of difference. CIOs must also keep the reduction of costs in mind when designing and architecting. Watch the cost to income ratios and make sure that you are putting things into the cloud and designing with the reduction of costs in mind,” she said.

La Bella believes that CIOs also need a number of soft skills to help their organisations thrive amid digital disruption. “We need to be influencing how our organisations are thinking, so that they too can become digital disruptors. We need to make sure that our communication is clear; become good negotiators and build the right relationships to develop enterprise-wide influence.

“Are you the champion of enterprise wide change, and therefore are you enabling accelerated digital disruption in your organisation or not?” she asked.

Excellence in adversity

Recognising the importance of IT professionals in helping their organisations navigate disruption, the 2020 IITPSA President’s Awards are themed ‘Excellence in Adversity’. The annual awards recognise the IT Personality of the Year, Visionary CIO of the Year, and also include awards for Technology Excellence and Social Responsibility/Community.

IITPSA CEO Tony Parry said: “The Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown have illustrated how crucial ICT is to the functioning of all organisations, but enabling business as usual in this challenging time has put heavy pressure on ICT professionals. This year’s awards celebrate those who enabled their organisations to survive and grow despite particularly challenging circumstances.”

Judging is currently underway in the annual awards and winners will be announced in the first quarter of 2021.


Image: Sandra La Bella, winner of the IITPSA’s Visionary CIO title