The prestigious annual awards are presented by the Institute of Information Technology Professionals South Africa (IITPSA), in association with ITWeb, the Gordon Institute of Business Science and Gartner Africa.
The winners were announced at the IITPSA President's Awards event on 24 November.
The IT Personality of the Year Award, now in its 38th year, recognises a person who has made a positive impact on the South African IT industry and a significant contribution to the IT profession and the broader community in the past year.
Past winners include IT industry notables Alan Knott-Craig Sr, Andile Ngcaba, Aletha Ling, Mark Shuttleworth, Ivan Epstein, Asher Bohbot, Prof Barry Dwolatzky, and Mteto Nyati. In 2015, Niel Schoeman, CEO of Vumatel, scooping the coveted title.
Said Adrian Schofield, manager of Applied Research Unit at Wits University, VP of the IITPSA and a long-standing member of the awards judging panel: “Sbu Shabalala has been a worthy nominee for this award in the past and it has been fascinating for me, as a judge, to follow his progression as a leader and the impact of his style on the growth of his company. His passion has driven the success of a truly empowered international business that is creating wealth and opportunities for South Africans.”
Chief influencing officer
This is the ninth year the Visionary CIO Award is being presented and it recognises an executive who has demonstrated exceptional leadership in using technology to support and grow business.
“Peter Alkema firmly believes that leadership translates vision into achievement,” said Schofield. “He sees the CIO as the Chief Influencing Officer and emphasises that true leaders serve their teams and exercise the power of leadership with great discretion.”
Alkema succeeds last year’s winner, Peter du Plooy, CIO of Engen Petroleum, and joins an impressive line-up of past winners who include Rabelani Dagada, Carl Louw, Sandi Macfie, Sello Mmakau, Patrick Monyeky, Sal Laher and Tshifhiwa Ramuthaga.
How the winner is decided
The rigorous selection process for IITPSA’s IT Personality and Visionary CIO of the year takes into account professional achievement, business vision and leadership, as well as ability to drive change in broader communities and the South African economy.
The final decision is based on in-depth, face-to-face interviews with the finalists by the judging panel, consisting of:
• Adrian Schofield, manager: Applied Research Unit, Wits University and vice president of IITPSA
• Hamilton Ratshefola, country general manager, IBM South Africa and IT Personality of the Year 2007
• Neville Willemse, head of Consulting, Gartner Africa
• Niel Schoeman, founder and CEO of Vumatel, IT Personality of the Year 2015
• Peter du Plooy, CIO of Engen Petroleum and the 2015 Visionary CIO
• Professor Helena Barnard, Gordon Institute of Business Science
• Ranka Jovanovic, editorial director, ITWeb
• Tony Parry, executive director & CEO, IITPSA
• Tshifhiwa Ramuthaga, CIO Financial Services Board and the 2014 Visionary CIO
• Ulandi Exner, president of the IITPSA and Group IT Executive, Vunani Limited
2016 IT Personality finalists
Team player DNA
Brandon Bekker, MD of Mimecast
Goodwill and diversity is what drives Brandon Bekker, MD of Mimecast.
In the second year running, Bekker has been shortlisted for the annual IT Personality of the Year Award. Although he can't connect the dots as to why he is getting such recognition, he says he works for a fantastic business with fantastic people, glued together by a lot of goodwill at the Mimecast business.
An ex-Dimension Data foot soldier, it was a risky business for Bekker to join Mimecast which only hand a handful of employees. Those days, he says, it was unusual to sometimes even work from coffee shops in Cape Town. Now, after nine years, the business has about 100 employees with Bekker heading up three offices – Johannesburg, Cape Town and Dubai.
Showing off his accomplishments on bringing diversity, he says of Mimecast's entire workforce, half of them are women. Also half of the employees come from previously disadvantaged groups.
He is also motivated by creating an environment where people can be happy and is conducive to their development and success.
Global success builder
Carel du Toit, CEO of Mint Group
Du Toit is a man who does not give up easily. Passionate about training and development, he has lifted Mint from the verge of collapse into a global successful business, which has already breached the borders of South Africa.
He was fresh out of university when he met Mint’s founders in 2000, and became the company’s original employee. By then, he had started and sold two IT businesses.
Most of Mint’s growth has come in the past 18 months – from 40 employees four years ago, the company now has over 130 people.
Training programmes and internships were introduced and Du Toit is proud of employing top talent.
Besides the Johannesburg office, Mint recently opened an office in Cape Town, followed by another one in Africa. The company now also has offices in the US and, according to Du Toit, plans are afoot to expand to Australia in 2017.
Edward Lawrence, co-founder and director of Business Development at Workonline Communications
Lawrence is an entrepreneur with over a decade of success in the technology sector, despite having left school at 15 and having no formal qualifications.
He set up his first of many businesses at the age of 18, a web-based software development business which, within two years, paved the way for the development of additional businesses.
“One thing I love about South Africa is that companies are open to ideas, and don’t just act on appearance. In the UK, you need to be 40 plus before anyone will listen to you. That’s one of the opportunities SA gave me, as well as a very entrepreneurial environment.”
In 2006, Lawrence co-founded Workonline Communications, a network service provider that offers wholesale connectivity in Sub-Saharan Africa. Lowering the cost and extending the reach of internet access for education is a topic he feels passionate about, and sees it as a stepping stone towards lifelong learning and entrepreneurship.
Elizabeth Gould, founder at Project CodeX
Gould studied Economic Development of Africa at UCT, then went back to New York and became a journalist, spending most of her career covering innovation, startups and suchlike.
On a later visit to SA, she spent some time in the rural Eastern Cape. “I couldn’t get the image of people in huts, using mobile technology, and the potential of what that could do, out of my head.”
At the time, she was involved in a startup accelerator and realised how technology and entrepreneurship could drive economic development on the continent. “I thought there had be a way of reconciling the huge skills shortage, the demand for developers, and the amazing young people who just didn’t have the training and opportunities to get these jobs.”
Gould hunts for the talent she knows exists, but which doesn’t have access to computer programmes at a university. CodeX gives them on-the-job-type training and uses its connections in the industry to place graduates in jobs afterwards.
Lee Naik, MD of Accenture Digital South Africa
“A large part of what I do today is helping organisations figure out the value of digital,” says Naik.
As MD of Accenture Digital since March 2014, Naik has helped organisations navigate the challenges and opportunities presented by digital technologies, and transform their businesses to remain competitive in the increasingly digital world.
The seed of his appreciation of the transformative role that technology can play was planted in his schoolboy days in Chatsworth, Durban. He learnt to programme by visiting public libraries and reading the early books on programming and code.
A turning point for Naik was in 2005, when Accenture asked him to rebuild IT strategy as a capability to take to market. “At the time, this wasn’t a big topic in SA, but I built a team of 100 people and we focus on driving large-scale transformation work. I’ve learned to set up organisations and make them thrive.”
Luvuyo Rani, MD of Silulo Ulutho Technologies
Rani began his IT journey 12 years ago with his brother, selling refurbished computers out of the boot of his car. His business has grown from a single store in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, in 2004 to 40 centres in the rest of the Western Cape and Eastern Cape.
Speaking of the early days, he says he realised that while people wanted to buy the computers, it would take them a long time to save up for them. So he started an internet cafe to give his customers access to technology.
“I also encouraged my customers to form stokvels to enable them to save the money to buy my computers.”
He then realised that any potential clients needed computer literacy training before they could use the internet cafe. “But courses were expensive, and it was too expensive for customers to travel to town to attend them.”
With this in mind, he received a grant from SAB Kickstart programme and certification from MICT SETA, and formed a training centre in Khayelitsha that included a retail section and an Internet cafe. A few years down the line, in 2009, he received funding from the UK to open another few stores.
Silulo Ulutho Technologies provides IT products and services in areas such as townships and rural areas. The business aims to service communities, making technology affordable, and lowering the time and money needed for people to gain these skills.
Proudly SA innovator
Marius Coetzee, CEO at Ideco
“I always considered myself an entrepreneur,” says Coetzee, who studied towards an electronic engineering degree.
Once he completed his studies in 1986, which he did thanks to a bursary through Telkom, he did a short stint at Telkom, which, he says, is one of the best universities in SA as you learn a lot: “At Telkom, I was responsible for the introduction of ISDN in SA.”
In 2002, he decided to embark on his true entrepreneurial career, which he describes as a ‘rough start’. “But we focused on something that is still my focus today, identity.” Identity has always been his passion, and he loves innovating in the field of biometric solutions and identity profiling.
In 2007, Coetzee joined Ideco and later concluded the management buyout to focus on providing trusted identity solutions. He heads up the development of a Proudly SA solution, the world’s first mobile biometrics console.
Zoaib Hoosen, MD, Microsoft South Africa
Hoosen focuses Microsoft South Africa on being the productivity and platform business for the cloud-first, mobile-first world of today, striving to empower all people and businesses to do and achieve more.
He also wants to make technology more readily accessible to a wider portion of the population, and believes it’s vital in addressing some of the country’s core socio-economic challenges.
Microsoft SA is aligning its social investments and activities with the South African government’s national priorities, under the themes of empowering youth, enhancing business and enterprise skills development, safety and security, building a capable state, and rural development.
“I have a passion for education. We have agreed to train the 400 000 teachers in the country on how to teach with technology because it’s pointless putting stuff in classrooms and not doing anything with it. As of the end of June, we’ve trained 80 000 teachers.”
2016 Visionary CIO finalists
Growing future leaders
Ashley Veasey, CIO at Barclays Africa
Having worked in countries like India and Pakistan, and larger markets like Hong Kong and Singapore, Africa was the natural choice for Veasey.
He’d like to see greater access to financial services and greater financial inclusion. “Not everyone has a smartphone.
It’s important to provide basic access, making it easy to adopt channels irrespective of platform.
“We’re not short of payment solutions in the market, but helping customers understand how to navigate those platforms is a massive challenge.” Veasey also believes payments should be ubiquitous, and free. “I think we’ll reach a point where this will happen. It will facilitate ease of spending, and, ultimately, help to develop economies.”
The biggest thing for him is watching people grow. “Working with our graduates, seeing their energy, helping them to become team leaders and project managers, and seeing them grow as the leaders of the future, that’s good enough for me.”
Agility, at scale
Brenda Niehaus, Group CIO of the Standard Bank Group
Since joining Standard Bank in 2007, Niehaus has delivered a diverse portfolio of large strategic programmes, including several core banking transformation programmes.
Her roles have included CIO for the rest of Africa, where she was responsible for IT in 16 countries, leading a repositioning of IT services aligned to the Group’s strategic objective for significant growth in the rest of Africa, CIO for Personal and Business Banking and Group CTO for Group Technology Shared Services, and in 2014, Group CIO.
Her entire working career, spanning 36 years, has followed what she describes as a traditional route from programmer, analyst programmer, systems analyst, architect, to project management, where she says she found her niche.
“I think there is more I could contribute to the profession in SA such as be role model, and create a platform to show women the excellent opportunities there are in IT.”
Jamie Whittaker, CIO, Discovery Holdings
For Whittaker, it’s about trying new things and not being afraid to implement them.
He joined Discovery a decade ago, and is presently the chief digital officer, responsible for defining and developing Discovery's digital assets and digital transformation.
“I’ve been head of digital, head of development, and head of marketing, all of which are related, and it’s typically around working in the spaces that have a user interface or contact with the user.”
He says today, the CIO is getting more involved in the big data space. “It’s becoming a question of how we can free up data about clients and staff and use it to define new products and democratise the data to give it back to the users.”
With focus on web and mobile at Discovery, he has helped `to push the boundaries a bit on how we deal with customers and our users as a whole’.
On the ball 24/7, 365
Len de Villiers, Group CIO of Telkom
“CIOs have a hectic schedule, and you have to have a good team to do well,” says De Villiers. “I always say I need an ‘All Black’ team. If you don’t, you will lose the game. You have to make sure you continue to improve, and have a good team that helps you. The job is 24/7, 365.”
He describes his role as looking after the technology for Telkom, starting with the 2 000-strong IT people and adding another 8 000 into the team with the acquisition of BCX.
With 25 years’ experience in the industry, De Villiers is a much respected chairman of the CIO Council of South Africa. “IT is so entrenched throughout the organisation, CIOs are constantly being checked and challenged. And we help the CIOs through this council, by doing lots of mentoring programmes and dashboards to help them with governanvce and engagement with their boards.”
Libisi Maphanga, CIO of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC)
Maphanga’s work centres around the elections and making the process more accessible.
“I see my job as leading the way, ensuring that tech innovations improve the elections experience for citizens.”
In 2014, the IEC released a mobile app that aims to inform and educate South African citizens and provide information on results.
Another success was a project in 2016, in which Maphanga upgraded mobile apps and opened and exposed key electoral data through APIs, enabling the public, political stakeholders and media to access all elections data in real-time, from the Electoral Commission’s operational database.
He has introduced other mobile services, as well as online self-service applications for candidate nomination and applications for special votes. “We have made the process more accessible,” he says.
A key member of the Government Information Technology Officers Council, Maphamga participates in skills development initiatives, implementing internships and learnership programmes.
In charge of lifeblood
Ridwaan Bardien, CIO at SANBS
From ‘humble beginnings’ in the Cape Flats, Bardien started his career in data capture and worked his way up. He joined BOE, which changed the world for him, and took him more on to the business side, where he taught himself ‘on the fly’.
“This was the best way to learn. Put people on the support desk as it gives them people skills. It’s no longer necessary to bridge business and IT, as IT is totally infused in the business.”
At SANBS, Bardien has increased his portfolio to include procurement, logistics safety and environment. “I am proof of how you can transcend from a normal CIO to someone who plays a bigger role in the organisation.”
He describes SANBS as the cornerstone, the lifeblood of the medical sector, which must run at 99% uptime. He is currently structuring his organisation for bimodal IT and is implementing his digital strategy at SANBS.
Sean Maritz, CIO of Eskom
Loyalty is everything to Maritz, whose journey at Eskom spans 28 years. “I’ve spent all my life at one company. I’ve been through all the ranks, which has helped me understand the organisation, the people and their values.”
Maritz took on the role of acting CIO, at a time when the organisation was in a bit of a crisis for various reasons, including load-shedding.
“This was a big challenge. I needed to find my way around the IT model, build relationships from scratch and go through a stage of understanding, to see how to best move forward.”
From June last year, Maritz and his team started turing the company around and, coincidentally, there has been no load-shedding since then, he notes.
“We have created trust with the board and that has made the difference. We now have a seat at a table, and can help steer the organisation.”
A class act
Thagaran Govender, CIO of Mercantile Bank
Govender was in the first non-white graduating glass in 1994 to have been offered computer studies as a matric subject.
“My teacher at the time basically told me after a week that I wasn’t going to cut it. That pushed me to keep going, and if I had to pick a career today, I wouldn’t want to do anything else.”
Govender was awarded a scholarship, and went to Boston to study computer engineering. Once there, he was offered an internship at the State Street bank, a Fortune 500 company, which sponsored the rest of his education.
Graduating in 1999, Govender returned home to head IT at Icasa. “I thought I was skilled enough; we needed black professionals.”
He spent five years as Group CIO of Transnet, and then moved to the Land Bank to help turn the organisation around. He then joined Mercantile Bank as CIO.
“There are many things we’ve done in terms of IT; we have a sustainable organisation, but a standout is that the bank is growing 20% year on year, while other banks are growing between four and seven percent.”
Travis Dewing, CIO of Netcare
When Dewing heard he’d been nominated for the Visionary CIO, his first reaction was, ‘How did that happen?’
Looking back, he says: “A lot of the goals we set five years ago have been achieved. Healthcare is a fantastic industry, with so much opportunity for digitisation and innovation. It’s remarkable how much there is still to do there.”
He has been promoted into a number of different positions within the organisation, and always been given additional challenges and different people to lead.
“That’s where one of my strengths lies. I’m not the expert, or the guy who can develop the best .Net code. It’s my team and building up the people below me to take me forward, and the more I empower them and give them the keys to the kingdom, the more they uplift me.”
He believes inequality in South Africa needs to be addressed and in particular, inequality in healthcare.
“Netcare as an organisation is committed to transformation, and we need to look at the bigger socio-economic factors that are playing out, and in IT too, which is still very ‘pale male’.