Skills count: CIOs in Africa need to step up

The changing role of the CIO might be even more significant in Africa

Once upon a time when software was not eating the world, many CIO’s work was to manage computers and procure mundane equipment such as document processors and accounting software. Their work was limited to their departments.

But as companies are embracing new ways of conducting their business, CIO’s are becoming more crucial in organisations than they have ever been before. Most IT heads are finding themselves in a more decision making role and part of the board.

This has made the requirements of CIO more than administrative and they have to be on the nose of every new technology which impacts their industry.

For example, banking in Africa has embraced technology in such a fast paced way that most technical heads are forced to know about telecoms, internet banking platforms and emerging technologies.

Companies are also seeing increase in its ICT manpower and ICT spend to accommodate new tech trends. This also requires a technical manager who can foster and drive the ICT vision for the organisation and be a prudent fund manager.

Charles Theuri who is a Chief Security Information Officer (CSIO) at Compsec Ltd and Unyk ICT companies, had to take a more decision making position to contend with the changing environment.

Theuri says that what counts now is possession of effective organisational skills and excellent working knowledge of latest technologies. Finally, having a commitment to keep up to date with the latest developments in a non-negotiable trait.

He added that: “Extensive knowledge of monitoring and controlling network and data security within guidelines to ensure compliance and report on possible improvements is required.”

In the recent Gartner report, CIO Agenda 2016, the technical leads in companies will be required to have an innovative approach to doing business.

“What’s different now is that new digital opportunities and evolving threats, including new commercial and ethical challenges, reveal that platform dynamics need to penetrate, and are penetrating, all aspects of the business,” the report said.

An IDC study named The Changing Role of IT Leadership: CIO Perspectives for 2016, showcased the challenges for CIOs: “The job of CIO is becoming increasingly difficult as we move further into the 3rd Platform era. Pressure to keep costs down, maintain a consistent infrastructure and to innovate has left many CIOs flat-footed, playing a catch-up game trying to integrate new innovations rather than driving them.”

Patrick Shields, Chief Technology Officer Africa at Software AG, explains in an article in ITWeb how his role has changed. Shields said that the new CIO now has to “take on a leading role within the business to bring it into the digital era”. However, his original role is not negated in any way; it is an addition of the job description.

This sentiment is reflected by Manoj Warrier the CIO at Nakumatt Supermarkets, who told CIO East Africa about the slow shift in the last decade.

“Over the last 10-15 years, the CIO’s role has changed dramatically. Initially it was to keep control of the infrastructure, inventory and ensure that the systems are up and running. Today, the role is more strategic, it involves active participation with business to identify, recommend and integrate the best system suitable for business, best partner who understand the business, while focusing on revenue assurance and business profitability.”

The retail business has had to transform and take in innovations such as credit card and mobile money payments, reward systems and add a digital inventory management at the backend.

All these changes mean that being a technical lead in any organisation will require more skills than before. With the fast pace of change in IT, companies need a quick learner. And for Africa this is where the problem begins.


Addressing the talent gap in Africa

In the Gartner report, 22% of the global CIO’s interviewed highlighted lack of skill as a barrier to achieve more.

It highlighted: “The biggest talent gaps are around information — big data, analytics, and information management — followed by business knowledge/acumen. Worryingly, many of these gaps are the same ones CIOs cited four years ago.”

The lack of funds and low budgets in organisations was cited as the second most prevalent barrier to innovation.

In Africa, the World Bank in a 2014 report [PDF] concurred that with the growth of ICT in Africa the biggest challenge would be skill acquisition.

The report said: “The most prevalent challenges across the continent to fully move forward in these business areas are infrastructure, energy constraints and the ICT skills gap (compared to other parts of the world), which impacts users as well as the pool of available, skilled labour for firms wanting to do business in Africa.”

In Kenya, the government has aimed to increase its talent pool for CTO’s and CIO’s by jumpstarting the Presidential Digital Talent programme. This trains hundreds of youth and gives them opportunities to volunteer in other organisations and possibly bring that talent back to government institutions.

This year the programme aims to train over 400 youths and post them in the 47 counties to bring about automation and innovation.


Retaining in-house talent

One key issue that governments and private institutions in Africa need to comprehend is the competition for good talent in the market. Most companies have struggled to maintain a low turnover for key talent.

The Havard Business Report in 2015 listed things that governments, institutions and businesses in Africa needed to do to grow great talent for companies.

An article by Ndubuisi Ekekwe, the founder of the non-profit African Institution of Technology, stated that for companies to attract great talent they have to think beyond the pay grade. Ekekwe said that companies should strive to be experts in their field, conjure up great work culture and also provide onward training programmes to equip them.

The World Bank in their report said: “African countries need to continue to invest strongly in education as the complexity and competition for vendors in the arena is increasing. Methods to develop skills amongst the local population include supporting broad primary and secondary education efforts, customising tertiary schooling efforts to reflect greater context of business and supporting technical skills development through incubators and the private sector.”

Cultivating well matured CIOs from start-ups to established enterprises, can put companies in the same league as their international competitors, opening an avenue for African companies to shine globally.  This can be achieved by ensuring there is periodic training for the ICT staff to ride the wave of technology change that is more rapid more than before.