by Joanne Carew

Q&A: WesBank’s Nenzeni Duma explains how to be a transformative CIO

Oct 21, 2020
CareersDigital TransformationIT Leadership

For Nenzeni Duma, WesBank CIO at FirstRand, modern CIOs are well-rounded shape-shifters, who act as catalysts for deploying digital platforms that enable business strategies. She shares tips on how to be a transformative CIO, and how to avoid digital transformation failures.rnrn

nenzeni duma
Credit: Nenzeni Duma

Nenzeni Duma, the CIO of WesBank — the installment finance division of the FirstRand Group, one of South Africa’s largest financial institutions — has been in IT for most of her life. Born in South Africa, she grew up in the US while in exile with her family. After studying mathematics, computer science and Spanish, she moved to Silicon Valley where she gained experience working with solutions and technologies that would later form the foundation of many of tools and platforms we use every day. Today, she describes herself as a “transformative CIO”.

In this Q&A, we ask Duma to share her insights about digital transformation.

What is a transformative CIO?

Many companies are faced with the challenge of moving away from costly legacy systems, making layered and dated processes more customer-centric and reinventing the user experience for customers and partners across their ecosystems. A transformative CIO understands that people and cross-organisation collaboration (not a focus on technology only) are the most important ingredients to any successful digital transformation initiative. She or he understands why and how the CEO and the business can win through a digital business strategy. She/he also understands the company culture and this person is able to leverage relationships to get the commitments needed for change to occur. Lastly, she/he plays a key role in execution – spotting gaps, bringing the necessary pieces together and being an evangelist for change. While pulling all these pieces together, a transformative CIO always has a focus on the customer and on the experience being created for business, customer and partner benefit.

 In your experience, why do digital transformations fail?

Research from Forbes, Gartner, Forrester and InfoTech shows that around 70% of digital transformation initiatives fail. In my experience, there are the few reasons why this happens. There is often an assumption that having a business case, a project plan, funding and resourcing is critical to digital transformation success. But this fails to acknowledge what role culture, alignment, leader readiness and effective execution teams play in project success. If leadership have different ideas around the why, the outcomes and the pace of change, it can become very difficult for underlying structures to execute on the company’s digital transformation plan. You can’t do everything all at once. The elephant is way too big. You need to cut it up into manageable pieces and then implement a more iterative/agile approach. Another big issue is that many organisations fall into the trap of only thinking about the technology. The customer, enabling and supporting the business and employees, product rationalisation, business model refinement, cutting time and reducing costs is just as important.

 What technology initiatives have helped your organisation to adapt given COVID-19?

FirstRand has always been forward looking and innovative. As with many companies around the world, our early rollout of Office 365 enabled us to mobilise quickly so that our employees could work from home. By the time COVID really hit South Africa in March, we were able to leverage our technology investments and our infrastructure so that we could get everyone to up and running remotely. This happened in a matter of days.

 How do you support the business with IT?

Local macro-economic pressures, compounded by the impact of the COVID-19 lockdown, have had a real impact on our customers and, subsequently, our business. It’s important for me, as a CIO, to align IT with the urgencies of business initiatives in this uncertain economic cycle. Above that, my role is to be a digital transformation catalyst for our digitally competitive future, a strategic technology advisor and a driver for medium-to-long-term technology value delivery. Retaining and shaping IT talent and cultivating a can-do virtually connected IT culture are a must if we want to support the business. This is a tall ask for any CIO. This is what I passionately strive to do; I’m not quite there yet. We have improved on many fronts but there is still an exciting journey ahead of us.

 Should digital transformation efforts emphasise customer experience, revenue growth or operational efficiency?

All of the above but the customer experience must be at the centre. Revenue growth comes from customers who want to see operational efficiency translated into a convenient and valuable experience. Due to SA’s economic and COVID-19 challenges, customer behaviour has changed and so the focus on the customer becomes that much more important. My sense is that we’ll also start to see customers choosing solutions from more conscientious companies with shared value initiatives that focus on having less impact on the environment and making meaningful contributions to society.

Any advice or tips that you think may be of interest to other c-suite executives?

My advice would be for both IT and business leaders to execute collaboratively and become true partners who respect and value each other and look out for each other. Similarly, you can increase capacity by forming partnerships with other organisations. Don’t execute in isolation.