Insight Circle

Collaboration, empathy and upliftment – a powerful and winning combination

Zoaib Hoosen is one of South Africa’s most distinguished tech leaders. A director at IBM, COO and later Managing Director at Microsoft SA, and now serving on the Boards of the South African Reserve Bank and Gordon Institute of Business Science as well as fulfilling his role as Adjunct Chief Digital Officer at IQbusiness. Zoaib is a man who uses his deep experience and insight into the digital economy to help businesses understand the benefits of digital transformation.

Zoaib took some time from his busy schedule to discuss his views on the digital economy and why he believes there is now, more than ever, a need for technology leaders to focus on collaborating to uplift their sector.

The road less travelled pays off

Zoaib says when he told his family that he was choosing a career in technology he was met with surprise. In the depths of Apartheid South Africa, parents of colour traditionally looked to the security of the professions for their children. Shunning the prospect of becoming a teacher, dentist or lawyer, Zoaib’s BSc in Computer Science and Mathematics at the University of Durban Westville was his first bold step on the road less travelled.

Looking at his journey thus far, Zoaib says he was fortunate to have worked at two of the most respected technology brands over the past three decades, which resulted in his deep understanding of the opportunities of technology.

“My 22 years at IBM and nine years at Microsoft allowed me such deep insight into the incredible opportunity that tech offers. The last ten years in particular have seen the real impact of Moore’s Law as the power of technology grows exponentially,” he explains.

Looking at his most recent engagements Zoaib likens the last 15 months to a college student’s ‘gap year’, where he has been able to experience all the excitement of what the 4th Industrial Revolution has to offer.

“The impact of this revolution is really changing society. This is no longer just about business, this revolution has far reaching implications – on science, on health, on society and humanity. Using the resources of the 4th Industrial Revolution that we have now to close the digital divide can make a meaningful difference and it’s this that excites me every day.”

Things will never be the same again – and that’s great

We asked Zoaib to share his unique insight into what he sees as the three big trends of the moment.

“If one were to look at digital trends in 2020, you cannot escape ‘acceleration’ as the biggest trend, fueled by the pandemic. I think the Microsoft CEO best encapsulated this when he said recently that they have seen two years-worth of digital transformation in two months as a result of the current pandemic. It’s also important to remember that this digital adoption is not like an elastic band. It won’t go back to how it was before. The steps forward we have made will only be built upon in the future, and with a lot more confidence than before, which is a real benefit for business leaders who have been trying to encourage digital transformation.

“The second trend has been an almost violent impact on business models as a result of the Covid pandemic. In many cases companies have had to pivot in a very short space of time, sparking innovation in response to the need to survive.’’

The third trend Zoaib has identified is trust, and he says that the need for trust has also accelerated in the wake of our unusual times.

“There have been bad actors who have used the pandemic to further their own agendas, whether political or financial. The idea of trust has really come to the fore and with the increased consumer demand for it, companies are going to have to prove their worth with trust as the biggest cornerstone on which they will be judged.”

A conversation with someone of his experience would be incomplete without a peek into what he sees as the key technologies business leaders should be looking out for.

“No look to the digital future would be complete without discussing the opportunities of cloud. All things cloud (Platform as a Service, Software as a Service as well as Infrastructure as a Service) will offer companies the opportunity to do things more efficiently. SaaS is enabling companies to continue to operate during lockdown.

“Then, while I don’t see the big impact of 5G happening in the very near term, the fact that it's rolling out now means we can expect some exciting opportunities into 2021 (a significant enabler of new IOT use cases). Of course the roll out of Wifi6 will also have its benefits. All of the above fostering faster secure access enabling new use cases.  South Africa’s main challenge will be to address affordable inclusive access across the country. Thereby ensuring that ALL South Africans can participate equally in a world where how we work, live, study and play is being reset due to the pandemic.  This will naturally drive the need for all things data (from collection to insights to AI).

How do we rise by lifting each other?

On a slightly more philosophical level, Zoaib says the concept of Tech for Good will become a widely discussed issue.

 One of the issues that fascinates Zoaib is how technology can be used to uplift communities. He points to an IQBusiness initiative, the Not for Profit company, Covid Business Rescue Assistance or Cobra, a collective of local consultants, business rescue companies, and legal firms which was set up in response to the immediate hardships faced by small businesses in South Africa as a result of the Covid-19 economic fallout.

In a parting thought, Zoaib looks to his legacy: “You cannot be afraid of learning, in a world changing as fast as this, you must have the courage to take risks – you always learn from your decisions and this defines your future. I hope my lasting impact on IQBusiness will be to ‘digitally’ equip the company to deliver on its purpose, which is to grow people, to grow business and to grow Africa. If I could say I played a role in delivering that outcome, then I would be very proud.”

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