Elaine Wang is an all-round tech enthusiast with a passion for the transformative power of the cloud for SMEs. She inspires and embodies tech leadership and is constantly finding innovative ways to solve problems. In this interview with Heath Muchena of Business Africa Online, Elaine explores innovations driving technology adoption, business leadership, and issues of diversity and inclusion in the technology sector.
Heath: You have a passion for helping SMEs figure out how technology can support their businesses. What’s your approach to engaging local enterprises?
Elaine: Rectron works indirectly through the various channels to help SMEs. We partner with our resellers to deliver technology solutions that help local enterprises run better. We are more familiar with the tech and how it can grow a business’s bottom line, so when we engage in our sales process, we aim to empower our resellers to communicate this value to the end customer.
Through the cloud solutions that we offer, we assist SMEs in collaborating better and being more productive, all while ensuring that their software is secure. Rectron’s SaaS solutions bring big business functionality at SME price points.
Heath: What are the trends you’ve noticed within African marketplaces in terms of uptake of enterprise cloud solutions?
Elaine: It is reality that infrastructure problems are holding back cloud usage in many African markets, but senior technology executives are accepting that cloud technology is a necessary ingredient for business growth. African marketplaces are in the early stages of development in terms of the uptake of enterprise cloud solutions but the impact of cloud services is already far-reaching.
For the African marketplace, cloud, virtualisation and the broader evolution towards serverless computing are the most disruptive technology developments since the advent of the mobile payment revolution. Infrastructure issues remain, but tech executives are realising that cloud technology is the way to optimise their IT costs, speed time to market and grow their businesses.
Heath: Your operations extend into countries such as Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Zambia. Any future plans to expand Rectron further into Africa?
Elaine: Rectron is well known to vendors and is recognised as being a distributor of choice for the South African and southern African ICT market. We will continue to forge close working relationships with vendors and facilitate joint business development by opening doors to our broad reseller network further into Africa. Our vendors work closely with our executive team to tap into new opportunities within our reseller partner base on African continent, leveraging Rectron’s core strength of being able to reach the breadth audience as a platform to mutual success.
Heath: Are we seeing enough innovation in the ICT/Tech space in SA? What challenges do you face under the current economic climate?
Elaine: The ICT/Tech space is critical to drive sustainable growth in South Africa and has shown strong output and investment in the past decade. The ICT sector continues to face challenges on a national level: education and skills shortages; job creation and empowerment; policy conflicts and regulatory failure have led to poor outcomes and slower development. A shortage of technical skills is the major challenge on company level and as technology continues to evolve rapidly we cannot always build on what has gone before, we must find new and novel solutions to the country’s unique challenges.
Heath: How do you develop consultation programs and training services to help drive adoption of technology and to ensure that businesses in Africa derive the maximum value from their technology investments?
Elaine: With a national footprint in the Southern African region, Rectron aims to provide excellent support to our customers with the purpose of assisting to drive the adoption of technology and ensure that businesses in Africa derive maximum value from their tech investment. To make the process as simple and as convenient as possible, Rectron offers online support services as well as walk-in face-to-face support in all major South African cities.
We have service centres located across the country staffed by skilled individuals who provide customers and end-users with service information, advice, returns, swap-out options and financing solutions. Our support staff can assist with assembly problems, preparing products for use, testing, configuration. They are readily available to provide support, advice and information.
Heath: What do you think is the best part of being a female leader in the tech industry and what advice would you give to women looking to break into the tech field?
Elaine: Being a female leader in tech, we really stand out! Women bring different views to the boardroom, which help to generate tangible business value. My advice to all women looking to succeed in the tech industry is to put up your hand to get involved, even when you are not sure if you should. Be brave and don’t back away from a new challenge, especially in a traditionally male-dominated environment. Through enthusiastically signing up for the next assignment, you are investing in the next steps of your career.
Rectron’s own programme, Basadi, was launched last year with the aim to empower the women at our company and to encourage each one to stand up and get involved. It’s really important that women support each other, and only by doing so, we will succeed in our goal of increasing female representation at all management layers within the company.
Heath: What is your biggest piece of advice for IT companies getting started with diversity and inclusion?
Elaine: Diversity and inclusion must be regularly discussed around the boardroom table; it requires buy-in from top management. Metrics should be put in place to evaluate the success of any such initiative. Organisations do well to involve their staff in Diversity and inclusion campaigns because diversity is meaningless without inclusion.
Heath: In your leadership role, how do you maintain a business focus while ensuring that innovation within the company stays on trend?
Elaine: Innovation is crucial to a business being able to improve its processes, bring new and improved products and services to market, increase its efficiency and, most importantly, improve its profitability. Whatever form it takes, innovation is a creative process. The ideas may come from inside the business, e.g. from employees, managers or in-house research and development work or outside the business, e.g. suppliers, customers, media reports, market research published by another organisation, or universities and other sources of new technologies.
Successful leadership requires that innovation becomes part of our thinking on every level. Business focus comes from filtering those ideas, identifying those that the business will take forward on and applying resources to achieve them.
Heath: How do you maintain work-life balance and what are your views on goals, timelines, and measuring success?
Elaine: I am goal driven by nature, and that has been key to the success that I’ve seen in my career. I believe that smaller goals are extremely important to one’s career as they represent milestones to reach – as they say, you eat an elephant one bite at a time. However, while I’m always looking forward to the next goal, I understand the importance of looking back and reflecting on my achievements. I’m fortunate that I work for a company that values family and work life balance. However, one trick that I have learned to be able to switch off from work is to remove email notifications on my phone.
Heath: What influences your leadership style and what values are important to you? How do you balance cooperation with others and independent thinking?
Elaine: I have been fortunate to have had some incredible managers in my career and I would say that they have heavily influenced my leadership style. Day-to-day, I strongly believe that one’s ability and willingness to learn is key to achieving success. While I believe it is important to have an opinion, any effective leader needs to be able to listen and mold their opinions, updating them with new information.
Thabo Mashegoane Appointed As Chairman of the Africa ICT Alliance (AfICTA)
The President and Board Chairperson of the Institute of Information Technology Professionals South Africa (IITPSA), Thabo Mashegoane, has been elected as Chairman of the Africa ICT Alliance (AfICTA).
Formerly the Vice-Chairman of AfICTA, he succeeds Engr. Hossam Elgamal from Egypt to become the third Chairman. AfICTA, a private sector-led alliance of ICT Associations, multinational corporations, companies, organisations and individuals in the ICT sector in Africa, aims to fulfil the promise of the digital age for everyone in Africa by encouraging dialogue and fostering ICT enabled development.
During an electronic election at the AfICTA Annual General Meeting on 25 November, Mashegoane was elected chair, while IITPSA Past President and Non-Executive Director Ulandi Exner was also elected AfICTA Vice-Chair for Southern Africa.
The election named the following board members and officers: Paul Rowney, Deputy Chair; Opeyemi Onifade, Treasurer; Dr. Waudo Siganga, Vice-Chair for East Africa; Engr. Assem Wahby, Vice-Chair, North Africa; Adetola Sogbesan, Vice-Chair, West Africa; and Eric Sindeu, Vice-Chair, Central Africa.
Thanking his predecessors for their service and leadership in the Alliance to date, Mashegoane noted that AfICTA was an organisation with a vast network, impact on critical policies, and reputation that took years and hard work to build. “Mine is to take the baton and continue where the honourable Engr. Hossam Elgamal has taken this organisation to. Of importance is the platform to enable African countries to collaborate and share best practices and lessons learnt with an objective of not leaving anyone behind in development. This is a vision we will continue to uphold. We stand in a critical position to influence attainment of Sustainable Development Goals 2030 through ICT.”
Speaking after the election, Mashegoane said digital inclusion and ICT-enabled development was also a key mission for the IITPSA in South Africa. “The IITPSA shares the vision and ethos of AfICTA. IITPSA has also stated that we need to step up efforts to achieve the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which, among other things, seeks to bridge the digital divide and harness technology to address major global challenges such as poverty, climate change and conflict, we need to work harder. At IITPSA, we believe this means we have to collaborate across industries, across countries, to deploy the benefits of ICTs for the good of all,” he said.
AI Media Group launches The Deal Room – Africa’s first AI-focused, free investment matchmaking service
The AI Media Group has launched The Deal Room, Africa’s first artificial intelligence (AI) focused, free investment matchmaking service which aims to connect African AI focused startups to interested investors and venture capitalists (VCs).
AI Media Group is the publisher of AI and Data Science quarterly magazine Synapse, the AI TV YouTube channel, as well as the curator and organiser of AI Expo Africa — Africa’s largest B2B / B2G trade-focused AI, Robotic Process Automation and Data Science conference — which has been a great success over the last three years.
The annual expo has seen AI Media Group amass a database of over 1000 companies, most of which are Africa-based tech startups, scale-ups or small and medium sized businesses. The company has regularly been asked by some of these firms to make introductions to investors and also observed the challenges faced by startups, such as access, transparency, intermediaries and fees.
Although AI Media Group has been able to connect some of these companies with investors in the past, the number of requests have been on the rise and the firm now wants to improve on this service in terms of scale, process formalisation and automation through the launch of The Deal Room.
The Deal Room will be hosted on the AI Expo Africa domain — www.aiexpoafrica.com — which is a popular platform for Africa’s Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) community with over 3 million hits a year allied to a vibrant LinkedIn Group with more than 4 000 members. The Deal Room’s primary aim will be to direct 4IR, AI and smart tech companies seeking funding to investors, VCs and organisations who are interested in backing firms in this rapidly growing sector.
The Deal Room has attracted six launch investment partners, namely; Cirrus AI, Cape AI Ventures, Knife Capital, E4E Africa, Britegaze & Intelligent Impact, with more set to join in the coming months.
Nick Bradshaw, CEO AI Media Group and co-founder of AI Expo Africa explained, “The main idea behind The Deal Room platform is to facilitate rapid matchmaking between an investor and 4IR / AI focused startups and scale-ups that align with the firm’s stage of growth. It’s often a minefield to find the right investor so we curated a group of like minded investors that are interested in this space or who have a track record of similar investments to date. This is a long awaited value add service for our community with no strings attached, no “middleman” and total transparency.”
The Deal Room’s launch investors cover a broad spectrum of the investment lifecycle and include; Cirrus AI CEO Gregg Barrett; Cape AI Ventures co-founder Pieter Boon; Knife Capital co-managing partner Andrea Bohmert; E4E Africa Ventures principal Bakang Komanyane; Britegaze CEO Reshaad Sha, and Intelligent Impact founder Aunnie Patton Power.
Sha stated, “BriteGaze Fund One’s primary purpose is to assist AI businesses to accelerate their growth in South Africa and across the African continent through the provision of growth funding and advisory services to expand into new verticals as well as new geographies.”
Boon stated, “We expect that the Deal Room could be a catalyst for startups in Africa!”
Power stated, “There is such a need for greater transparency for startups that are raising capital. We are excited to have this tool available to the market!”
Bohmert stated, “Investing in companies who solve real world problems applying deep AI capabilities is what we are looking for. We are very excited about The Deal Room and its ability to match startups with investors, embracing a partnership journey that is equally more about substance and less about the hype”.
Komanyane stated, “The Deal Room will help us identify new 4IR-focused companies that align with our investment goals in this sector, its a great innovation for the Africa tech scene and one we are proud to be associated with”
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Barrett stated, “The Deal Room by AI Media Group will assist in the development of Africa’s AI ecosystem and is therefore an initiative that we are enthused to support and participate in.”
Bradshaw concluded, “The Deal Room’s biggest selling point is there is no complicated paperwork, costs or loss of equity for companies looking to use the platform. They simply answer a set of confidential questions on the nature of their investment needs, details about their company, products or services and the AI Media Group then passes them on to the most appropriate investor(s). Just like internet dating, our goal is to make a perfect match and speed up the process of investment capital flowing into the African 4IR tech sector. We can’t wait to see the results!”
Startups and scale-ups looking to submit their requests for funding can do so via The Deal Room online submission process HERE
How Non-Techies Are Breaking Into Tech Jobs
Image credit: Tasnim Shamma/WABE
Technology startups are at the forefront of innovation. However, while there are plenty of opportunities to influence technological growth, many people lack the necessary training to succeed. This means people need to attend training programs designed to help acquire the skills needed to break into careers in tech. Many college graduates were prepared for jobs that no longer exist or will soon become antiquated.
A 2017 report by McKinsey found that around 50% of current work activities are “technically automatable”. With this in mind, the reason is clear why so many regular people are starting to consider jobs in technology.
Whatever statistic you want to use, one thing is for certain: millions of workers are vulnerable to automation, and many future jobs are in the technology industry.
As automation continues to take hold and disrupt new markets, there are a number of available programs to support people who want to transition into the tech industry. This article will discuss the three main paths being used to support workers in their transition: coding bootcamps, upskilling, and reskilling.
Coding Bootcamps as a Training Method
Coding bootcamps are short-term, intense training programs focusing on employment. Whereas college is focused on teaching a wide range of theoretical knowledge which builds the foundation for a career in Computer Science, coding bootcamps have one specific focus: to help people find jobs in tech.
A recent report on the bootcamp market found that 33,959 people graduated from coding bootcamp in 2019 alone, a 4.38% increase from the previous year.
Coding bootcamps, which have been around for about a decade, have grown in popularity because they promise to help people pursue specific careers in technology.
Bootcamps often position their courses in fields such as Data Sciencea and Web Development, both of which are expected to realize strong growth in the coming decades. Also, bootcamps bundle services such as career support and hiring partnerships together with offerings. These services assist people in their transition from a training program to a job.
Learning New Skills Through Upskilling
Often, a worker will be in a stable field but needs additional training to keep up with technological changes. For instance, a retailer may need to be trained in a few Sales tracking tools, or an Engineer may need to learn a new programming language. This type of training, called upskilling, is an important part of workforce training.
Upskilling refers to when people learn about new technologies to help them stay viable. While a particular job may not be directly affected by automation, new technologies have emerged, allowing employees to be more productive and efficient.
Many companies looking to largely incorporate technology in their business have in-house upskilling initiatives. The Guardian Life Insurance Company, for instance, is training its workforce in new technology like sensors used to improve underwriting and risk management procedures.
Upskilling allows people who work in more traditional roles – like Marketing, Business Development, Sales, and Payroll – gain exposure to new tech ideas, and may act as a springboard to further training opportunities. For instance, a marketer may be trained in how to use SQL to analyze campaign data. Also, after finishing an upskilling program, an employee may decide to commit to pursuing a career in tech, capitalizing on the skills acquired during training.
Reskilling Existing Workers
There is another training option in addition to coding bootcamps and upskilling which has become popular among technical training programs in recent years: reskilling programs. Reskilling programs are initiatives where a business invests in its workers and help build the skills employees need to remain viable.
In contrast to bootcamps, reskilling programs are designed for workers whose job is at risk of automation. An employer will create a training program in a field of growth within their business–the Cloud, for example–and offer some workers the opportunity to retrain in a new field. AT&T, for example, is investing $1 billion in workforce retraining. The telecom giant did so after learning only half of their employees had the skills needed to be protected from automation.
Reskilling programs have grown in popularity because they allow businesses to simply retrain existing employees instead of hiring a new workforce. Often, companies will work with external training providers such as Udacity to design a reskilling program and offer to retrain any employee whose job is likely to soon become obsolete.
Reskilling programs offer dedicated workers an opportunity to stay with a company while being trained for a job in tech. This is an especially worthy proposition for workers who do not want to invest months training beyond work hours. With a reskilling program, a worker can stay with an employer – and earn a paycheck – while being trained in the new skills they need.
Each training method mentioned above has the potential to support people who are breaking into tech from non-technical backgrounds. Upskilling, coding bootcamps, and reskilling options are only three of the many workforce training options being explored. Apprenticeships and education-as-a-benefit, among other programs, are being seen as additional ways for workers to gain new technical skills.
Automation presents a threat to millions of workers, but jobs in techare likely to keep growing and provide job security. But before workers can get a job in tech, they need to find the training, and that’s where coding bootcamps, upskilling, and reskilling have become crucial in the workforce development puzzle.