TechFinancials interviewed Mickey Mashale, the new boss of Nexio, in a wide-ranging discussion that touched on women’s equality, empowerment, digital transformation and the fourth industrial revolution (4IR).
South Africa’s digital system aggregator and solution provider, Nexio, announced last month that it has appointed Mashale as CEO. For more read: SA’s Tech Firm Nexio Taps Mickey Mashale as New CEO
In an interview with TechFinancials, Mashale unpacks her views on transformation in the ICT sector and how is Nexio embracing 4IR and helping companies on their digital journey.
She also talks about how Nexio is adding value to its parent company, Vodacom.
What is your view on women empowerment in the ICT industry?
This Women’s Month, we need to acknowledge how far we have come to get to where we are, whilst looking forward to what lies ahead of us. For as long as we still have gender stereotypes, work and life barriers, there is still a tremendous amount of work to be done. We need to normalise women leaders in the workplace and women need to occupy any leadership position without it being a novelty. The baton has been passed on to us and we are in the spotlight.
A substantial amount of transformation still needs to take place. In terms of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) industry, I believe we still have a long way to go when it comes to addressing issues of transformation, in particular gender equality and women empowerment.
How does it feel being one of a handful of women CEO’s in the ICT sector?
It is a privilege and honour to be appointed as a woman leader in the information and communication space as it is a particularly male-dominated sector. It is a sad reality that in 2020 we still see this as an exception meaning very few women in the role instead of it being the norm, given the demographics of our country and the many capable women that can augment the current capabilities that we have and it should not be about faces, but merit and demographics and more so creating opportunities. My view is that the industry has been a male-dominated field for too long. You still find in many organisations that the male counterparts do not even have the right qualifications, whilst on the other hand, women always know that they need to work three times harder to get recognised, but they by far exceed some of the people in the positions.
While technology has evolved, the telecommunication industry has been lagging in changing industry perceptions in terms of gender representation. Therefore, I believe as women in leadership positions, we owe it to ourselves to play a critical role in repositioning and transforming our industry.
Recently, PWC issued a report stating that there are only 6% or 19 women in an executive position at the JSE listed companies. How could this gender gap be closed? Why is it so difficult for women leaders to be given top positions in big companies?
Gender stereotyping stands out as a key barrier because it works on self-esteem and confidence. Men are viewed as psychologically and biologically wired to belong in the corporate work environment and their direct and firm approach is more tolerated by women and men alike.
The social construct that the corporate environment is a male domain is incompatible with the social construction of female distinctiveness. Therefore, a woman is misplaced in the corporate work environment and is not supposed to be there more, especially in a leadership or technical role.
The bottom line is that there are more men in the corporate environment, and they shape the ethos, the culture as well as the tone of discourse, and this needs to change.
There are also other barriers such as family responsibility and starting families.
To close the gender gap, I believe that employers must have policies and practices that promote gender diversity, which addresses stereotypes and remove unconscious biases. Families and partners must provide moral and psychological support. Importantly, the government and regulators should legislate and monitor progress and hold companies accountable.
How is Nexio embracing 4IR and how are you planning to position the company in that space?
In order to embrace the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), Nexio, previously known as StorTech used to only be a Storage Technology Services organization – we had to ensure that we start to internally transform before convincing our customers that we can partner them on their journey.
We have created an integrated, secured digital platform offering full visibility and control. This allows the CIO to drive and deliver on their own digital transformation and business strategy, enabling them to create new revenue streams. This is part of our own Digital Transformation strategy which has to address how we can do things smarter, more effectively and much quicker. We have expanded the business to offer a complete solution set, including a single view digital platform, multi-cloud, data centre, workforce transformation, big data analytics and security.
This has led us to explore all technologies including RPA where not only are we implementing internally for our processes but commercializing this and taking it to market as RPAaaS. We’ve since evolved to become a trusted partner for the digital future and help our customers to focus on fulfilling their own business strategy, enabling them to be proactive rather than reactive.
Do you believe that South Africa is ready for 4IR?
The Fourth Industrial Revolution is here. We are using technology to reimagine how we live and work, which is precisely what 4IR is all about. Some of the technologies are still in their infancy stages, and we are going to see many new uses and applications of technology over the next few years, but we are already in the full swing of this revolution.
In our personal lives, we have almost instantaneous access to information and the ability to find out whatever we want to, whenever we need to. Most people think of this in the context of social media, but it is changing how much we know about things. Ordinary people today do not have to have a degree in astrophysics to know about supernovas and supermassive black holes. In our work lives, the effect of technology is even more pronounced. The pace of work has never been faster, and as we learn to leverage technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) more effectively as they mature, the way we work and what we do will continue to change.
There is no doubt that the nature of work is changing, but I believe that the predictions that machines will be doing all our work for us are missing the point. There are going to be many jobs that are currently done by humans that are going to be fully automated. However, these automated processes and the machinery and software that will make them work will need human intervention and supervision to make sure they are doing what they need to. Exactly, the same fears were raised when computers were first introduced to the workplace, but instead of putting us all out of work, they created new jobs and opportunities. Even those positions that became redundant, such as typists, led to the upskilling of people to allow them to take on new roles and responsibilities.
In fact, the technologies of 4IR hold the potential to solve some of the most critical socioeconomic needs we have today, including poverty and unemployment. Connectivity-reliant technologies, such as virtual and augmented reality, can deliver high-quality health, education and other services to residents, businesses and institutions that typically would not have access to such services.
South Africa is ready to embrace 4IR with the help of the public and private sector. However, there is a long way to go before South Africans can enjoy the fruits of innovation-led prosperity. Firstly, a sufficient supply of advanced engineering talent needs to be in place. Beyond this, people in regular jobs need to develop the skills to deal with the disruptive effects of new technologies in their work environment. The future of South Africa’s education system might be the most important consideration in its journey towards the 4IR.
As the Fourth Industrial Revolution unfolds, South Africa can adapt to new techno-economic paradigms that can help create jobs, drive inclusion and sustainability.
What does the future hold for Nexio and what can customers expect from the organization?
Last year when we rebranded from StorTech, which has long been associated with high quality storage, data centre technology and networking solutions to Nexio, this was part of the organisation’s strategy approach to best meet the digital needs of businesses today. Nexio now provides all the solutions offered by StorTech, as well as a number of new solutions. These solutions have been developed to enable organisations to modernise their environments, adopt new technologies and solve legacy problems. As stated earlier, Nexio’s solutions now include fully managed security, multi-cloud, workforce transformation, big data offerings, as well as its pioneering digital platform, a solution that enables organisations to gain complete visibility and control over every technology, system and process deployed by the business. Wherever your organisation is on its digital journey, the new digital platform can link disparate systems to provide an integrated ecosystem for the future. As the organisation has undergone its own digital transformation journey, it has evolved its solutions set to help its customers achieve their digital transformation goals, using the experience we have gained alongside the world-class technologies, partnerships and skills we have been investing in.
How do you intend to bring about change for Nexio, its customers and stakeholders?
Key to our transformation is a move away from just product lead strategy. We now engage consultatively with customers, understand and be part of their strategic formulation process as strategic advisors and work with them through the best of breed technologies to deploy, maintain and support the environment. We are transforming the business from transactional relationships to more long-term investments to prove our commitment and the fact that we are in it for the long haul with our customers.
Soon to follow up from our RPAaas is logical adoption of ML/AI, Blockchain etc. This is the bigger realm of automation and being data-driven. Data is a new currency, thus working with our customers through a journey of the securing, management and intelligent use of their data is just some of the exciting new developments.
Nexio recently launched a brand new campaign, what is the strategy behind the brand and how does it align with your mandate?
The rebranding was part of the organisation’s strategic approach to best meet the digital needs of businesses today. We now provide all the solutions offered by StorTech, as well as a number of new solutions.
What is it like executing your plans around the company after taking over just as the pandemic got on the world’s radar?
Initially, it seemed like a daunting task but I had to quickly rise up the challenge and look to how do I ensure I steer the ship to the other side profitability but more importantly how do I ensure that we don’t miss the mark as a critical service, we had to be there for our customers, those that could keep the operations and those who had to suspend services. We had to make sure we moved quickly and enabled our customers’ requirements as they moved from office-based to remote working. Thus, this became an opportunity to test even more our agility and flexibility because entities could not take a 3months project rollout, they needed continuity of service regardless of where their employees were – and this to happen securely. The Nexio team certainly rose with me to this challenge.
Have you completed your strategy?
It can never be complete, the strategy is forever evolving, but linking to the year ahead I had to give a budget to the shareholders. The strategy is constantly under review given the changing needs of my customers and as COVID-19 showed us even our macro environment. Imagine the 5-year strategies that were signed off from January to March. If those were not reviewed to ensure the survival of the companies, those companies might not be around next year.
What are the real pressing key issues for you right now as a new CEO?
Business Continuity – this is applicable to the business and internal stakeholders as well as ensuring our customers get through this period, whether we already look at it as post-COVID-19 or not yet. We as their trusted partner must be able to partner with our customers through this difficult period. Given the revenue impact of over 80% of the customer base due to the lockdowns, customers are looking for partners that are willing to look at alternate models in delivery during these challenging times. Employees want the certainty of employment and we owe it to them to evolve the company to stay relevant, we owe it to them to transform them into new and required skills into the future. Keeping Nexio relevant to my customers today and tomorrow is my biggest obsession.
Nexio is owned by Vodacom, how does Nexio complement or add value to Vodacom? How does Nexio benefit from Vodacom’s parent company Vodafone?
As mobile became the norm Vodacom strategy had to look to alternate revenues. It was befitting that they looked at fixed communications. We were part of the acquisition strategy that Vodacom underwent to build a Converged Operator. But given a mobile heritage, convincing customers that they could do mobile, fixed, and system integration would have taken a long time, thus acquiring a System Integrator quickly provided credibility to an end-to-end provider or beyond mobility strategy. Nexio being smaller and agile is able to be an incubator for some of Vodacom’s business propositions but more importantly, we are able to use Vodacom Business as our Channel to Market to access their customer base. We are also a centre of excellence for Managed Services offerings including Managed Security Services. In the Vodacom Multi-Cloud proposition, Nexio is the Microsoft Azure Centre of Excellence to complete the offering. Watch this space on leveraging the wider Vodafone footprint.
Do you have plans to buy businesses facing financial challenges? If so, any targets so far?
Not necessarily only be looking at those facing financial challenges, but we will be continuously looking at complementary capabilities and future capabilities where organic growth will result in a lost opportunity. Once again, watch this space.
Are you bullish about Nexio’s opportunities in the coming months?
Most definitely yes.
What really attracted you to Nexio?
The opportunity that lies ahead, we are at the epitome of how each and every company in each and every industry functions. We are responsible for enabling the operations on 24/7. Getting their data securely to their employees, customers, and all stakeholders – no boundaries. We enable real-time decision making and intelligence to enable our customers to stay ahead.