When business and technology converge to convey strategy

This article was originally published in the September issue of Brainstorm Magazine. Click here to read the full article


Technology and business are converging, and CIOs have to become key partners for the business, says TIH CIO, Justin Freeman. After a false start in law, Freeman switched to a programming course. He joined TIH as a sales agent and immediately embarked on a campaign to persuade the then-Head of IT to allow him to join the IT department. “I was extremely fortunate he took me under his wing,” he says. He left TIH after four years to get experience in other industries, and rejoined the company in 2009 as a senior developer, working his way up through the ranks to his current position. Along the way, he has held positions as Head of IT for various parts of the TIH business. TIH is a multi-brand financial services company with household names like Auto & General, 1st for Women, DialDirect, Budget Insurance and 1Life in its stable. “TIH has always been an innovative company and pioneered many firsts in the financial services sector,” Freeman says. “I couldn’t imagine working anywhere else: the pace of the innovation is addictive.”

TIH is the ideal company for a techie like Freeman because technology has always been seen as an integral part of the business. Of course, that means technology aficionados have to position themselves as true partners within the business, which means they need to understand the business inside out. Freeman completed a postgraduate diploma in management at the Gordon Institute of Business Science to give himself a general understanding of business, but, he says, `growing up’
in the business provided the real education. “You need to understand how the business works to be able to ask the right questions, and understand what solutions the business is looking for,” he says. “I always tell young IT professionals that tech isn’t enough— you have to understand what the business wants, even before it knows!” Like all CIOs, the biggest challenge of the past year has been the massive changes prompted by lockdown. Freeman’s IT team was able to enable a virtually seamless transition to remote working, the company had adopted a hybrid multi-cloud strategy and, specifically, had moved onto Microsoft Office 365 just prior to lockdown. He uses both Amazon Web Services and Azure, and has a particularly close relationship with Microsoft. Another key partner and service provider was MTN, which worked closely with the TIH IT team to ensure that all employees had the connectivity solution best suited to their geographic position in place. “In essence, we suddenly had multiple mini-head offices all over the place, and each one had to be able to function,” he says. “The big challenge was ensuring they each had the connectivity and equipment needed, including routers and SIMs. Eskom’s load-shedding didn’t help. “Special credit is due to my IT team, which really banded together to ensure that what needed to be done was done.” Looking forward, Freeman says that financial services companies will come under increasing pressure to personalise not only their offerings, but the whole customer experience. “Data, artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things will drive everything,” he says