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Gijima’s Shubna Harilal Talks Women in Tech, Digital Transformation and Tech’s Next Big Thing

Shubna Harilal is the Managing Director of Technology Solutions at Gijima, a South African ICT company that leads in Cloud, Outsourcing, Systems Integration, Healthcare, Human Capital & Occupational Hygiene, Training, Cybersecurity, Unified Communication and more.

It is one of the largest ICT companies in Southern Africa and is 100% black-owned.

Recently, ITNA’s Luis Monzon had the opportunity to reach out and chat with Shubna about her passion for ICT, her rare status as a woman executive in African technology, her insights on Gijima’s forays into the continent’s digital transformation, and the technologies that will drive the future.

Here’s what transpired:

  • From everything I’ve read about you, Shubna, it is evident that you are a person that is fiercely passionate about TECH. I assume this passion began very early in your education and career?

Absolutely – I was mesmerized by computers back in the day. Started off my career wanting to be a “Genetics Engineer” and veered off into the Computer Science world and the rest is history.

  • What is it about tech that drives you? What is it that fuels this passion?

Foremost, it is the creativity employed that allows one to transform the way we live, communicate, and consume.

This ability to create and invent new products and markets is what ignites my passion (looking at geniuses of our time like Larry Page, Jeff Bezos and others).

The journey never ends – just when you think you have the ultimate solution – you are always surprised by the exponential transformation that tech brings to our worlds.

At the epicentre of it all is the ability to change the lives of people – to bridge the digital divide and to make the world “boundaryless” – one does not need expansive resources to experience or influence.

I assume it was this passion that led you to Gijima and to the upper echelon of management there. Gijima is a company that seems to have its fingers in many pots, a truly diversified portfolio, however, a theme emerges with Gijima and that theme is TRANSFORMATION.

  • What have been Gijima’s most important and influential forays into Digital Transformation in Africa?

Gijima is entrenched in South Africa and understands the challenges faced by communities on the African continent within the social, economic and political spaces.

Our services and solutions are based on “enabling people to create their own future” by providing technology-enabled platforms that give the opportunity for people and organisations to access services, access information, staying connected, making informed decisions and developing cutting edge solutions for most challenges facing society.

In healthcare, we are strongly focused on building a patient-centric ecosystem on secure digital platforms. The intent here is to bridge the digital divide between the public and private sector worlds providing a single view of the patient through secure and fast data exchanges, accelerated processes and improved quality of medical diagnoses.

Using our platform and Artificial Intelligence, we would like to deliver more targeted treatment to patients in the future.

Most importantly we are changing gears and moving healthcare out of the boundaries and confines of the hospital walls – taking it to the home of the patient. The “new normal” has catapulted the drive for a transformed service bringing Telehealth to the fore – which speaks to the need for virtual consultations, diagnosis and treatment.

For the doctors and nurses, we are transforming day to day operations by embracing IoT, AI and robotics to enable more automated patient care.

Gijima has proudly built the public-private cloud for SITA, the first-of-its-kind in South Africa. This enables SITA to provide rapid enablement of infrastructure and to rationalize and consolidate spend.

  • How is Gijima helping transform Africa right now?

Gijima is in a position to grasp the opportunity in shaping the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) and directing it towards a future that reflects our objectives and values.

To do this, we are committed to developing solutions and services in response to how the new normal that we are facing is affecting our lives and reshaping our economic, social, cultural, and human environments.

There has never been a time of greater promise, or one of greater potential.

Today’s decision-makers, however, are too often trapped in traditional, linear thinking, or too absorbed by the multiple crises demanding their attention, to think strategically about the forces of disruption and innovation shaping our future.

In the end, it all comes down to people and values.

We need to shape a future that works for all of us by putting people first and empowering them. In its most pessimistic, dehumanized form, the Fourth Industrial Revolution may indeed have the potential to “robotize” humanity and thus deprive us of our heart and soul.

But as a complement to the best parts of human nature—creativity, empathy, stewardship—it can also lift humanity into a new collective and moral consciousness based on a shared sense of destiny. It is incumbent on us all to make sure that the future is human.

It is this understanding that ensures the relevance of Gijima not only in South Africa but in the broader African market to warrant continuous growth, development and evolution of our people and customers. 

  • Gijima is unlike other Big Tech companies – it has more women than men in its stable of executives. As one of these women, what does it mean to have female leadership in tech?
  • What advice would you give to burgeoning tech professionals who are women?

It is so refreshing to be unshackled of the gender bias that prevails in many corporate corridors.

The ethos that we drive in Gijima is that “none of us is as good as all of us”. Having female leadership in tech gives us the ability to build an inclusive culture – to shift the dial and allow the uniqueness of the female gene to be embraced.

As we move into the new era – having a diverse leadership team in all aspects – makes Gijima a compelling force in the market. It brings a dynamic new normal to business in South Africa.

My advice for young women tech professionals – you must claim your seat at the table, always be guided by your inner purpose and let that lead the way. Don’t be blindsided by the need to fit in a box!

Don’t let organisational and societal factors limit your ability to reach the top. We are blessed at Gijima as diversity is spearheaded from the top. That said, everyone has a role to play in changing the status quo, be it in his or her capacity as an individual, as an organisational leader or as a member of society.

Recently, Gijima acquired T-Systems SA – a massive boon in terms of access to international IP, and expertise.

  • What does this acquisition really mean for Gijima’s efforts in digital transformation?

Strategically at Gijima, we are transforming our business from being technology-led to being purpose-led.

Our strategic intent is to build the platform business of the future that services 85% of the population of South Africa with the possibility of expanding into other African markets.

In shaping the digital future with our customers – we can shape how on-demand changes demand and embraces multi-cloud strategies as we now own a tier 3 data centre.

The acquisition enhances our cybersecurity capability: delivering robust and intelligent security services to secure platforms, and secure how access is authorised and controlled.

Most importantly the acquisition has given us the ability to expand our market share in key verticals, like healthcare.

Gijima now manages in excess of 80% of the private Healthcare hospitals as well as key public sector hospitals and clinics in South Africa. At its most basic level, we are digitizing healthcare for the citizens of the country and levelling the playing field.

The world of tech moves quickly, I don’t have to tell you that – ICT is an ever-changing landscape. Over the last few years, big buzz-terms like 4IR and IoT have gained traction and have been injected into the popular zeitgeist.

  • What does Gijima believe will be the next huge movement in tech, and what is the company doing to capitalise on this move?

Gijima believes that the next movement in tech has to be Cloud Services/Data-as-a-service/ Edge AI PaaS (AI Platforms and Marketplaces) as well as Cybersecurity.

The COVID-19 crisis has dramatically accelerated digital transformation of corporations.

As companies hasten to build tools and capabilities and develop resilience in response to the pandemic world – due to the need for a large percentage of the workforce to work from home, provisions of quality healthcare with limited resources, learners having no choice but to access learning material online, consumers choosing to make online purchases and citizens having to access basic services online, adopting and leveraging from technology has become critical.

From AI on the edge to 5G steering Industry 4.0, from automated artificial intelligence (AI) and cognitive science to gamification enabling learning and skills development – these technology applications are creating big opportunities in the era of the digital enterprise.

The rise of AI platforms and marketplaces will provide insights into use cases that will inform the response to specifically match unique pain points within the public and the private sectors.

These trends have shifted our focus towards the development of technology-enabled platforms. These technology platforms, rendered easy to use by smartphones, convene people, assets, and data—thus creating entirely new ways of consuming goods and services.

Most great technologies aren’t considered to be revolutionary until they reach the public en masse.

For Africa to bridge the digital divide within Health, Education, Food Security, etc. it is imperative that we leverage technology that will give us access to data to make informed decisions.

By Luis Monzon
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