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Mahomed Shaik

Mahomed Shaik: Cultivating the Resilience Essential for Business Triumphs

In today’s rapidly evolving world, technology catalyzes positive change, shaping not only organizations but also the lives and communities they touch. Beyond merely streamlining processes and automating tasks, technology has the power to revolutionize the way we live, work, and interact with one another. When harnessed effectively and aligned with overarching business goals, technological initiatives become transformative forces, empowering employees, customers, and our businesses to work smarter, make informed decisions, and achieve unprecedented levels of efficiency. By embracing innovation and leveraging technology as a tool for progress, we unlock the boundless potential to uplift individuals, enhance communities, and drive positive global impact.

Mahomed Shaik, the CTIO of Blue Label Telecoms, is keen on driving meaningful changes at the intersection of technology, business, and digital innovation. With over two decades of experience, including a decade as a management consultant in diverse sectors and other leading industry initiatives, Mahomed brings a wealth of expertise to the table.

In our discussion with him, he talked about his primary responsibilities at Blue Label Telecoms.

Below are the highlights of our conversation!

Please brief us about yourself and what inspired you to embark on this sector.

I am Mahomed Shaik, passionately immersed in the intersection of technology, business, and digital innovation. My journey began as an entrepreneur in fashion retail, cultivating the resilience essential for business triumphs. Shifting gears to financial management, I mastered the art of interpreting and applying numerical insights, laying the foundation for my evolution into a technology-focused role. I have always been captivated by the intersection of finance and technology, and this fascination ultimately led me first to dive into the dynamic world of retail and now fintech.

From an early age, I found myself captivated by the rapid advancements in technology, from the rise of personal computing to the dawn of the internet age. I started coding at the age of 12, although I won’t say which language, as it will give my age away. This fascination only deepened as I witnessed the transformative power of technology to revolutionize industries, connect communities, and shape the way we live, work, and interact.

What began as a fascination with gadgets and gizmos soon evolved into a deeper appreciation for the underlying principles of computing, coding, transformation, and digital innovation. As I delved deeper into the world of technology, I became increasingly drawn to its potential to tackle some of the world’s most pressing challenges. Whether it’s harnessing the power of technology applications to improve and drive efficiency and productivity, leveraging blockchain technology to revolutionize finance and supply chain management, or exploring the boundless possibilities of artificial intelligence, data, or augmented and virtual reality, I saw technology not just as a tool but as a catalyst for positive change.

My journey in the technology sector is driven by a passion for exploring the frontiers of innovation, unraveling the mysteries of emerging technologies, and harnessing their potential to create a better, more connected world. It’s a journey marked by relentless curiosity, continuous learning, and a steadfast commitment to pushing the boundaries of what’s possible. My journey into the fintech industry is a blend of a deep-rooted interest in finance and a keen awareness of the transformative power of technology.

With a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) from the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS), I laid the foundation for a career that seamlessly merges my academic knowledge with hands-on experience. Over the years, I have accumulated expertise in Retail, Financial Services, Management Consulting and Fintech.

Could you give our readers an insight into your company and its inception story?

Blue Label Telecoms is a mobile technology company that specializes in prepaid products and the electronic distribution of virtual merchandise and value-added services, including the full and seamless reconciliation of billions of nano transactions.

“Anything that has alphanumeric characters, a barcode, or a QR code can be vended. As long as it can be digitized, it can be sold. The imagination becomes the limitation.” These are the words of Blue Label Telecoms Co-CEOs Mark Levy and Brett Levy. In the early 2000s, prepaid airtime for cell phones could only be accessed via a physical card, which was very impractical. The man in the middle (the distributor) may have only needed to stock up on a certain denomination of prepaid card (e.g., ZAR55) and would require a stock quantity of ten.

Distributing 10 cards was logistically problematic, as it would mean the distributor only received them in two to three weeks. The two brothers realized in the early 2000s that prepaid cellular products could be simplified for the customer (user), the distributor, and the supplier. This was the start of digitizing prepaid airtime through an electronic top-up pin. And as they say, the rest is history. Blue Label Telecoms now has an extended product range such as prepaid electricity, vouchers, gaming vouchers, ticketing (events and transport), and data solutions. Furthermore, Blue Label Telecoms has broad distribution channels (retail, financial services, etc.) and continues to grow its ecosystem.

Blue Label Telecom’s philosophy is to relentlessly drive financial inclusion for the mass market. This is achieved through our entrepreneurial flair and our proprietary technology platforms.

As a CIO, what do you consider your primary responsibility in driving the organization’s digital strategy and technology initiatives?

As the Group Chief Technology and Information Officer (CTIO), my primary responsibility in driving the organization’s digital strategy and technology initiatives revolves around aligning technology with the overall business objectives and ensuring that technology investments deliver tangible value and competitive advantages. Here are some key aspects of my role:

Strategic Planning: I work closely with the executive team to understand the organization’s strategic goals and identify how technology can support and enable those objectives. This involves developing a comprehensive digital strategy that outlines the roadmap for technology adoption, innovation, and transformation.

Technology Innovation: My team and I continuously assess emerging technologies and industry trends to identify opportunities for innovation that can drive efficiency, enhance customer experiences, and create new revenue streams. This involves evaluating the potential risks and benefits of adopting new technologies and championing innovation initiatives within the organization. Currently, we are modernizing our legacy technology platforms from the ground up so they apply the latest architecture approaches (microservices, composable, etc.), are API-first, and have security built in as a foundation.

Infrastructure and Operations: I oversee the management of the organization’s IT infrastructure, ensuring that systems, networks, and applications are secure, reliable, and scalable to support business operations. This includes implementing robust cybersecurity measures to protect against threats and ensure compliance with regulatory requirements.

Together with the rest of the Blue Label business, I lead the organization’s digital transformation efforts, guiding the adoption of digital technologies and processes to streamline operations, improve efficiency, and enhance agility. This includes digitizing manual processes, leveraging cloud computing, and implementing enterprise-wide digital platforms. At Blue Label, not only do we invest in technology to drive our digital transformation, but we also #leavenohumanbehind. Our workforce is key to our success, and as a result, we also invest in programs and training that transform our mindsets, our insights, and our competencies to succeed in this new digital world.

Stakeholder Engagement: I collaborate with key stakeholders across the organization, including business leaders, department heads, and external partners, to ensure that technology initiatives are aligned with their needs and priorities. This involves fostering strong relationships, communicating effectively, and managing expectations throughout the project lifecycle.

Talent Development: I ensure that the organization has the skills and expertise needed to support its technology initiatives. This includes promoting a culture of continuous learning and providing opportunities for professional growth and advancement. We have recently introduced a technology graduate program, which is resulting in tremendous value for technology and building a talent pipeline.

In your role, how do you prioritize and balance innovation with maintaining the stability and security of the organization’s IT infrastructure?

Blue Label, by nature, is very entrepreneurial. Entrepreneurship and innovation are rooted in our organizational values. Anchored in this entrepreneurial spirit that drives both our organization and myself, my team and I recognize the importance of striking this delicate equilibrium. It’s a dynamic journey where our shared ambition sometimes propels us ahead of our expectations.

By seamlessly integrating cutting-edge advancements with robust risk management practices, we fortify our systems against potential threats while fostering a culture of forward-thinking solutions. This journey is underpinned by a commitment to continuous learning and proactive vigilance, empowering our team to safeguard our digital assets. Through this approach, we not only drive sustained growth but also cultivate unwavering trust and confidence among our stakeholders.

Continuous improvement is key in technology. Can you share an example of how you’ve implemented process improvements or innovations to enhance IT efficiency?

Upon joining our organization, I immediately recognized a critical bottleneck hindering our ability to deliver new products, features, and updates to production promptly. The existing software deployment process relied heavily on manual steps for code review, testing, and deployment, leading to inconsistencies, errors, and prolonged lead times.

I took the reins in modernizing and streamlining our development process to tackle this challenge head-on and drive IT efficiency to new heights. This endeavor commenced with a thorough assessment and analysis of our existing processes, pinpointing bottlenecks, evaluating team structure and skills, and identifying areas ripe for improvement.

Armed with insights from our assessment, we swiftly implemented a series of transformative measures. We prioritized projects based on strategic importance, reorganized our delivery and development teams into focused business and application squads, and appointed scrum masters and product owners to spearhead day-to-day delivery and management tasks.

The pièce de résistance of our overhaul was designing and implementing a cutting-edge Continuous

Integration/Continuous Deployment (CI/CD) pipeline. This revolutionized our approach to software deployment, automating key processes and drastically reducing lead times.

The results speak volumes. Complex projects and solutions that might have taken over a year to deliver now take less than half that time. This monumental improvement has enhanced our efficiency and empowered our organization to tackle complex strategic projects with unparalleled agility and precision.

As a leader, how do you encourage a positive and innovative culture within your IT team, fostering creativity and professional growth among your team members?

In my role as CTIO, I prioritize the establishment of trust by consistently delivering on commitments and empowering my team members. It’s a top priority for us. My entire team now uses a trust equation within technology so that we can build trust with stakeholders, customers, and colleagues, which lays the foundation for productive collaboration and growth.

I believe in granting autonomy and ownership to our team members, fostering a sense of accountability and motivation. Besides, with the team I am blessed with, not only do I not need to micromanage, but they won’t let me! Embracing diverse perspectives and embracing both successes and failures as learning opportunities is key to our continuous improvement journey. We provide avenues for learning and development, coupled with regular feedback, to ensure that each team member has the tools they need to excel. While we work hard, we also play hard. The Blue Label technology team certainly loves a good party that allows us to let our hair down now and again.

By creating an environment where creativity is encouraged and achievements are celebrated, we cultivate a culture where innovation thrives and our collective potential is unleashed.