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Tebalo Tsoaeli

Tebalo Tsoaeli: Crafting Technology Strategies Aligned with Strategic Ambitions

What sparks a lifelong passion? For Tebalo Tsoaeli, it all began with a single line of code. Born in the picturesque town of Maseru, Southern Lesotho, his journey from a young dreamer to Chief Information Officer at the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) is nothing short of remarkable.

Raised in a nurturing environment, Tebalo’s thirst for knowledge led him to Machabeng College, the International School of Lesotho, where he laid the foundation for his future endeavors. It was here that he first delved into the world of programming, igniting a spark that would shape his career trajectory.

Fueled by his newfound passion for technology, he embarked on a journey of academic excellence. He pursued a BSc in Computer Science at the University of Natal, followed by an honors degree at the University of the Free State. But his thirst for knowledge didn’t end there. In 2012, Tebalo achieved a significant milestone by obtaining his MBA from Rhodes University, solidifying his expertise in both technology and business management.

Armed with a diverse skill set and a relentless drive for success, Tebalo’s professional journey led him to the pinnacle of the financial world—the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. As the CIO, he plays a pivotal role in steering one of Africa’s largest and most influential financial institutions towards technological innovation and digital transformation.

During our conversation with him, we had the opportunity to discuss his vision for crafting technology strategies in line with the JSE’s strategic ambitions.

Below are excerpts from the interview!

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

My journey began in the picturesque town of Maseru, in southern Lesotho, where I spent my childhood years. As education played a crucial role in shaping my life path, I obtained my high school qualifications from Machabeng College—International School of Lesotho. There, my interest in IT blossomed when, during my second year, I was exposed to programming and ultimately wrote my first piece of code. Further fueling my passion for knowledge and technology, I subsequently pursued a BSc in Computer Science at the University of Natal, followed by an honors degree at the University of the Free State. Then later, in 2012, I successfully attained my MBA from Rhodes University.

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

The JSE was established by Benjamin Woollan on November 8, 1887. His goal was to provide a platform for gold mining companies to raise capital to make the most of South Africa’s first gold rush.

Today, the JSE is the largest stock exchange in Africa, located in Johannesburg, South Africa, and is one of the top 20 exchanges in the world by market capitalization. The JSE provides a platform for the buying and selling of company shares listed on the exchange, as well as other financial instruments such as bonds, derivatives, and exchange-traded funds. It plays a crucial role in facilitating investment and capital formation in South Africa and the broader African continent.

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

Leading the way in developing and implementing innovative solutions and initiatives for the JSE technology portfolio is a top priority. Ensuring that the current technological landscape is effectively managed to surpass service levels, enhance cost-effectiveness, and deliver exceptional quality and service is paramount. Additionally, crafting the JSE Group’s technology strategy in line with its strategic ambitions is a key focus.

Can you share a specific example of a challenging IT project you successfully led, highlighting your problem-solving and leadership skills?

In 2022, we deployed an innovative information service, JSE Trade Explorer, leveraging big xyt’s Liquidity Cockpit for security analytics. Using the Trade Explorers’ unique peer group rankings, trading firms can explore their market share, examine how they interact with the order book, and view their trading performance.

When dealing with the intricate process of implementing cloud technology, I firmly believe that, as a leader, it is my responsibility to set a precedent by leading from the front and by example. During moments of uncertainty, it is vital for leaders to demonstrate their presence and guide their teams through the storm. This principle has been ingrained in my leadership approach throughout my various experiences.

Ultimately, thanks to the collective hard work of the team, our adoption of cloud technology has set us up in good stead with regards to implementing a modern scalable data platform that will enable our clients easy and seamless access to JSE data through a variety of modern channels (APIs, streaming services, digital portals, e.t.c.), introduce flexibility to our pushed and streaming data services, and re-imagine our data platform through flexibility and modernization.

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

As CIO at the JSE, I prioritize and balance innovation with maintaining the stability and security of our IT infrastructure by aligning our IT initiatives with the JSE’s overall strategic objectives, ensuring that any innovations support and enhance our core business operations. This entails constant risk assessment to identify potential vulnerabilities and understand the potential impact of new innovations on the IT infrastructure’s stability and security.

Furthermore, I collaborate closely with other business leaders, department heads, and operational teams to understand their needs and requirements. This ensures that any innovation introduced aligns with their objectives, while also incorporating necessary security measures.

Additionally, at the JSE, we invest in robust infrastructure by allocating sufficient resources to maintain a stable and secure IT infrastructure. This includes implementing the latest security measures, regularly updating and patching systems, and conducting ongoing monitoring and testing.

How do you stay updated on emerging technologies and trends, and how do you ensure your IT team remains well-informed and adaptable?

As a CIO, staying updated on emerging technologies and trends is crucial for maintaining a competitive edge. To achieve this, I prioritize continuous learning by attending industry conferences, seminars, and workshops. These events provide opportunities to gain insights into emerging technologies and trends, as well as to network with experts in the field. I also allocate time for research and analysis of emerging technologies and their potential impact on the financial industry. This involves reading industry publications, research papers, market reports, and monitoring technology news.

Furthermore, I regularly conduct research on industry publications, reports, and online resources. This helps me stay updated on the latest technological advancements and trends relevant to our organization’s IT needs. Additionally, I maintain a strong network of industry professionals and experts. By regularly interacting with them, I gain insights into cutting-edge technologies, best practices, and market trends. I also collaborate with technology partners, vendors, and consultants to exchange knowledge and insights.

Collaboration is crucial in technology leadership. Can you provide an instance where you fostered effective collaboration between IT and other departments to achieve a common goal?

In 2023, the JSE launched Colo 2.0 in partnership with Beeks and IPC. This advanced managed infrastructure as a service (IaaS) solution provides JSE clients with cloud-based colocation services.

This launch required the input of several key market players and divisions within the JSE. From IT and Capital Markets to Marketing and Corporate Affairs. This was a crucial step in the JSEs IT space, but everyone made crucial contributions to the successful launch and continued operations of the platform.

What methodologies or frameworks do you find most effective in managing IT projects, and why? 

I firmly believe in creating and showing value in the early stages of an initiative. Therefore, an agile methodology of delivering projects is one I find to be very effective, as not only does it allow you to show value in the early stages of a project, but it also allows you to fail fast and pivot when necessary. In addition, it helps mitigate the risk of failing at the end of a project and having to end up writing off exorbitant implementation costs.

Given the increasing importance of cybersecurity, how do you approach ensuring the organization’s data and systems are adequately protected?

Ensuring the security and protection of the JSE’s data and systems is of utmost importance to us; as such, we follow a comprehensive approach to cybersecurity. By conducting regular and thorough risk assessments to identify potential vulnerabilities and threats, we are able to understand the risks we face and prioritize our efforts accordingly.

We have a robust security framework that aligns with industry best practices and international standards. This includes implementing a combination of technical, administrative, and physical controls to protect our systems and data.

We conduct regular assessments and audits to evaluate the effectiveness of our security measures. This helps us identify any existing or emerging vulnerabilities and take appropriate actions to address them promptly. Finally, we recognize that human error can be a significant factor in cybersecurity incidents, as such, we mandate the completion of several employee awareness and training modules.

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

In 2022, we deployed an innovative information service, JSE Trade Explorer, leveraging big xyt’s Liquidity Cockpit for security analytics. Using the Trade Explorers’ unique peer group rankings, trading firms can explore their market share, examine how they interact with the order book, and view their trading performance. In 2023, the JSE, in collaboration with Beeks and IPC, deployed an advanced managed infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) solution that would provide cloud-based colocation services to JSE clients. The solution offers on-demand computing and analytics, allowing the JSE to provide its clients with a cutting-edge IaaS solution in a fully built, pre-installed environment.

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?

I understand the importance of fostering a positive and innovative culture within our IT team. To encourage this, I promote open communication. I believe in fostering an environment where team members can freely express their ideas and opinions. Regular team meetings and one-on-one sessions provide opportunities for open communication. This allows team members to share their innovative ideas and provide input on projects, fostering a collaborative and inclusive culture.

I encourage a culture of continuous learning by providing access to training and development resources. This includes encouraging team members to attend relevant industry conferences, workshops, and webinars. Additionally, I support and sponsor certifications and professional development courses to enhance their skills and knowledge.

Furthermore, I am a strong advocate of experimentation. To encourage innovation, I encourage team members to experiment with new technologies and methodologies.

Please provide us with a few client testimonials as well as any awards or recognition that accurately reflect your achievements in this industry.

In 2016, I participated in The Future CIO Programme by the Gordon Institute of Business and WIPRO. I was also a member of the International Executive Development Programme (IEDP) with BANKSETA and Duke Corporate Education. Then in 2017, I was awarded second place in the FNB CodeFest Hackathon. My proudest achievement, however, will always be my two beautiful daughters, aged 12 and 5.