Let there be change – the world of technology and leadership

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Vukani Mngxati | CEO | Accenture in Africa | mail me |


Let There Be Change is a podcast series looking at the world of technology and leadership in a hyper-fast and constantly evolving environment.

In this episode, I look at key issues including what type of leader will thrive in Metaverse; what new skills are needed; how the rapid advance of technology is impacting humans and why digital leaders have an obligation to keep up with the ongoing global revolution.



Accenture’s CEO Vukani Mngxati speaks about the metaverse

Vukani Mngxati

The reality is that not one company or not one person can solve the crisis of skills. For example, to deal with the metaverse question, or for that matter, we must be able to be interconnected with other parties that may be hyper scalers, who are building technologies that enable us to play on the cloud. The metaverse requires that to be successful.

Jeremy Maggs

Simply put, the metaverse describes the blurred boundaries between the physical, digital and biological worlds. It’s a coming together of rapid and exciting advances in artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things, 3D printing, genetic engineering, quantum computing and other technologies. This brave new world requires a new type of leadership. Let there be change is a new podcast series from Accenture in Africa as we look at the world of technology and leadership in a hyper-fast and constantly changing environment. Vukani Mngxati is the Chief Executive Officer of Accenture in Africa, on Jeremy Maggs, and a very warm welcome to you.

So Vukani, in the world of technology, there is a need for a different type of leadership. We’re going to get to that in just a moment. My opening question is, why is the subject important to you?

Vukani Mngxati 

The reality is that technology changes; it changes all the time, which means that you need different types of people to think about what’s next. You know, you can’t be stuck in the past. Do you know what happens when you get stuck in the past? You eventually die. So we’re looking for a new breed of leaders, I guess, who understand what’s going on in the world, get it and therefore take advantage of it. The reality is that technology is there to improve our lives. But if you don’t take advantage of it, Jeremy, the likelihood is that you will be obsolete, and whatever it is that you do, it’s very important.

Jeremy Maggs 

I like the phrase ‘leaders who get it’ what do they have to get? In other words, what type of new leader do we need in this metaverse?

Vukani Mngxati

You know, so first of all, we’re looking for someone who understands the technology itself. What is it? What’s the metaverse? Why on earth would someone produce an idea called metaverse? What will it do for us in the future, as individuals like me and you, you know, how will we interact with the metaverse? It is if you deeply understand what the vision is, then you can do something about it. But unless you do, it’s very tough because it just happens to you if you don’t understand it. As opposed to you being on top, you can’t influence anything; you can bring it closer so you can bring it to your firm. And I guess that’s the disadvantage of not being on top of things and understanding what’s happening.

Jeremy Maggs 

So specifically, what sort of skills are needed. As you think about that, do we have a deficit in that respect in South Africa?

Vukani Mngxati

Look, I think the skills required to interact in the metaverse are tech skills, and I have always said that one of the things you’ve missed the most in the country is digital transformation skills. But remember what the metaverse is about, it’s about building a virtual world, which is outside of our existence, that you can interact with, that we can do things with.

Jeremy Maggs 

That has practical and sometimes profitable consequences.

Vukani Mngxati

Absolutely.

Jeremy Maggs

Not just to have fun.

Vukani Mngxati

Correct. What, therefore, that means is that we need to have people who understand how to build these technical technology solutions on the metaverse so that companies can use them. So I guess the point is the skills that we require as a nation or as companies to be relevant and interact with the metaverse in the right way. We simply just need short of generally speaking in the country; they’ve got to ramp up.

Jeremy Maggs

So how do you do that? How do you fix it?

Vukani Mngxati

This is a national crisis. As I’ve said before, the digital skills issue is not just on the metaverse. It’s across the board in everything we do. You talk about cloud skills – any other cloud-native solutions we use to drive business outcomes and have just been missing. At the same time, we have millions of young people who don’t have jobs. So, why do we not build a proper model for the country that you could use to build the skills? Because we’ve got people and what’s missing is the ability to connect the digital skills that we require in the country with the people we have and create magic, the solution lies right there.

Jeremy Maggs

Part of the solution is also the company ensuring that there is collaboration right across the supply chain. How do you get that right? Because often, you’re at odds with the very competitive nature of what the metaverse is.

Vukani Mngxati 

The reality is that not one company or not one person can solve the crisis of skills, for example, dealing with the metaverse question. Or, for that matter, we’re required to be able to be interconnected with other parties. It may be hyper scalars, for instance, who are building technologies that enable us to play on the cloud. And the metaverse requires that to be successful. It may be someone I’m competing with today, but for purposes of this, I need them to be part of the picture so they can help me build what I need. And I think just as a principle, here’s what I believe: if you want to create a robust solution, you cannot do it alone. You need partners. You need people in the same headspace as you who will help you build what you’re looking to develop. So I think the issue of partnership is critical.

Jeremy Maggs

But challenging to achieve given the competitive environment within which all of these entities are working.

Vukani Mngxati

Indeed, it’s not easy. But if you just go beyond yourself, and think about the bigger picture, then there’s absolutely room for collaboration. Let me just give you one typical example. We’ve got a group of smaller organisations that tried to do skill development independently. If you think about the power of bringing them together, now suddenly, they could build 10 times more because they come together in a way that helps them think about what they’re doing for the nation. So that’s just one example. But in the metaverse world, we must bring the skills and capabilities that we each have. Think about it this way; to build an avatar, for instance, you need someone who’s got a creative mind to design a beautiful avatar, but to make that avatar work, you need technical skill, someone who’s going to write code so that you can do things with it. If I have one skill set and I don’t have the other, you know, what’s the point you’re going to bring the two together so you can create a very available solution for the market, and that’s what you’re going to do.

Jeremy Maggs

So, let’s come back to the original plan of this podcast. It requires collaborative leadership. As a leader in that space, how difficult is it to conduct the orchestra? What’s your secret if you have one?

Vukani Mngxati

I only say to companies that I need that at the end of the day. It’s not about what you have as an individual, the skills you have, but about joining the dots across the continuum of skills that exists in the firm to add value to the clients, maybe to whatever you do in business. That’s why we came up with this concept called One Accenture in our firm. The idea behind One Accenture is to take various capabilities we have as a firm and join them together. So it can be powerful to the client. And this is why the point of collaboration is so important. Now, I’m just giving you an example of what I do internally. But this is what teamwork is about the world over. We need more collaboration to deliver the value you can think of today and how important it is to provide power to the clinic. We can either rely solely on Eskom to do that. Or we can collaborate across the spectrum and say there are more folks out there who know how to produce power. Let’s make sure that they do the same thing. Push the power to the grid and solve a South African problem. That’s what it’s about.

Jeremy Maggs 

And it’s a beautiful argument predicated on stripping out egos and agendas.

Vukani Mngxati

Egos and agendas don’t solve problems.

Jeremy Maggs

And I’ll move on to the next question. One of the aspects of I would say is that all of us are moving at warp speed. Digital leaders must keep up with the ongoing global revolution; you’ll agree with me. It’s challenging to do that. How do you pin something down when it’s changing? In a matter of hours?

Vukani Mngxati

We have to anticipate what’s going to happen next. And that’s what we, as leaders, all of us have to do. In my company, we spend an awful lot of time thinking about what’s next.

Jeremy Maggs

That adage of sitting down, thinking and staring out the window, there’s nothing wrong with it, is there?

Vukani Mngxati 

Absolutely not. For instance, we are talking about metaverse today. In the real world, the metaverse, some people think this is just one that will die out after a while. So we believe that the metaverse will be extensive, and we know that sustainability will be a significant driving force in the future. We understand that the ongoing tech revolution like space and new technology heating up will be big for us. It may not be significant today. It might be just a buzzword to hear that Elon Musk is trying to go to Mars. What if he succeeds, and then there’s new life on Mars. And we try to be ahead of the game to understand what’s going on in the world. But most importantly, ask ourselves the question, how does it impact me? How does it affect my client, and how do I bring the best advice to those I’m working with, helping them shape the narrative in the market space, so they can think about these things and be ahead of the game too?

Jeremy Maggs

So you’re thinking about stuff which doesn’t necessarily have a neat and logical conclusion.

Vukani Mngxati

Correct.

Jeremy Maggs

And that’s difficult to do.

Vukani Mngxati

It’s very tough, but there’s power in doing so. Because then you’ve become part of the solution. You can find answers to some things that people have not been able to find answers to yet. So like I say, we spend quite a lot of time reading, researching, thinking through and piloting specific initiatives so we can say actually, we believe this is a good idea or not a very good idea.

Jeremy Maggs

With the acknowledgement of the metaverse is a very amorphous concept. And you’re going to make mistakes as you run these pilots and come up with this new thinking. And I imagine that it’s the ability to reverse and go in a different direction, that we’ve tried that, but it’s not a mistake. It’s simply a building block.

Vukani Mngxati

New tech is when we first learned that there was the internet. When we identified when we figured that there was an internet wave in the 2000s, we didn’t realise that this was going to be so powerful that you could hold conferences in the year 2020 when COVID hit and couldn’t travel, business continued to exist. Think about what could happen in the metaverse next because the idea of the metaverse is to bring the virtual world very close to the real world so that you can have much better experiences. Fast forward 20 years later, what could be the possibilities. So the point is, we’re going to try and figure it out to see if this doesn’t work, that works. And somewhere in between, we find the solution.

Jeremy Maggs 

Often the problem is impeded by people who are anxious about the consequence, whether it’s an ethical consequence or a budgetary consequence. Whatever the case, we have no choice but to overcome that fear. Again, as a leader in the tech space, how do you make the argument?

Vukani Mngxati

When I make the argument that fear is good because it helps you to guard against going mad, you know, but at the same time, it’s one of those traits which you should overcome, as you say, Jeremy, because otherwise, we may not be able to do anything. So the point, I guess, is to say, as a leader in the technology space, you have to be willing to push the boundaries a little bit every time. You know, or you may learn something that you didn’t expect would be the outcome. But that’s okay. Because there’s, as you say, that’s a building block to the next wave of growth.

Jeremy Maggs

How do you tell your people to push those boundaries and overcome the fear? That’s your job as a leader of a tech firm?

Vukani Mngxati

Precisely you know, the easy answer here is; naturally, my people are already on this sort of wavelength.

Jeremy Maggs

And hopefully ahead of you in many respects.

Vukani Mngxati

Many a time. I’ve been told by my team what’s going on in this space because they are the practitioners. They are the ones who are researching every day and figuring out new stuff. And it’s perfect because I can learn from them like they can from me. So I guess the point is that we must create an environment for people who want to push the boundaries. My job is to create an environment and allow people – I’m using that in inverted commas. Allow people to go and experiment. That’s why we have a Liquid Studio in my company Accenture, a studio which is available for people to dream things up. And come up with new concepts and ideas. And they test them as a student and see if it works. If it works, great. Then you can tell the client, ‘Hey, can we look at this? We think this might work in your world.’

Jeremy Maggs

But failure is great as well, as you just mentioned, because it’s a building block.

Vukani Mngxati

Yes everythinging that we do in our business we reward, we reward initiative. We reward people who take the initiative to do something bigger, and that’s different from what we’ve done in the past.

Jeremy Maggs

I want to talk a little bit about technology and, mainly, the importance of technology in rural communities in South Africa, some I know are close to your heart. But it is so far behind on the agenda that it’s not even making a mark. In that space, you don’t need to go into the benefits of technology in rural communities. We know it’s important, but how do you up the pace up the ante? Can you do it? Is it just a question of money? What is it?

Vukani Mngxati

No, I think it’s a question of willingness and seeing opportunities where others don’t. Now I grew up in a rural community. So I know precisely how important this is. Where I grew up, we had very little in the form of, I mean, I touched a computer the first time at University. Now my counterparts who I met at University had been learning about using computers since they were in primary school. That’s, that’s what we’ve got to change. Give people access to facilities and equipment, just a tiny step that gives them an extra edge. You know.

Jeremy Maggs 

How would it have been different that year?

Vukani Mngxati

I think I might have been even further than I am today regarding technical know-how and ability. But you know, we were 52 in my Matric class, and only two of us managed to go to University. Me and my other friend. Okay. Imagine the additional 50; if we’d given them the means and capabilities to shine, perhaps we might have sent 70% of those people to University and have been a Vukani as well. So I think the importance of driving the capabilities and initiatives in communities is so important. And just by the way, I was just saying to you I was in Zululand in a place called Jozini just two weeks ago, and one of the things we found just electricity is these guys don’t have electricity. So they’ve power grid powered by solar, and suddenly we could line up the community, we put up a building, we put computers with equipment and sent folks to come and train basic computing. We have more than 50 youngsters who graduated from that class, and now they’re employed in colleges. That’s the impact.

Jeremy Maggs

Let’s come back as we start to wind up this conversation to the metaverse concept. In South Africa. What trends are you beginning to see that you can share with us what’s exciting you right now?

Vukani Mngxati

Firstly, I think in South Africa, the metaverse and not just South Africa, the world over. I would say 60 maybe 70% of people who believe this is just hype are going to go away.

Jeremy Maggs

It’s a plaything for Mark Zuckerberg.

Vukani Mngxati

It’s a plaything for Mark. It’s going to disappear after a while.

Jeremy Maggs

But that is not the case. We know that.

Vukani Mngxati

There isn’t 30% of us, including me, who think, watch this space. There’s going to be something big here. So that’s the first thing happening in the country right now. But let me just say on the vertical…

Jeremy Maggs

So there’s gradual recognition and understanding of how important it is.

Vukani Mngxati

To understand the importance. But most people are still confined in the gaming space and say, oh, okay, maybe we can create nice avatars we can play the games with those. We think that the opportunity is much more prominent in the industry. We think of the opportunity of creating a replica of an asset you have, configure it and look at how it performs in the metaverse. Then, you can bring it to life. So you’ve done a bunch of testing in the metaverse, and you know how it will react, etc., so that when you bring it to life, you don’t have much risk.

Jeremy Maggs

Then the chief financial officer’s happy because it’s a fraction of the cost.

Vukani Mngxati

But think about it retailers are massively looking at this space. Why do we believe the shopping experience is going to be different as a result of the metaverse? Because you can build a better-looking avatar of yourself in the metaverse and dress it and figure out if the outfits make sense or not. And then you can buy on the base of what you’ve seen. For example, we think there is much, much more opportunity there. Now, are we there yet?

Jeremy Maggs

No, we’re not. Your job is to move that needle from the 30% to the 60% quicker rather than later.

Vukani Mngxati

I’ll be happiest when we focus on the 30% who see the vision. How do you show guys that there’s an opportunity to prove it? Okay, so we’ll demonstrate a few use cases of people who have seen success in a couple of spaces and show it.

Jeremy Maggs

Are you excited about this?

Vukani Mngxati

I think the more we talk about this, the more we educate, the more we showcase what it is to the people, and we’re going to create a showcase of the metaverse in real life. We’re going to do it soon. With a practical example of where any South African can participate. Just why are we doing this? We are trying to show our folks they use reality out there. When Mark creates this with other companies joining forces with him, it’s not because they think it’s a nice area to invest in. It’s because they see real potential. And we see the same too.

Jeremy Maggs

Let me finish with this. It’s the old cliche that you can’t manage it unless you measure it and you’re in the consultancy business. So you should know that very well. How should a tech leader measure progress and success in the given space? As we agreed earlier, it’s a moving target all the time?

Vukani Mngxati

Well, I think the only way to measure success is not about technology. It’s about the value that the tech generates. If you cannot showcase value, maybe you shouldn’t be in that space, to begin with.

Jeremy Maggs

So how do you showcase value?

Vukani Mngxati

Do you showcase data by delivering business results? We say yes, perhaps right now, because we’re still in the experimental phase of the metaverse, but be careful that you don’t spend money on something that’s not going to generate value for your business. So at the end of the day, all the cents have been counted. We want to know if the initiative is producing value for me as the consumer and my client, who is also trying to build the capability. If we can showcase an improvement in value, we know we’re in a suitable space.

Jeremy Maggs

So this is the final question. Given the excitement you have shown in this debate, what’s the burning call to action?

Vukani Mngxati

I think people could do a couple of things. Firstly, understanding of what the metaverse is. Just pick up a book that talks about metaverse. There are so many podcasts, articles, and books to enhance your understanding and good standing. The second point is to ask whether this applies to your business. And how will you show value if you can use it in your business is very important. And then finally, you got to work for anything that you want to achieve in this life? You got to measure it to produce the outcomes. So what are you prepared to do from an organisation standpoint? I’m now talking about putting money into getting the right skills in your business to execute this. And then finally, to figure out if the ecosystem that you spoke about earlier, collaborating with other partners makes sense for you to deliver the best that you think you can get out of the metaverse.

Jeremy Maggs

And get your feet wet. Take a step into the unknown.

Vukani Mngxati

Absolutely. Without us going into the world you don’t know, we can never explore the future.

Jeremy Maggs

I would say let there be change. Vukani Mngxati, Chief Executive Officer of Accenture, thank you. Another Accenture podcast will drop soon. If you like the content on this one, please rate us wherever you get your podcasts. Thank you for listening. I’m Jeremy Maggs.




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