What Duxbury Networking’s CIO does to balance head with heart

What keeps IT leaders up at night covers a broad range of issues including improving overall IT performance, data security, process risk and compliance, and meeting needs to improve business agility. For Shamiel Kimmie, Duxbury Networking’s CIO, a few of these make his list, as well as addressing talent shortages, managing relationships with his C-level peers, and finding a balance between the head and the heart.

With a battle of so many fronts, it’s a constantly shifting sense of priorities, but, specifically, South Africa’s brain drain is a main problem, he notes, with around 900,000 South Africans settled abroad since the end of 2020. For businesses looking to hire skilled people, this reality makes it more difficult to find needed talent and means that the hiring process is more drawn out than it was before. So when Kimmie looks to expand his team, he doesn’t focus on qualifications. Candidates could have computer science degrees, but if they don’t have the basic skills, necessary competencies, hands-on experiences, and practical knowledge, they won’t be a good fit for the business, he says.

Given how many skilled IT professionals are leaving the country, he’s very strategic about upskilling his more junior engineers and providing them with opportunities to learn from senior staff members. This, he says, is also a great way to retain them, which is incredibly important given how frequently top talent is poached by brands with bigger budgets.

A relationship with security

“I recently read an article that said: ‘If it’s smart, it’s vulnerable,’” he says. “With so many devices now connecting to our networks, it would be impossible for the modern CIO to not get involved in cybersecurity” — even if the business has a dedicated CISO. But when both the CIO and CISO are involved, this can create a bit of a standoff, with the former being asked to innovate and move the business forward, and the latter mandated to make sure this innovation happens with security in mind.

As such, the relationship between the two can end up being quite adversarial. Luckily for Kimmie, he works alongside Duxbury’s CISO well, and together they collaborate to better understand where key vulnerabilities lie in the business, as well as educate employees about emerging threats.

According to Kimmie, managing any relationship between C-level executives comes down to mutual respect. Whether these relationships are between the CIO and CEO or the CIO and CFO, everyone needs to take time to understand the other’s perspective.

“It can still be hard for the CIO to communicate the value of what they’re doing to business,” he says, which is why clear communication is essential to ensure different parties can align goals and perspectives. He believes one of the best ways the CIOs can showcase their perspective is by clearly illustrating the value of what they’re doing. By running a POC, CIOs can demonstrate the viability of their ideas and identify any potential technical or logistical issues that could hinder the project’s success.

“Ultimately, everyone in the business should work toward the same thing so there’s really no reason for us to not work together,” he says.

The emotional side of the modern CIO

Since Covid, Kimmie reflects on learning a lot about the person behind the employee. “This has really changed my approach around how I lead,” he says. “Today, I try to manage with the head but I still act with my heart.” To do this, he emphasises the importance of transparency and compassion. Having regular meetings and chats with team members helps ensure everyone’s on the same page, and supports those who might be falling behind. This can be hard to get right in a business world driven by profit and data, he admits, but it’s important.   

With technology rapidly progressing, risks changing, and customer behaviors evolving, CIOs have to adapt accordingly and be willing to learn. Kimmie worked his way up from a junior engineer to CIO, and while he might be at the top of his game, he still has to look for new opportunities to learn, especially regarding the opportunities with artificial intelligence (AI).

But knowledge also affords the clarity that every new technology isn’t going to be the right fit for everyone. Before a business invests in and deploys the latest tech, it needs to assess if it aligns with its broader goals, evaluate what benefits it can bring, and calculate the costs and potential risks associated with it.

“This means doing a lot of research and looking at examples of how other companies have implemented the technology so you can get a clear picture of what it can and can’t do,” he says, highlighting the value of the broader CIO community, and that being able to ask colleagues across industries for advice is invaluable, especially when the time comes to make big business decisions.

Business Process Management, CIO, IT Leadership, IT Skills, IT Strategy