HF Group COO George Njuguna gives an account of the journey that saw him bag the East Africa’s 2018 CIO of the Year Award
By Caroline Mwendwa
Kenya’s Digital Economy Blueprint 2019 clearly spells out its mission as a nation where every citizen, enterprise and organisation has digital access and the capability to participate and thrive in the digital economy. The pace at which innovations especially among financial institutions are being churned out go to confirm the country’s nascence as a digital economy.
HF Group a provider of integrated property and financial solutions has been on an overdrive reinventing its processes, products and even the culture to expand its market reach and exceed its customer expectation. The current Group COO, George Njuguna last year garnered the East Africa’s 2018 CIO of the year award, the East Africa’s most powerful executive-level IT media brand providing insight into business technology leadership, for the magnitude of the transformation achieved at HF Group under his leadership. “Digital transformation has seen HF Group grow in all fronts. In nine months since the launch of our Digital Banking proposition, we have acquired 650,000 new customers,” says Njuguna further stating that the process has catapulted the organisation not just in expanding its market share but also acquiring new partners and positioning the brand through national and international recognition.
HF Group’s lauded transformation has been through continuous innovation and keeping abreast with the latest technology. “We regularly upgrade our apps, every three weeks, which is not the practice in other financial institutions. Our programmes are also exceptionally agile in the sense that they ideate, test and deploy at a very high speed,” he says.
With the new appointment as the Group COO, Njuguna, is set to lead a larger transformation agenda that includes digitization of customer journeys across the business. “Building on this digital ecosystem of employees, partners and customers, we are looking at how we can have our staff focus on more meaningful tasks while relinquishing manual tasks that can be automated to focus on personal development and growth. We are also looking to leverage on data for digital and commercial purposes, to give our customers a voice in designing our products and service delivery” he says.
Successful digital automation in organisations has a lot to do with change management and business leaders must help their employees consider the broader implications of automation. “Employees must acquire new skills; organisations must play their role in giving their staff capacity as some of the skills are difficult to conceptualise in a classroom,” he says. Njuguna however emphasises that it’s not all about the technical skills but at a broader view, people need to look at real world problems and come up with solutions that are relevant to customers.
His views espouse those of J.P Gowdner an analyst with the Boston based tech research firm Forrester, who maintains that automation will spur the growth of many new jobs- including some entirely new categories.
Change is not always welcome, and especially one that requires an overhaul of the way of doing things. While the process is technology focused, Njuguna acknowledges that it is broader than just the tech team as it involves everyone in the organisation. “Asking the question, how do our customers experience us? And are we a fast and responsive organisation? This requires every member of staff to join the train,” he says. This means that no matter how fast as the team leader you intend to go, maturity comes to play in implementing the plan in such a way that everyone is on board. “You need to carry people along, it can delay but patience pays off eventually.” “Also be ready to answer questions and constantly giving the bigger picture, to keep everyone focused on the goal” he quips.
Having been in the IT field for the last 18 years, Njuguna is no greenhorn to cybersecurity risks that mar the digital world. “The level at which crime has escalated speaks to our values as a society and technology has catalysed this situation to alarming levels,” says Njuguna. However, he warns that the key vector of attack in organisations is insider threats, as today there are incidents of people being trained to join organisations with one goal, to commit digital fraud. “Due diligence when hiring staff is critical, as well as upskilling the security team to match the modern day security threats.”
Also the need to have security in mind from the initial stages when designing these solutions is paramount. Another approach that has worked, he says, is individual organisations sharing intelligence with other players in the industry, to ensure that security attacks do not recur.
Njuguna is of the view that the government is making moves in war against digital fraud, as the regulatory body CBK, has a team that is focused on countering data security threats.”
The local outlook
Attempts to automate systems in various sectors of the economy have faced headwinds, with slow up take among providers and consumers as well. An example is the proposed cashless transport system which has not been successful despite the much-hyped campaigns. “Much of this emanates from a culture of fear of accountability and transparency,” he says, adding that Kenyans still view digitisation as an alien culture, evident in the habit of importing technology instead of utilising local talent.
There is a glaring opportunity to harvest talent and reap hugely, as the market is saturated with potential. “We are capable of developing our own solutions, all organisations need to do is to challenge, expose and equip their teams, to come up with problem solving solutions, rather than importing expertise.”
Njuguna observes that to optimally utilise the potential of digital transformation in all sectors, there is need for closer collaboration where technology hubs do not just incubate but engage with corporates which provide a ready landing zone for the innovations being developed.
Caroline Mwendwa is the Editor, Management Magazine