Shahana, who currently heads up the Channel Management and Program Office at Altron MS, recently embarked on an initiative to lead the Women.IT@BytesMS forum – an invitation to the women of Altron MS to put their best proposals forward on how to inject some out-the-box tech solutions into the current retail environment in South Africa.
“Retail is a strategic focus of our business. It made sense to match women and retail because of our interaction and association to retail in general,” says Shahana,” who’s always been quite content in the male-dominated industry of technology and, like the rest of us, hates queues and poor shopping experiences and believes there are many ways that retailers can help enhance the customer experience through innovation.
It’s simply never been difficult for me and the companies I’ve worked at have never made it an issue either. During my time at Altron MS, the culture and ethos of the organization, as well as my team(s) – who might I add have always primarily been guys – have always respected me and never made me feel like I’m the lesser of. Women are also at the forefront at Altron, with some strategic leadership roles within the organization being fulfilled by women, which I believe will inspire and motivate many women working in this organization and industry.
I think the industry, in general, is all about getting it done; about presenting the solution. Strategies can often become overly-analytical, focusing primarily on the tech and not much beyond that, such as the ultimate customer value or experience of what’s been created. Enter the modern woman to provide the ‘extra edge’, the human touch, the practicality aspect and offer interesting insight, especially in relation to retail (hence the creation of the forum). I mean, let’s be honest, women are predominantly the ones doing the shopping and are exposed to the actual customer journey, which means that we have a greater encounter with the solution; we experience it first-hand and understand the impact from a more emotive viewpoint.
Well, I never actually planned or aspired to be in I.T. From ‘Farm Girl’ to ‘City Slicker’ I grew up in a small town, in Machadodorp (now eNtokozweni) in Mpumalanga. I found out very early in my life that being a team player breaks all barriers, whether it be racial, gender or religious. I grew up playing hockey after ’94 when our country was undergoing its initial transformation. I played at provincial level with young women from all walks of life and after matric I was offered an I.T. bursary from Eskom, which I accepted, knowing that I.T. was the next big thing. I qualified with a BCom degree in Information Systems. Since then my career has progressed from Contracts Administration to Channel Management. During my tenure at Altron BMS I have fulfilled roles in Operations, Service Management, Business Development and 12 years later, I believe that there has never been a better time to be at this organization, with its forward thinking and all-inclusive culture.
My day is filled with partner engagement, contract negotiations and attending demos with the Presales team in search of new solutions. I am also responsible for the Program Management Office, with a team of four Project Managers and three Coordinators whose objective is to execute on projects across retail, digital transformation, EUS and finance. Our ultimate objective is to execute the CTO strategy and make sure that we achieve our operational and financial objectives.
This is I.T. There is no downtime (laughs). I have four kids between the ages of 2 and 10 and my husband travels frequently for business, so you could say I’m somewhat limited in that department. I do try to find time for reading before bed and, more recently, getting to the gym. On the reading list? I really enjoy ‘life experience’ stories, about people who have found themselves in difficult circumstances and how they’ve come through it. I think this kind of material reminds us of how much we have and allows us to be grateful for it.
I think I’ve always been inspired by the average person who has managed to achieve better for themselves. This inspires one to want to achieve more and also allows one to relate to people who were in similar circumstances to yourself. I recently attended the Lioness of Africa in association with Absa and it was absolutely inspiring to see how so many young SA women who had a vision, took the risk to turn that idea into a fully-fledged business. All you need is a vision and with vision comes optimism and creativity. Just looking at the new face of Altron, there are a number of people in senior positions that are very dynamic; some of them pretty young, as well quite a few women, so that motivates me to want to achieve more because I know it’s possible and I know I have the potential.
You never need to feel like there isn’t a space for you. You also never need to force it. You just need to be. Yes, some women have different experiences, but most will make it. I really believe that. There’s a strategic objective in our country to put women forward. So if you just do your job with integrity, professionalism and do it well, and you become visionary, you’ll definitely make it. Oh and ladies, be a team player.