Kevin Hardy
CAPE TOWN - Samuel Morse invented the telegraph in 1837, triggering a revolution in dots and dashes. A decade later, the Electric Telegraph Company - the precursor of the British Telecommunications Group or BT Group as it’s known today - was founded in London.  

Georgina Crouth

The transformation in communication triggered an upheaval that stretched far beyond the Atlantic and the British Empire: today, the BT Group, the world’s oldest nationwide telecommunications company, is synonymous with digital innovation. It provides telephony, broadband and subscription television services in the UK, and ICT services to 5500 multinationals in 180 countries.

BT’s regional offices on the African continent, based in Joburg, Cape Town and Durban, service clients throughout Africa and the Middle East. In charge of BT in sub-Saharan Africa (or BT-SA) until recently, is Kevin Hardy.

On November 20 he took the hot seat as chief executive of Ayo Technologies Solutions, the tech division of African Equity Empowerment Investments (AEEI).

Ayo, a 30% shareholder in BT Communications South Africa, currently offers ICT solutions to blue chip companies in various sectors of the industry through its current subsidiaries. With Hardy on board, the company is gearing up for its imminent JSE listing and an ambitious expansion programme into Africa.

Hardy attained his BCom Honours in Business Management from the University of Port Elizabeth in 1995. But going into business was not the initial choice for the avid sportsman who represented the school in rugby, golf and tennis at Hilton College, in then Natal. Hardy considered sports management as a career, but much like his father to whom he accredits his business acumen, channelled his competitive spirit into commerce instead.

Good foundation

“UPE (now Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University) was a good foundation and a brilliant environment - most of my Hilton friends went on to the universities of Cape Town, Stellenbosch and Wits. I loved UPE though: it was real and it grounded me in life,” Hardy explains from his Ayo office in Midrand. Hardy has a wealth of experience in both business and tech, having started his career at the BBC in London as an accountant before progressing to ICT.

He spent more than a decade at Dimension Data, where he progressed from network engineer to sales, and then on to general manager of converged communications for the Middle East and Africa. He also worked for Cisco as country sales director and Aspivia as sales director.

“I’m moving across to run Ayo Technologies Solutions, to pull together all the ICT assets and the 30percent BT shareholding to form the most empowered ICT group on the JSE.” It’s a case of more being more: Ayo has more than 51percent black ownership and more than 30percent black women-ownership, he notes.

“Ayo, in a strategic alliance with BT, is anticipated to become a large channel to market for BT into Africa. BT has world-class capability in its product and solutions portfolio, which Ayo intends to leverage together with its own capabilities and empowerment credentials into specific segments of the African market.”

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Recent changes to the empowerment codes of the ICT charter have put more focus on organisations and their preferential procurement policies.

“It’s no longer enough to have the right level on the ratings - customers want to see that you have the right levels of black ownership in your business as well.

“Ayo will be a leading black-owned ICT company on the JSE, with our main focus on transforming the digital landscape in Africa. (Our) focus will be on assisting companies in their journey to digital - helping them move from legacy-lethargic, inflexible systems and architectures to those that fully support and enable digitisation. We are in the digital revolution and business will either be predators or prey - it’s a fine line and business leaders are beginning to recognise that.”

The new position at Ayo is an exciting prospect for Hardy, who notes he’s putting together a cracker team. “I’ve worked with lots of people in the industry so that’s given me a good perspective. We’re going to be pulling an industry-leading team. There’s a real opportunity here - the market’s been stale for a while now.

"People want change. It’s really positioning Ayo as a leading ICT and digital enabler. Customers need to change their business models, or they’re going to die.

"That’s why they need partners like Ayo to help them move into that digital space. We ensure that people have the right systems and the right infrastructure to help them manage their information better.”

Importance

His experience within BT has taught him the critical importance of digital transformation. In September, BT and The Economist Intelligence Unit released the findings of their latest annual global survey.

The study interviewed 400 chief executives in 13 countries, across five continents, revealing almost 40percent of them have digital transformation at the top of their boardroom agenda, with almost a quarter of them leading their company’s transformation programmes.

Of those chief executives 75% said that their programmes will aid their strategic objectives, which include making operational efficiencies, improving customer service and innovating, with security as a key differentiator.

Yet 86percent of them struggle to deliver the ideal infrastructure on which their digital programmes rely. Inflexible technology, a lack of skills and security concerns are cited as the main obstacles to building digital infrastructure.

Hardy believes IT departments are no longer about protecting budgets and instituting cost-savings - they have become central to articulating what digital platforms can do for business in terms of growth.

He notes disruptive tech has altered the way business is conducted. “The digital generation have choices at their fingertips and they can switch at will - there’s going to be a real consequence for businesses that lag in this space and don’t act fast enough.”

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

-BUSINESS REPORT