Alex Pryor was going to be a scientist. But while studying microbiology and genetics at university with a view to getting a PhD, iOCO’s head of innovation realised that a lifetime in a lab was not her ambition. She joined a publishing company working on the print side of the business. But the firm was trying to set up an e-commerce platform and, when the project manager left, Pryor was the first with her hand in the air to take over.
She took to these new digital waters naturally (even if, in her modest words, “they just never got around to finding someone new”) and for six years she ran the project, learning the possibilities of the digital world. Her next stop was an MBA at the University of Cape Town, where she would learn a new set of skills from a class where more than half the students had come from abroad. “I got perspectives from people in business from Germany, from the UK, from Burundi, from all over the globe. It really taught me to start listening to people and to hear their story because there’s always something you can take out of it.”
Armed with a new outlook on the world and fevered excitement about the possibilities of a digital future, Pryor joined EOH, the parent company of iOCO, where she worked through the organisation including running a business unit primarily dealing in outsourcing for the public sector. “I always recommend people do a brief stint in the public sector, working with government because it teaches you some things that you just don’t get working in the private sector. It teaches you to navigate politics and to navigate an environment that's both incredibly efficient in some cases, but it's also incredibly regimented in how you do things and how you talk to people, how you say things and how you don't. You don't always get that experience in the private sector. You get a much more grounded view of the world when you’re looking at an organisation that is built on delivering to citizens rather than built to bring profit.”
When Covid-19 interrupted normal business, Pryor’s hand went up again, this time to help with Covid initiatives. The role of head of innovation grew out of the need to start running a division around digital enablement (“I hate the phrase ‘digital transformation’”).
And the role? “My role as head of digital innovation is to see where the inefficiencies are in the organisation. How can we fix those? Because if we've got those problems other organisations have too. How do we take those solutions to market and really start building them up and building up a product portfolio as well as the services portfolio. I suppose also it's looking at the organisation. One of the big parts of my role is how do we build an innovation organisation? We've got a service-based organisation. How do we transform that internally with innovation first, or innovation equal to service delivery.
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