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'Grand Geek' to lead Wits’ Innovation Strategy

- Wits University

Professor Barry Dwolatzky has been contracted as Director of Innovation Strategy.

Professor Barry Dwolatzky

Known as the ‘Grand Geek’ of digital innovation in South Africa, Dwolatzky joined the office of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Innovation headed by Professor Lynn Morris on 1 July 2021.

“Professor Dwolatzky brings a wealth of experience and knowledge, as well as a network of local and international collaborators, that will help drive the strategy that supports the important relationship between research, innovation and entrepreneurship at Wits,” says Morris.

Dwolatzky is an Emeritus Professor in the School of Electrical and Information Engineering in the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment. He is also the Director of the Joburg Centre for Software Engineering (JCSE) and the founder of the Wits Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct, the University’s digital innovation hub located in Braamfontein.

He plans to consult with various stakeholders and experts to aid in developing an effective innovation strategy for Wits. “I will draw on the Wits community and the large network of collaborators and friends I have around South Africa and the world to develop an innovation strategy that is suitable for Wits as we enter our second century,” says Dwolatzky.

He echoes the bold agenda for Wits set by Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, the Vice-Chancellor and Principal, that now is the time for the University’s ‘moonshot moment’ to be a leader of change both in the continent and in the world.

“The next 100 years will not simply be a continuation of the last 100 years. All organisations and institutions, including universities, will change and the change will be rapid and profound. The best of these will position themselves to lead this change both internally and externally,” he adds. 

Moving beyond the digital

Wits alumni, researchers and students have shaped the digital landscape locally and abroad through major digital innovations outside of the University. “Wits has some of the brightest and most creative digital innovators in the world. An innovation strategy would nurture and grow them further,” he says.

A Wits alumnus, Dwolatzky has a wealth of experience in the digital field. He started his studies at Wits in Electrical Engineering in 1971, and after a 10 year stint in the 1980s as a postdoctoral researcher in the UK he joined Wits again as an academic. “I’ve travelled extensively and had the opportunity to develop an understanding of where, how and why innovation within an academic institution works best. I’ve also seen many examples of where it works least,” he adds.

Using this experience and his huge institutional knowledge as a guide, he now wants to step out of the bubble of digital innovation to develop a much broader scope that covers all of Wits’ diverse disciplines and communities. “We need a dedicated strategy to encourage innovation within Wits.”

He says innovation has a different meaning to different people and through his new role hopes to define it. “I want to develop a working definition for innovation within the Wits context that spans all research and innovation entities at the University. The aim is to draw on Wits’ huge world-class research output to convert some of it into a form that can directly meet the needs of society. This will include products, services, policies, processes or new organisations and businesses,” he says. 

The aim is that the Innovation Strategy will contribute to the new strategic plan for Wits, the development of which is being spearheaded by Professor Martin Veller, former Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences.

Dwolatzky remains Director of the JCSE and will divide his time between that role and his new role as Director of Innovation Strategy.