The role of the CIO has become broader in the last few decades. They need to take on more, often with smaller budgets, managing both internal and external stakeholders. These challenges can be amplified in the public sector.
For example, compared to their private sector counterparts, CIO.com found that CIOs in government are profoundly struggling with the implementation of cloud-based technology. The report discovered that the two main barriers towards implementation were ‘procurement and management challenges, with lingering regarding security and sensitive data.’ These challenges were contextualised in the report by deputy CIO at the National Archives and Records Administration, Marlon Andrews who stated:
‘The greatest challenge is not getting a contract in place, but what you find out is where those boundaries cross of who's now responsible because you're in a different infrastructure set-up, and what the cloud provider's going to do versus the contract staff, versus the application support staff versus the infrastructure staff.'
How can CIOs in government meet these challenges? What defines a great government CIO? What separates the wheat from the chaff?
What makes a good government CIO?
A good government CIO is someone that can make a real impact, even though their obstacles are complex and sometimes, their means are limited (though in other instances, their budgets can be in the billions). IT Weekly suggests that it is a leader who has clout, influence and who can demonstrate ‘tangible, measurable results.’
When CIO.com announced their top 50 Australian CIOs of 2016, they based their criteria on those that had driven transformative change across their organisations. Each person on the list, according to the article, had also displayed vision, creativity drive and innovation. Of top 25, four government CIOs made the list.
According to the report, the SA Health CIO is ranked within the top five because simply put, his department ‘reduced the medication administration error rate from 1 in 20 to 1 in 3000.’ This was achieved by creating a centralised system for storing and sharing ehealth information, an achievement that was the result of a long-term vision for Le Blanc and his team.
Speaking at CeBIT Australia in 2012, he acknowledged that the state’s healthcare infrastructure needed to be centralised. At that stage, the seventy SA Australian hospitals all ran under independent, conflicting systems. At the conference LeBlanc summarised the issue by stating:
‘‘You've got all the different health systems spending their own budgets and making independent investment decisions. You need to be able to pull that in, and make sure that things that are being processed actually align with the strategic direction of the organisation.’
In the years since, Le Blanc and his team have worked at getting the hospitals under one infrastructure umbrella. The rollout, which was initially seven hospitals in the region, is starting to see a transformative impact on healthcare workers and patients. In fact, Le Blanc says that clinicians have remarked that ‘this is the single biggest change that they will see in their careers.’
Just behind Le Blanc (but further north) is Alastair Sharman CIO of Children’s Health Service. Sharman ranks high on the list because he and his team have rolled out the use of Tobii technology, eye-tracking technology that allows immobilised users to navigate apps and improve their quality of life.
“It’s about a young boy who this time last year was walking around, swimming – just a normal kid and in the space of a very short period of time, all he could do was move his eyes. As a dad, that was pretty moving for me,” Sharman says.
His team has shown that the application of technology doesn’t just have to hit narrow business outcomes. Providing fun and relief for his patients meant that they could regain their humanity, which has lifted the morale for the ward.
Another Queenslander, Malcolm Thatcher CIO of eHealth Queensland has also been recognised on the list. The solutions his team has rolled out included the integrated electronic Medical Record (ieMR). According to CIO ‘Since going live in November 2015, more than 3.5 million electronic charts have been opened, 75,744 clinical notes documented, 38,284 diagnoses documented and 29,955 allergies documented.’
If this wasn’t admirable enough, Thatcher has supplemented this project with a thesis titled A framework for information governance controls in acute healthcare which unearths the challenges and risks of implementing this technology. Thatcher demonstrates that technology by itself is not enough to meet the complex issues for a government CIO, it’s also about adopting a thoughtful and considered approach to implementation, while taking into account the needs of the technology users and how it’s going to make the most meaningful impact on their work.
The last government representative on this list hasn’t been in the role for very long, but is already making an impact. Chris Ford, CIO of SA Power Networks accepted the role in 2014, knew that he had his work cut out for him. Ford admitted “I had two very distinct challenges: the perception and performance of IT and the credibility of the CIO role itself. It was almost a perfect storm,” explains Ford. “Even though the things we did were very challenging, it was within a framework of a desire to change. The organisation wanted to change and IT themselves felt they needed to change.’
He started off by making the team leaner and by moving the offices into a smaller, open-plan space. This had the effect of giving the team a buzz; a cohesive excited energy. Ford leveraged this energy to drive significant transformation. In a short space of time Ford’s team have delivered several projects, incorporating virtual reality technology to better the quality of asset management. His team have also scored some vital culture wins. He states that ‘some of our biggest detractors [internally] have now become our biggest evangelists.’
Meet the challenges of being a CIO in government
One of the common approaches all these CIOs share is that they started with the core problem that their organisation faced and looked at how technology could be used to overcome them. Sometimes those solutions were highly involved, years-long projects, sometimes the solutions were elegantly simple, but the implementation in either scenario had a transformative effect for those in the business, and the citizens that used their services. Another key similarity was that all the CIOs recognised the need to a team working closely together toward a common goal and created an environment to foster that collaboration. Finally you get the sense that all the CIOs on the list understood the challenges that they were up against, but instead of feeling overwhelmed, they were excited by them. Being a CIO in the public sector isn’t the easiest gig in the world, but it certainly isn’t the most boring. If you’re up for the challenge, like the other CIOs on the list, you could make a positive and lasting impact on the world around you. If you want hear more from leaders in this field, you should consider attending CeBIT Australia’s 2017 eGovernment conference. You can book your tickets here.