by CIO New Zealand

CIO100 2018 #31-100: Johan Vendrig, Orion Health

Mar 28, 2018
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Stepping back from one’s job and taking on an adjacent responsibility can provide valuable leadership insights that can apply across different roles.

This happened with Johan Vendrig, CIO at Orion health.

“A few years ago, I was asked to lead a team of laboratory experts to resolve issues with a complex laboratory service implementation,” says Vendrig. “The experience taught me that you can successfully lead a team of experts in a field you are not familiar with.”

“I learnt that the experts are there to drive the content, your focus as the leader is to keep communicating the objective and mitigate obstacles. This applies to any field, empowering the team to drive the ideas is critical to innovation and success.

He says this is important, as leadership in the ‘digital disruption’ age, where CIOs are told to take charge, is actually about engaging business and IT experts in a combined effort around core company goals, he notes.

“I also learnt that you can never spend enough time with your customers. Spending too much time in your own (project) world is risky, as you start to believe all is well. It is not until you verify how the customer feels that you truly know whether you are on track.

“I’ve learnt to check in with my customers early and often. The view looking at your project from the outside in, can be very different from looking at it from the inside out.”

Collaborating for innovation

The collaborative approach is a fundamental part of the Orion Health culture,” says Vendrig.

“It is built around the willingness to try new things, ideas that work are nurtured and promoted and ideas that don’t are left behind. New technologies are introduced in a small group first, supported by basic self-help training and online QA forums.

“When implementing integrated collaborative platforms such as MS Teams, ideas are tested and evolved based on feedback from the pilot groups and once a realistic approach is established and supported, the system is promoted and launched to our staff.”

He says one of the main innovations in their internal IT systems is the rapid investment in devops automation (automated build and configuration of desktops, servers, applications and user profiles).

The internal IT team strive to make these scripts and associated knowledge bases accessible through the introduction of chatbots, using MS Teams as the front-end user interface.

For example, the delivery engineering bot “DEB”, for self-service access to our Amazon Web Services to create and reset accounts and manage the Software Build Process.

Other examples include “RobBot”, a project run by an in-house team that aims to provide staff with self-service access to corporate information and service requests in areas like operations, HR and IT.

“We are also working on an experimental chatbot to provide access to our internal support knowledge base,” he says.

As we automate more of our IT environment management tasks, we can make self-service options accessible through chatbots to the less advanced IT users, allowing our experts to share their knowledge in an interactive format, he explains.

“The combined use of these collaborative technologies, automation and chatbots allows us to share knowledge quickly between experts and new graduates.

Simultaneously, the interaction between experts, new grads and end users provides instant feedback loops that question the status quo, validate processes and scripts to become more robust and ‘fool proof’.

Vendrig explains this collaborative approach helps the staff find time to invest in innovation. So the Dev-Ops and Bot innovations are supported by injecting students and new grads into these processes to help initiate ideas.

“Ultimately this provides efficient and reliable support processes as well as the ability for experts to keep driving forward rather than getting consumed in daily operational tasks.”

The internal Orion Health IT team uses a number of integrated collaboration platforms to enable staff to achieve results, without investing in large scale, expensive business automation systems.

Atlassian’s Jira and Confluence platforms are used extensively to support core Development services and back office processes, he says.

Extensive integration between these collaboration platforms and other business systems such as Finance, CRM and Timetracking has resulted in a cost-effective IT solution.

In 2017, the team successfully consolidated the use of Skype, Dropbox, Slack, HipChat and into Microsoft Teams. All IM and chatroom channels moved across in a very short space of time, making Orion Health a standout early adopter of this platform globally.

Aligning priorities

“Technology leadership is delegated across a number of independent areas within Orion Health. To ensure investments and priorities are aligned, we rely on our collaboration and communication channels.”

At Orion Health, staff are encouraged and mentored to create a personal development plan that is a combination of personal interests and skills required to deliver team goals.

“A large aspect of development is based around self-study using online resources such as or participation in projects,” he says.

When implementing a new technology, Orion bring in consultants for a short period at the start of the project. This is to train the internal team on the job, enabling them to take over the implementation early in the process.

“Last year this approach was successfully used to introduce a number of new technologies including: Azure AD, Azure Site Recovery, Adaptive Insights, Intune and JamfPro,” he says.

“As part of the annual business planning cycle, the internal IT team publishes a clear set of objectives based on medium term strategy and emerging business requirements.

These objectives are reviewed and agreed with the senior leadership team to ensure there is clear alignment with the core business drivers and budget,” says Vendrig.

“The internal IT Team shares market updates about technologies that may be relevant to our business objectives, with various teams across the organisation.”

Johan Vendrig with some members of his team at Orion Health: “Leadership in the ‘digital disruption’ age, where CIOs are told to take charge, is actually about engaging business and IT experts in a combined effort around core company goals.”