by George Nott

CIO50 2018 #26-50: Nina Du Thaler, UnitingCare

Nov 22, 2018
Technology Industry

When Nina Du Thaler arrived at UnitingCare Queensland (UnitingCare) in 2016, she joined an organisation with four distinct IT functions supporting the various, independent businesses of Blue Care, UnitingCare Health, UnitingCare Community and a Group Office.

The set-up was not a surprise, but was limiting the IT function’s ability to deliver technology and innovation across the expansive business, which provides health and community services to more than 14,000 people every day of the year.

Du Thaler, joining the organisation from a role as CIO at Queensland Urban Utilities, went about consolidating the disparate IT functions into one Digital and Technology (DT) function.

That put UnitingCare on the solid footing to transform its IT; through a switch to outsourcing and offshoring, adopting a new consumption model, adopting new ways of working and pursuing a different approach to procurement and project delivery.

Over the last year, the group progressed a competitive tender process to replace its legacy infrastructure, application support and maintenance model with a managed services partner model with Wipro “delivering more cohesive services, operational efficiencies, higher levels of customer satisfaction, and higher levels of IT system and process maturity,” Du Thaler says.

Partnering with an outsourced managed services provider was a “brave decision” Du Thaler says, but a necessary one given the disruption in the market and the transition to the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), consumer directed care and other new models that dramatically increased market competition.

“Outsourcing, and indeed leveraging offshore capabilities, are service models not typically explored by not for profit and mission-based organisations as these can bring into question our motive for helping people,” she says.

The procurement process included mandating “stringent ethical conduct requirements across labour, supply chain, and sustainability practices”.

“An innovative and commercial contract was also executed that requires Wipro to continually provide assurances and meet stringent ethical practices. Again, this approach to procurement and service definition is quite innovative and contemporary,” Du Thaler explains.

The transformation has set the foundations and enabled their transition to deploy technologies like an integration hub, analytics platform and identity management platform “which will enable seamless access to critical systems, integration of systems and the delivery of crucial business data and information to decision makers”.

“The introduction of these technologies has started a journey to change UnitingCare from a closed business to an ecosystem consuming and sharing data with its integrated third parties. During this time, UnitingCare has also released a number of customer facing tools that allow our customers to compare the cost and components of our care packages with those across our industry,” Du Thaler explains.

With their time freed up from “break/fix type work” the restructured DT team is able to better focus on “project delivery, adding value and customer intimacy” Du Thaler says.

The function is now far more responsive to our customers’ needs in delivering core services and collaborates more closely with other areas of the business in delivering new capabilities .

“We have two self-directed roving teams that enable us to target particular areas of the business, provide more real-time assessment of needs and focus activity to certain areas of our business. It also means we can be more proactive and strategic around how we can continue to add value for the broader organisation. The aim for these teams is to identify both quick wins and longer term, complex issues that need to be resolved,” Du Thaler adds.

The roving teams also benefit the individuals in them, enabling them to “flex and try different approaches”.

On the grapevine

Du Thaler is also a very strong corporate communicator and accomplished author; she is behind the Diary of Elle cyber safety book series for children – an important skill when championing organisational change.

“Technology deployments can be complex, technically challenging, expensive and take a long time to deliver but are never as challenging as managing and leading change within an organisationhellip; I have learned that the organisational change and communication components of a change are equally if not more important that the actual solution,” she says.

Despite having developed a “kit bag of organisational change and communication strategies” through her extensive career – which includes technology roles at Queensland University of Technology, Allconnex Water and the Gold Coast City Council – the complexity, geographic spread and diversity of UnitingCare proved a “real challenge”.

“How was I going to adapt my well-oiled organisational change and communications approach to fit? How could I possibly deliver an organisational change and communications approach to support the transformation of an organisation of more than 26,000 people and get some level of consistency of messaging?” she says.

Her approach was to link the outcomes of the program to the purpose of the organisation and how a new model would enable their staff more time doing what they loved, reduce costs and improve customer service to deliver the benefits of transformation. More recently she has focused on bringing the human aspect into the messaging and built a catalog of stories about people on her team both onshore and offshore and then “let the grapevine do the rest”.

“Communication is very personal! Stop trying so hard and let the grapevine go to work!” Du Thaler says.