One of the big debates in the leadership of digital transformation is the merits of a ‘big bang’ strategic program versus a more tactical, incremental approach, says the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services’ (DHHS) chief information officer, Dr Steve Hodgkinson.
“I sometimes describe this as the difference between ‘capital T’ Transformation and ‘lower case t’ transforming. In previous decades, the only way to drive technology-enabled programs was a large-scale ‘big bang’ transformation program. This was necessary to implement the costly and substantially outsourced infrastructure and commercial off-the-shelf software projects involved.
“Projects were primarily viewed as highly structured and programmed engineering exercises. Too often, however, these transformation programs (despite the intricate excellence of their master plans and PowerPoint slides), failed to fully deliver the transformation that was expected,” he says.
In many cases, this was because projects simply took too long and were overtaken by events. In others it was because of mistakes in execution, he says.
“In others, however, it was because the mechanistic process meant that staff didn’t necessarily ‘buy in’ and it took too long to discover that the strategy was impractical, undeliverable or just flat out wrong hellip; or all of these things.
“A lesson that I have known, but also reinforced over the past two years, is the power of relentless incrementalism. Get started. Empower staff to use their creativity and knowledge to find the sweet spot. Deliver a practical and workable minimum viable product solution quickly. Seek user feedback, learn fast, refine the solution and repeat.”
Over the past two years at DHHS, Dr Hodgkinson and his team have delivered a range of projects. SafeScript is a real time prescription monitoring system that the chair of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, Dr Cameron Loy, said earlier this year is ‘the best public health initiative I have seen in my career.’
Its client incident management system (CIMS) is a secure electronic workflow product that enables incidents to be reported, investigated, reviewed and resolved. The system also supports agencies to learn from incident patterns to improve service quality and outcomes.
Hodgkinson created ‘Rise at DHHS’ program to provide employment opportunities for people with autism. This program received the overall Champion Award at the 2018 Australian TechDiversity Awards.
The work of Hodgkinson’s team has also been recognised with two awards in the Queen’s Birthday Honours. Earlier this year, Ray Baird was awarded a PSM for services to technology-enabled policy and service delivery reform. This award acknowledged the department’s ‘unusual success’ in delivering digital transformation projects.
In 2018, Jodie Quilliam was awarded a PSM for outstanding public service to records management. The award acknowledged the delivery of a program of work to index and digitise more than 30km of paper records relating to clients, patients and former wards of the state.
The deployment of Microsoft Office 365 to 11,500 staff across 63 DHHS locations were successfully onboarded in 45 weeks. The volume of emails across the department has dropped by 10 per cent with more than 4000 staff now using Teams. A chatbot called ‘Codee’ provides self support for Office 365 users.
Hodgkinson and his team have also deployed the Victorian Health Incident Management System (VHIMS) across 50 health services. VHIMS improves the safety of patients and staff because incidents of harm and near misses are more quickly and accurately reported.
The RentAssist Bonds Loans Online system is the latest in a suite of digital self-service systems accessed via MyGov.gov.au; a housing virtual assistant enables housing service officers to answer 12,000 client queries annually using an artificial intelligence tool to synthesise information from more than 5000 pages of policy documents and recommended answers using natural language queries.
A personal hardship assistance program is a new approach to securely managing support payments to Victorians in times of personal and public emergency using stored value payment cards; and the ongoing development and enhancement of a portfolio of cloud services systems enables multi-agency information sharing in family violence reforms.
Finally, the centrepiece of Hodgkinson’s contribution, and a key enabler of the achievements mentioned above, has been the creation and implementation of the DHHS Platform + Agile approach. This has boosted innovation, increased the cadence of project delivery, reduced costs and risks, and increased staff engagement and motivation.
“This innovative approach has enabled the in-house team to successfully deliver more than 30 new business systems on public cloud platforms over three years. These projects have enabled and supported life-changing policy and service delivery reforms for Victorians and transformed the department’s administration.
“DHHS is one of the few government departments to demonstrate large-scale digital transformation of front-line services through the use of public cloud services and agile methods,” he says.
A highly regarded strategist
Although Hodgkinson is not an executed board member, he is one of the more senior execs at the department and is highly regarded for his strategic perspective, practical approach and demonstrated success at delivering digital transformation.
This is exhibited through successful project execution and achievement of ‘on-target’ budget outcomes, says Hodgkinson. Last financial year, Hodgkinson’s team delivered an $80 million project portfolio comprising more than 65 projects affecting all areas of the department with a budgeted annual variance of just 0.1 per cent.
“I chair and participate in a wide range of committees within the department and whole-of-government (including the CIO Leadership and Cybersecurity Advisory groups and key interdepartmental information sharing reform initiatives such as ChildLink).
“These provide many opportunities to lead and influence the discussion and digital innovation themes in policy and service delivery reforms at the most senior level. My teams are also integral in leading and shaping reform agendas and projects across the department so my influence extends through my leadership team – all of whom are also highly regarded by their peers as knowledgeable and effective leaders.”
The best way to view technology leadership in a large complex organisation like DHHS is through the lens of execution, says Hodgkinson.
“It is not enough to be good at selling a vision, setting strategic direction and ‘talking the talk.’ Influence stems from being regarded as somebody who actually gets useful things done. This is the reason that I often say to my teams that our digital transformation strategy is simply to ‘keep calm and do useful things better,’” he says.