by Byron Connolly

CIO50 2016 #26-50: Chris Nurse, Telethon Kids Institute

Nov 24, 2016
Technology Industry

Chris Nurse is passionate about the Perth-based Telethon Kids Institute becoming a research institute of the future, which underpins its ability to make a difference in child health and well-being.

Prior to the transformation, researchers were working in a technically-constrained environment, encumbered by out of date technologies, slow connectivity, and a collection of legacy systems that were not integrated.

“Once my board and executive sponsors had a clear statement of the key risks and solution options, I had almost immediate support to get going,” says Nurse. “But I had to transformation the IT function in terms of people and culture, to empower them and get them on board to deliver a technology refresh and adopt cloud.”

Nurse created a 2020 Vision for the organisation and the methodologies for driving success. These include ‘kaleidoscope’, where he created a visualisation of the institute, how it operates, creates value and how technology underpins key areas.

Secondly, ‘nGen’ creates a vision of the technology platform that supports research and enables collaboration between diverse organisations; and lastly, ‘nuSpace’ envisions an environment and process which enables the institute to assess technologies for benefits before driving adoption.

Key innovations improve collaboration

Nurse says by far the greatest innovations have been realised by the rollout of an Office 365 environment – the first Australian medical research institute to do so –and adoption continues to grow.

Within the first three months of launching, more than 600 users were migrated to the platform and within 6 months, 200 external researchers were brought online.

This is a significant innovative step as it means there is a seamless collaboration space in which researchers from different organisations can exchange and develop ideas, says Nurse.

“Academic organisations measure their performance on research output. The Telethon Kids Institute differentiates by measuring itself on positive impact, often referred to as a research translation, taking knowledge and converting it into change.

For example, research can lead to a change in government policy, parenting, clinical practice, drug discovery and community engagement.

“Our newly launched business intelligence initiative will assist researchers in articulating their research journey, the benefits, the support they need and the outcomes that they will achieve. As a whole, the institute will measure and report on its research impact and will be the first in our sector to do so with such transparency.”

The introduction of a FlexPod architecture and fully revised disaster recovery solution in 2016 – which replaced 10 years old legacy technology – also defended the institute from a crypto-lock (ransomware) attack. This was identified and remediated in less than one hour, says Nurse.

Meanwhile, cloud adoption at the institute was triggered by a critical internal system failure. The process to find the right cloud service provider to help remediate the issue also revealed opportunities to use vendor skills to solve research-related issues, says Nurse.

Synergy exists when researchers work with technology startups to create solutions that have a positive impact on society, he says. In the past year, with Nurse’s support, the institute has participated in three hackathons, and developed mobile and web-based apps with IoT technologies. It is also innovating in the field of research related to the Autism spectrum using mobile devices.

“IoT adoption has begun through a hackathon initiative, which is designed to support managing gestational weight during pregnancy. By using wearables and leveraging WiFi-enabled scales, mums are able to effortlessly engage in important research without disrupting their daily lives,” Nurse says.

Finally, machine learning is also central to the institute’s bioformatics and biostatistics function to drive advancement in precision medicine, he says.

Building a brand

Nurse says he has spent 30 years building a personal style and brand that combines technical knowledge, an ability to communicate with business people, and a drive to inspire and lead technology professionals.

“That brand and my documented achievements have led me to become a trusted advisor to many business leaders in numerous engagements,” he says.

“Influence comes from being able to demonstrate value and lead in adverse conditions. By having the courage to make tough decisions, being open to accepting risks and being able to inspire people to follow the lead, the institute’s leaders have been constantly assured that the technology program is in good hands.”