In November 2015, regional South Australia experienced devastating bushfires which ravaged parts of the state with tragic consequences. Several of Ingham’s Group’s farming facilities were destroyed in the fires, causing injury to some staff and significant loss of livestock.
As a result, the poultry producer’s IT and operations teams were asked to identify opportunities and improve safety processes. One area that presented itself was how the organisation communicates during crisis events and how real-time feedback and safety alerts and instructions have been received and acknowledged by remote workers.
Ingham Group’s chief information officer, Richard McPartlin, says communication between staff and teams was historically reliant on basic mobile voice or messaging services which could be ‘hit and miss’ depending on an individual’s mobile coverage.
McPartlin and his team looked across industries to see how similar problems had been addressed. They rolled out platform-as-service communications product ‘Whispr’ – also used by the Rural Fire Service – to manage bushfire safety operations procedures.
The solution provides text-to-voice mass alerting across fixed lines and mobiles; forced SMS across emergency channels; and mandatory read and action acknowledgement. This is aligned to agreed process steps and workflow escalation that has led to increased confidence that the organisation’s bushfire preparedness and ability to respond is enhanced.
“Through the success of the initial response to improving our bushfire safety management planning, we have now extended the platform capabilities into broader IT and corporate incident and crisis management,” says McPartlin.
Out with the old, in with the new
The tragic events and need for the IT group to step up occurred at the beginning of a technology transformation led by McPartlin. He was appointed as Ingham’s inaugural CIO in August 2015 with a mandate to assess the state of IT for the organisation’s new owners and executive team.
It was immediately apparent that the IT portfolio required significant investment to modernise and refresh all parts of the technology estate. The IT function also had a disjointed relationship with the business; there were some strengths but it was very transactional and reactive,’ says McPartlin.
“Given the ageing technology base, bespoke and highly tuned business solutions and reliance on a long standing IT team with unique knowledge, it was clear that the potential to cause major business disruption through any technology refresh was a critical risk and that risk management was going to be key to any successful transformation journey,” he says.
To this end, McPartlin recruited new risk management capabilities – recruiting an expert in this area and establishing new partnerships with PwC and IBM. During an operational and IT security review, the organisation used PwC’s risk management framework to clearly articulate and quantify risks, in business terms, to the executive, and to outline the strategy, key priorities and program of work required to modernise the IT function.
Over the past 18 months, McPartlin has used this framework to measure the impact that the technology investment was having on the risk and capability profile of IT in supporting the business.
“An additional benefit was also recently realised through the risk program with the Attorney General’s office recognising Ingham’s as a part of the national critical infrastructure. This covers services that are essential for everyday such as energy, food, water, transport, communications, health and banking and finance.
“The program also provides enhanced services and business-to-government engagement to ensure the continued operation of critical infrastructure in the face of all hazards,” McPartlin says.
Biggest lesson being learned now
“Like a lot of other CIOs, I think I am working through the biggest lesson of my career at the moment,” says McPartlin.
He says that we are entering an era where traditional boundaries of enterprise IT are now very hazy and the ability for business functions to deploy ‘anything-as-a-service’ without IT is real. Often these initiatives can be more successful without the constraints of traditional enterprise IT, he says.
“The rapid pace of change and explosion of technology challenges and questions the definition of the CIO position daily. Arguably this is the time when CIOs need to stand taller than ever,” he says.
He says Tina Nunno, the author of “The Wolf in CIO’s Clothing”, sums it up perfectly when she says: “Technology may be black and white but successful leadership demands an ability to exist in the grey.”