New Zealand Blood Service (NZBS) operates in a closely regulated environment, with its core activities including the collection, testing, manufacturing and distribution of blood products, says CIO Tony Carpinter.
“These core activities already include many automated processes, such as comprehensive testing of donated blood and the application of complex algorithms to test results, as well as the supply of data to DHBs’ clinical data repositories,” he says.
There is a range of business improvement initiatives under way at NZBS. Some are intended to make processes more digital and others to implement lean manufacturing processes, and to improve products and services.
“The largest current initiative, due for completion this year, is to implement eTraceline. It is a new system to manage hospital blood banks and a platform for future innovation.”
Last year, a major transformation programme for his team was the creation of a new version of their blood donor app.
“Our previous app was a component of our CRM system,” explains Carpinter.
“It was functional and useful at the time, but over its life it had become dated and out of pace with the industry trends of social integration, simple and intuitive interfaces and personalisation features for donors. This led us to explore our options.
“Through discussions and help from the Kano model, we decided to refocus on the basics. Working with our marketing department and an external advisor, we conducted a week-long workshop looking at the required functionality and developed mockups of the ‘minimal viable product’.
“The process mimicked a startup incubator, involving multiple iterations of functional designs and rapid feedback from donors, delivering a working prototype by the end of the week for a stakeholder demonstration. This final product became the basis for the requirements of an RFP process. Sush Mobile won the RFP and worked with the team to develop the app.”
The final product was a success for the organisation, with 41,676 downloads in the first six months (compared to around 8000 for the old app over nine years). Today, 16.2 per cent of total donor appointments are now booked through the app, compared to 4 per cent on the old app.
The donor app is to be followed by further initiatives to improve the experience of the donors once they come to a blood collection centre he says, for example providing electronic versions of the standard questionnaire.
He says the donor app has been recognised internationally. It won the best mobile app category in the Mobile Web Awards 2016, and was a finalist in the e New Zealand Innovation Awards 2016 for the health and science category and in the New Zealand Best Design Awards 2016 for the applications category.
“Innovation can be small or large in scale and at NZBS, it often involves multiple parties such as the scientists in technical Services, the training team and the marketing team,” he says.
“Often there is innovation in business terms that involves some IT components. It’s important to acknowledge that IS is definitely not the only innovator.
“Our Process Excellence project is charged with implementing Lean Manufacturing processes, which can be another source of innovation. This project is driven by a former senior manager within IS, which gives good synergy.”
Another source of innovation is the global community of blood services. In most cases, blood services work cooperatively, with successful innovations publicised and shared, says Carpinter.
One key forum is the International MAK User Group, for the blood services who use MAK-System application suite. NZBS benefits from the collaboration and contributes to it.
“One business innovation was the implementation of measures that enable our platelet products to have a life of seven days, instead of five days. The longer life reduces the pressure on the supply chain and leads to better service to hospitals. IS was one of the teams that assisted with the project,” he says.
“A small-scale technology project was a proof-of-concept to show that we could control blood fridges installed outside our network. This was very much a No.8 fencing wire exercise, simple, cheap and with limited functionality.”
“However, it is a stepping stone for the future delivery of smart fridges, which will eventually enable us to have blood products available closer to the point of care and under remote control.
“In the cybersecurity domain, we worked with Datacom to become one of the first New Zealand users of a cloud-based web-security service. We know that this has reduced our risk profile. Another joint project with Datacom has given us the capability to view centrally CCTV feeds from cameras across different locations.”
He says it is essential that NZBS core systems operate smoothly, since product safety and patients’ health depend on this. When it was formed, NZBS adopted an outsourcing model with Datacom as the supplier and this has been retained.
“Outsourcing is not a panacea, but it does mean that resources are committed to daily delivery of service and that standards can be monitored. We can also benefit as the outsourcer improves services and introduces new offerings that have been proven with other customers.
“We do encourage staff to research relevant new technology and tools. The internal use of Kanban and Slack are examples of tools that have been introduced successfully. The business intelligence team promoted the use of Tableau in the organisation, which has been very successful in opening up datasets for users to analyse themselves.”
From a formal standpoint within NZBS, there are forums where stakeholders come together. The executive team will discuss major IT business cases and receive a quarterly overview of IS activities. The board receives updates on major IT projects and a quarterly update on cybersecurity.
“Informally, most of the senior team are in one location, so there is plenty of opportunity to have a quick word. Skype for Business and video-conferencing are useful tools for communication with the wider organisation,” he says.
“We communicate with the wider organisation through the intranet. Our IS team is distributed nationally, so we have staff located at six different sites around the country, which can help with informal communications.”
As well, his team take opportunities for speaking slots at the bi-monthly CEO Forum and at the annual staff conference.
“It is a given that year-on-year there is more technology introduced and that the nice-to-have technology from the recent past, becomes essential technology within a year or two. Over time, the IS team has increased in size to accommodate this, but we are still relatively lean.”
He says there are eight nationalities within the 12 people based in Auckland, where the staff mix in general is also diverse.
“There is a commitment to training and the development of relevant skills, which means staff benefit from their time with the company. With Datacom as an outsourcing partner, we are exposed to industry developments and opportunities,” says Carpinter.