by Divina Paredes

CIO100 2018 #28: Nicholas Fourie, Fisher & Paykel Healthcare

Mar 28, 2018
Big Data Careers Digital Transformation

Just over a year into the role, Nicholas Fourie looks back on milestones and challenges he hurdled when he stepped up to the role of vice president of ICT at Fisher Paykel Healthcare (FPH).

“The biggest challenge was managing the balancing act of a new executive role while also picking up a large ERP project in the middle of its global rollout,” says Fourie, who holds, essentially, a global CIO role (FPH has 4100 staff in 35 countries) while based in Auckland.

Fourie says while his predecessor, Winston Fong, now vice president surgical technologies at FP Healthcare, left the team and project in very good shape. “Naturally there was an awareness around the need to keep the momentum and stability going.”

When he stepped into his current role, he was also wrapping up some of his work as development manager. “The key for me in juggling both was to ensure I remained level headed and that I gave people the right attention at the right time.

“I achieved this by taking a hands-on approach as much as possible, with the goal of deeply understanding all of the risks and challenges in various areas.

“I quickly realised that a strong leadership team to back me up was essential as a leader is only as good as those who lead with them,” he says.

“I quickly went about a reorganisation of the leadership team, including the appointment of new critical roles to support our strategy and organisational growth.”

“He has the unusual challenges of balancing innovation with a significant amount of regulatory compliance across a global landscape,” says Amanda Parish, HR manager at FP Healthcare.

She notes how Fourie handled this by pragmatically balancing the needs of the business and the team. He deliberately hired people to complement the existing team, challenge the status quo and drive the business forward, she says.

The fundamental goal is that the business sees ICT as an innovation house, not only for digital solutions but for any business challenge

Core foundation, core leadership

Fourie describes the ERP implementation as a crucial component of the company’s growth strategy that will help support business growth over the next 15 to 20 years.

“This is our digital core that will help support business growth and optimisation over the next 15 to 20 years,” he says.

“The programme will continue running over the next two to three years as we roll it out to all of our global sites,” he says. The team has already implemented the system in New Zealand, Mexico and most of the Asia Pacific region.

“Our legacy ERP was beginning to limit our capability to grow with the organisation, which aims to double constant currency revenue every five or six years,” he says.

“These deployments were large undertakings and we can proudly say that no business disruption was experienced, and time and budget targets were met.”

He says the project team is now gearing up to roll out this “exciting transformation” to the larger markets in North America and Europe.

He says FPH has already begun to benefit from the rollout. Global sales offices have seen improved stock management and demand planning across the supply chain.

“We have been able to provide the business with greater traceability of raw materials and products globally. This has contributed to more effective and efficient business, enabling us to better serve our patients and customers with the products they need.”

Like most major business technology programmes, the team had to consider structural, operational and cultural factors.

“This new digital core is how we have embedded ourselves within the business,” he explains. “We have carefully constructed this initiative to firstly not be about replacing ERP systems, and secondly not being an ICT project.

“The structure that has been developed is one of a joint business transformation initiative, which in many ways is led and championed by those within the organisation. This has been an important aspect in terms of the way we structure activities, communication, training and so on. The result of all of this is an incredibly strong sense of joint ownership and duty of care to get to the best outcome.”

Fourie says having a strong and highly positive team culture was key to the rollout. “The team has been highly creative and approached go-lives as a huge celebratory event, often decking the whole office out in the theme of the country we are cutting over.

“This in turn has resulted in good buy-in from business stakeholders as they adopt their new ERP solution. This is important as it creates a healthy environment of capability and support sustainability by the business.”

Technology alone is no longer a point of difference… Innovative thinking and business mastery are key ingredients to be truly successful

Factory 4.0

Fourie and his team are also immersed in piloting and deploying disruptive and emerging technologies.

These include melding of machine analytics and the Internet of Things into what he calls ‘Factory 4.0.’

“We have been experimenting and prototyping across a number of areas in this space over the past year,” he says. “One challenge we have is machinery on the production floor that does not naturally have the inbuilt capability to provide us with valuable insights and analytics.

“How could we provide world class machine and factory analytics with legacy shop floor equipment whilst not disrupting critical production lines?”

Fourie says the team was able to innovate some unique solutions to feed live data off of equipment, such as moulding machines.

“This project has provided production staff and managers with live machine analytics and highly visual dashboards of relevant data,” he adds.

The technologies used are also highly transportable across other shop floor equipment with minimal resource, complexity and simple middleware.

“Over the coming years we will continue with this digital transformation of our manufacturing areas as the business requires it.”

Artificial intelligence, including the use of chatbots is another area that they are doing a lot of experimenting and prototyping.

The implementation of this has been well received by the business with a production chatbot now being rolled out to one of the business units to assist with information search and common support queries.

“Over the coming year we will be looking to further leverage such technology for true deep data analytics and insights,” he says.

Virtual reality and augmented reality are also being explored for training on medical device assembly and operation.

“This has involved some highly creative thinking as training is a highly regulated activity in our industry,” he says.

Fourie says their focus on design thinking is something the team is proud of. “While this is not a technology innovation, we feel this is very important as it is a highly innovative cultural shift for us, and one which we feel is quite leading edge.”

The team has been adopting the design thinking methodology for over a year now and has even developed their own curriculum for the FPH business.

“We have developed a highly tactile and pragmatic course to empower our people with ways to think about innovating for the business. The fundamental goal is that the business sees ICT as an innovation house, not only for digital solutions but for any business challenge,” he says.

He says LEAN and continuous improvement are key approaches taken on by the team. Both concepts are very familiar to ICT professionals, and his team applies this through the rest of the business to improve internal operations.

“It has exposed our technology professionals to areas of the business they might not have interacted with as much before, and in so doing increased their commercial acumen greatly. This is an invaluable resource and one that puts us in a position where we can truly be seen as influential and innovative business leaders,” he says.

“This is extremely important to us as we feel technology alone is no longer a point of difference to being truly well rounded, innovative professionals. Innovative thinking and business mastery are key ingredients to be truly successful at this.”

Trusted advisors

Fourie works to ensure the technology team is seen as a trusted advisor across the organisation and to be called upon for insights.

“This is something I am particularly passionate about and have put a strong focus on developing a culture where we are seen to be highly engaged and integrated into the business,” he says.

“We have come up with a vision for our brand – what we want the business to think of ICT,” he says. “We are influential leaders with a strong understanding of business and the know-how to leverage data, people, process, and technology to help FPH succeed.”

Communication and engagement with the business top the list of their ways to achieve this. They also produce a quarterly newsletter that is sent out company wide, and provide weekly news snippets in the company newsletter and monthly blogs on the intranet.

He says more substantial activities include monthly ‘Knowledge Sharing’ where all ICT members get together to share news and stories. Guests from FPH and outside the organisation both present to them and also hear from what the group is working on.

He is particularly proud of their first ‘Open Day’, which the technology team set up as a trade show at an FPH conference facility. Hundreds of people attended, including executive team members.

“We used the day to showcase technology innovation, future projects, ideas collection, updates on our business plan and most importantly as an interactive event for the team to talk to the business about business and technology,” says Fourie.

“One important change we have made over the last year is rethinking how we structure teams,” he says on other leadership programmes they have launched.

“We allow people to more easily move between domains of expertise, and being able to try something new. This is a very intentional effort to encourage more cross-pollination of skills,” he says.

“This has provided some individuals with some truly exciting opportunities to try a different career path or to learn something new. We’ve had CAD engineers become project managers, project managers become delivery managers, and trainers become digital sales solutions leaders.”

“This helps both the development of people and the creation of a well-rounded leadership pipeline.”