by Divina Paredes

CIO50 2019 #26-50: Nicholas Fourie, Fisher & Paykel Healthcare

Mar 28, 2019
Technology Industry

Nicholas Fourie
Credit: Fisher & Paykel Healthcare

Establishing buy-in for a new business unit in a not so well-trodden area is a ‘stretch assignment’ for any executive.

This was exactly what happened to Nicholas Fourie, vice president (VP) – ICT at Fisher Paykel Healthcare, who now considers this one of his biggest challenges to date.

Two years into his role, Fourie says he began working closely and collaboratively with a respected peer to build a business unit outside of ICT, called “Business Excellence”, focusing on driving Continuous Improvement (CI) methodologies into various parts of the business outside of Manufacturing (who already are big adopters of CI).

While the function reports into the VP of ICT, it is empowered to work very closely and directly with other executives and department heads to identify and facilitate business improvement.

CI is the application of Lean principles to drive efficiency and optimal processes and is a staple of any large manufacturing facility. He explains F P Healthcare has CI methodologies deeply embedded into their engineering and manufacturing areas.

Through several internal projects, he appointed a highly respected manufacturing operations manager into a GM of Business Excellence. This individual already had great capability and influence in in establishing CI and continued on to form a team to focus on this. Then, he spent a lot of time discussing with members of the executive team around how this business unit would benefit them, such as optimising their processes.

“I supported our new GM in making sure we got the CEO to be a visible and vocal champion of this.”

Fourie says his role is not to take any limelight for outcomes. This falls onto the head of this division, and the great team that works with him. Ultimately, continuous improvement should be owned by the business.

Today, he says, the new business unit is working on some very specific objectives. For Fourie, getting buy-in for the establishment of this unit, stressed the importance of “the masterful art of negotiation and clearly articulating buy-in”.

“It’s relatively easy for any CIO to build on or evolve an existing strategy, but I gained a new appreciation for handing a blue-sky approach,” he says, “especially in an area I had no prior knowledge in!”

A Digital Core, paving the way for the future

FP Healthcare (FPH) is in the midst of rolling out their global ERP system.

Since his appointment in 2017, Fourie had oversight of this programme and integration of this system into their sales offices around the globe.

“We refer to this as our ‘digital core’ that will help support business growth and optimisation over the next 15 to 20 years,” he explains.

This is a major business transformation programme that is planned to continue running over the next two to three years as we roll out to our global sites, he says.

The system has been rolled out in their New Zealand and Mexico manufacturing sites and all of Asia, Australia and Canada. It is currently being rolled out in North America with Europe to follow soon.

He says FPH is already benefiting from the new system through improved stock management and demand planning across the supply chain.

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

“An extremely important structural aspect of rolling out this new digital core is how we have embedded ourselves within the business,” he states.

“We have carefully constructed this initiative to firstly; not be about replacing ERP systems and secondly; not an ICT project.

“The structure that has been developed is one of a joint business transformation initiative, which is in many ways is led and championed by those within the organisation.”

As a result, there is an incredibly strong sense of joint ownership for the project and duty of care to get the best outcome, he says.

Fourie and his team have also been busy over the past year implementing several technology and digital focused projects.

They have been working with several of field staff who want to have a consistent user experience when working across different territories.

“This was no small feat as it required a complete review and overhaul of all our global productivity tools,” says Fourie. The latter included cloud-based office and content collaboration tools.

The team is also working on machine analytics and Internet of Things.

Fourie says a challenge they face is that the machinery on the production floor does not have inbuilt capability to provide them with valuable data. “How can we provide world class machine and factory analytics with legacy shop floor equipment whilst not disrupting critical production lines?”

He says the team was able to work out unique solutions to feed live data off the equipment.

This provided production staff and managers with live machine analytics and highly visual dashboards of machine health, production volumes and maintenance forecasting. The technologies used are also highly transportable across other shop floor equipment with minimal resource, complexity and simple middleware, says Fourie.

He says FPH continues to experiment with technologies such as augmented reality and how it can be applied in training and instruction scenarios.

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

“We have experimented with tools to create augmented scenarios and views of our products, which could then be easily interacted with and transported to various learning platforms. We see the application of such digital technology as an important step in maintaining our competitive advantage.”

Pointers for successful leadership

Fourie places great value on the ICT team being seen as a trusted advisor that is called upon for insights.

He says this is something he stresses with his leadership team and embedded in their ICT purpose and vision: “We are influential leaders with a strong understanding of business and the know-how to leverage data, people, process, and technology to help FP Healthcare to succeed.”

“This is something we literally plaster on posters and in materials, as a reminder for the team around what we are aiming to but also for the business to know what we are aiming for,” says Fourie.

Fourie has recently joined the Institute of Directors and the industry advisory board at AUT. He says these two roles help him prepare for a future director role, and build up experiences for dealing with his peers in the executive team and the board of directors.

The ICT function has also taken their first batch of interns. “This was an exciting endeavour and it is part of our long-term strategy to further develop cultural, gender and skills diversity.

“We feel the long-term investment in graduates is critical to the success of our leadership and skills pipeline. We also highly value the fresh thinking interns and graduates bring,” says Fourie.

He continues to put a strong emphasis on developing a culture where the ICT function is highly engaged and integrated into the business.

He says it is important to interact with the business units on their level. Some of the things they have done are publishing a quarterly newsletter that is sent out across the organisation, weekly news digests in the company newsletter and monthly blogs on the intranet.

“We also hold a monthly ‘Knowledge Sharing’ event where all of ICT get together to share news and stories,” he says. “We invite guests from other business units to both present to us but to also hear from us in a more intimate setting.”

They also organised their first Town Hall event, open to all FPH staff.

“We opened the session to a digital QA where we could answer queries and take on feedback. It was immensely successful, and it set the stage for other group services to do the same! It was truly a benchmark,” says Fourie.