CIO50 2020 #4 Dr Steve Hodgkinson, Victoria Department of Health and Human Services
When asked about his biggest career lesson, The Victorian Department of Health and Human Services’ (DHHS) chief information officer, Dr Steve Hodgkinson, turns to a quote attributed to Canadian hockey player Wayne Gretsky: ‘You miss 100 per cent of the shots you don’t take.’
When confidence in digital transformation capabilities is low or declines, ‘digital mojo’ is lost, the organisation starts to take fewer shots, and shots that are taken too often miss the goal.
“Worthy proposals for technology-enabled innovation that are never funded or mobilised into delivery projects are shots that are never taken,” he says. “Transformation projects that don’t gain support or stall and projects that go off the rails are shots that miss the goal.”
This is Dr Hodgkinson’s sixth year of digital transformation leadership at DHHS Victoria. New business innovations that have occurred in the past year have been the product of sustainable ways of working that are now embedded through iterative refinement over half a decade.
Dr Hodgkinson has discussed DHHS’ Platform+Agile approach in previous nominations, which he says is suited to organisations that grapple with complex challenges.
“The goal is to develop the digital fitness and digital innovation skill necessary to confidently deliver a large portfolio of projects each year to a high cadence using well proven and repeatable methods,” Hodgkinson says.
Over the past year, more than 20 digital innovations have been deployed using the Platform+Agile approach. Hodgkinson's team under DHHS’ Business Technology and Information Management branch includes David Stephens, Fiona Sparks, John Henderson, Liz Hughes, Jodie Quilliam, and Ray Baird.
The 2019/2020 ICT project portfolio included Family Safety Victoria systems – an integrated suite of case management and multi-agency information sharing systems that was deployed and refined using Microsoft Dynamics 365 to support family violence response programs.
Other systems delivered included SAP Success Factors for HR, ServiceNow for payroll service management, and innovations in public housing including RentAssist Bond Loan Online and an AI-enabled virtual assistant.
Transition to remote working
Microsoft Office 365 was implemented for 11,000 DHHS staff in 2019 which was a timely preparation for the rapid transition of all staff to remote working at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This shift to working from home was relatively painless with all staff securely connected using internet access and multi-factor authentication, quickly productive using Teams and supported by rapidly implemented SharePoint sites and PowerApp/PowerBI applications for administrative support and communications,” Hodgkinson says.
“Our use of advanced security control in O365 and Azure Sentinel service has enabled us to manage remote working cyber security risks.”
"Meanwhile, a Compliance and Welfare Management System has enabled authorised officers, nurses and welfare officers to manage and provide services to more than 15,000 returned travellers under hotel quarantine. A minimum viable product was implemented in days and then iteratively refined as the quarantine operating model, processes and user requirements evolved," Hodgkinson says.
A Digital Test Trace Isolate System automates testing and contact tracing operations as the pandemic has evolved. This included modules for COVID-19 testing, test results tracking, positive case management, close contact tracing (including COVIDSafe integration), outbreak management, outbreak investigation, analytics and reporting.
Hodgkinson says this enabled rapid responses to urgent demands for new systems as well as the incremental build-out of an integrated platform across a large and fragmented ecosystem of testing sites, pathology labs and health services.
“The solutions, based on Microsoft Azure/PaaS, Dynamics 365, and the IBM i2 (Watson) artificial intelligence platform, supported the rapid scaling of in-house contact tracing teams and outsourced call centre teams,” he says.
“This work, will still in progress, would not have been possible without the digital fitness enabled by our Platform+Agile approach. The ability to bring a structured approach to agile delivery of new systems in a complex and highly dynamic environment was a key enabler of Victoria’s pandemic response.”
No project failures
Although Hodgkinson is not an executive board member, he is one of the more senior executives in the department and highly regarded for his approaches to digital transformation.
This has been exhibited through successful project execution and achievement of ‘on-target’ budget outcomes, he says.
“For the last few years, for example, my team have delivered directly controlled annual project portfolios totaling around $80 million annually and comprising between 50 and 60 projects each year with a minimal budget/actual variance and no project failures,” he says.
Getting back to his earlier hockey analogy, Hodgkinson says that in the public sector, the ‘game’ is a financial year. A ‘goal’ is a successfully delivered and digitally-enabled business innovation.
The CIO's coach role and that of any executive leading organisational transformation, is to create and sustain an environment within which the in-house teams increase their goal scoring average over multiple games and keep doing it year-on-year.
“A key learning for me is that this is not just about one-goal-at-a-time – or project by project – thinking. The strategy is not just to win the game, it is to build sustainable game-winning capabilities,” he says.
“These capabilities cannot be developed just when needed and cannot be procured. They need to be built up by the in-house team by coaching, training, practice and repetition.”
Creating a positive culture
Hodgkinson has promoted diversity across his team. Two of his direct reports are women and the overall team is evenly split between men and women and cultural diversity is high, he says.
His team has also implemented award-winning diversity programs including Rise a DHHS program that has created career opportunities for people on the autism spectrum to work for DHHS as records management officers. This program has now been adopted by several other Victorian government departments.
Finally, the iterative nature of the Platform+Agile approach naturally reinforces a culture of delivery and hence of increasing confidence, growth and compounding organisational learning.
“The first cadence of this approach values and empowers in-house staff and our success in growing the IT budget and project portfolio over the past six years has created many new opportunities for people to learn, develop skills and grow as professionals.
“This passion is reflected in staff satisfaction survey results, which reveal that staff engagement, motivation and work-life balance in my branch have improved year-on-year.”