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CIO50 2022 #26-50 John Danson, NSW Rural Fire Service

  • Name John Danson
  • Title Chief information officer
  • Company NSW Rural Fire Service
  • Commenced role December 2020
  • Reporting Line Executive director for technology, finance and legal
  • Member of the Executive Team Yes
  • Technology Function 100 staff
  • The 2019/2020 bushfires were a disaster for the people and natural environment of NSW, with the persistent spectre of climate change unlikely to recede any time soon.

    NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) is the lead combat agency for NSW bushfires and the world’s largest volunteer firefighter organisation, with more than 76,000 members.

    Following the devastating Black Summer bushfires, the NSW RFS was slated for major digital transformation program. 

    Former Department of Defence tech exec, John Danson, was appointed chief information officer at the agency to lead this long overdue tech renewal across core business systems (HR, finance and cyber security) and emergency response, spanning volunteer safety and empowerment, smart vehicles, and natural disaster intelligence systems.

    Since his appointment, Danson has worked tirelessly to lead the delivery of multiple high impact technology innovations that have transformed the efficiency of the NSW RFS, says Danson’s nominator, David Elliott from Agile Digital.

    “The impact of John’s technology leadership includes innovations across the critical firefighting infrastructure relied upon to keep the people of NSW safe," Elliot notes.

    “This includes innovations spanning real-time emergency intelligence, bushfire risk visualisation, predictive bushfire modelling, cyber security across a highly distributed workforce, cloud-based application infrastructure, and automated streamlining of emergency financial governance.” 

    Danson has led 25 digital transformation and renewal initiatives that help firefighters and other staff respond to life-threatening emergencies by coordinating a large staff and volunteer workforce.

    Notable innovations include:

    One identity: This is a major cost-cutting initiative to consolidate the various log in and access control systems across the enterprise under a single identity management solution.

    This investment was necessary to assure the cyber security of critical systems the power the NSW RFS. It was also needed to ensure authorised personnel can be rapidly and securely onboarded to gain access to systems when they need access.

    Bushfire intelligence: Danson’s team focuses on using technology to help the RFS and people of NSW be more proactive about bushfires. World-class, real-time monitoring systems help people access the location, severity and spread of bushfire incidents.

    Danson has also led several initiatives on the front, including airborne intelligence systems, as well as a system focused on social media monitoring to detect, collate, and analyse observations posted by the citizens of NSW on various platforms.

    These intelligence systems are integrated to provide real-time actionable coordination direction to the State Operations Centre.

    Smart firefighting vehicles: Danson led the implementation and integration of smart terminals into every emergency response vehicle used by firefighters of the NSW RFS. The innovation represents a critical effectiveness and personal safety measure for a workforce that routinely faces life-threatening situations in remote areas of the state. 

    He also led an overhaul of the NSW RFS’ membership system by creating a digital-first channel that uses Office 365 so volunteers can collaborate with each other.

    World-class fire combatants

    Danson has a seat at the table of high-performing executives in what is regarded as a world-class fire combat organisation.

    He influences the executive team in three ways. Firstly, he maintains strong relationships with the four executive directors and the Commissioner of the NSW RFS, Rob Rogers.

    “John believes that technology objectives are first met through people and subsequently through implementation," Elliot notes. "He believes that the CIO must be heavily engaged with the formulation of business strategy if it is to be realised through the implementation of digital systems". 

    This includes taking counsel from executives that understand the nature of the business and then bringing creativity and an executable, inspiring transformation roadmap to the table that all executives can get on board with.

    Secondly, Danson ensure the technology group is actively involved in preparing budgets and business cases.

    “Rather than the executive setting direction and issuing requests to the Office of the CIO, John has taken a leadership role in assessing the priorities of the organisation and tabling technology initiatives that he believes are key to addressing them," Elliot explains.

    “This is important for sustainable and effective digital transformation as initiatives that are set and lead from the Office of the CIO are more achievable given the actual technology landscape of the organisation.

    Thirdly, Elliot stresses that Danson is a "visible and hardworking leader who is creating highly capable teams", and who "rolls up his sleeves and leads from the front".

    “Positive organisational change doesn’t arise naturally. This is particularly true where the high stakes and high risks of core technology overhaul are involved," he notes. 

    "The NSW RFS values the perseverance of the human spirit where death and injury in combatting bushfires is not uncommon".

    Byron Connolly

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