CIO50 2022 #18 Maria Paz, Villa Maria Catholic Homes
Maria Paz, chief information officer at Villa Maria Catholic Homes (VMCH), is one of a select group of female technology leaders helping to advance the cause for applying digital technologies to help those in dire need.
VMCH is the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne’s leading provider of retirement living, early learning and therapy, specialist education, disability services, affordable housing, residential aged care and at-home aged care. It services around 9,000 people.
Paz became VMCH’s first CIO back in July 2020, just as Melbourne descended into one of the worst pandemic nightmares of any major city in the world, with exploding case numbers, deaths and unrelenting lockdowns.
At the time, VMCH was hobbled by soled data and a lack of systems integration, meaning it couldn’t harness the data across core systems to make informed decisions.
“Multiple teams spent days reconciling and preparing reports that were often out of alignment and out of date by the time they were prepared,” she tells CIO Australia.
Since then she has initiated a variety of innovations, centred around improving customer and employee experience, workplace efficiency, data and insights and cyber security.
The first of these involved centralising enquiry management across all customer-facing services onto a common CRM platform.
Previously, all enquiries were managed by individual areas, siloed in different local spreadsheets using inconsistent approaches.
“The value provided by this initiative was a more consistent customer experience by offering a one-stop-shop for all enquiries,” Paz explains.
“This also allowed the organisation to gain insights, through collating and analysing our customers’ interactions [also] to track anticipated demand across our services and assess the effectiveness of our marketing campaigns.”
Paz also drove investment in data warehousing and visualisation tools to bring data and insights into the decision-making tables, while facilitating access to it.
“We built dashboards that allowed us to monitor everything from workforce through to service quality - all available at a click. This, along with complementary training, greatly improved the data literacy of our organisation”.
Added to this was an easy-to-access central ‘intelligence hub’, providing users with access to a myriad of operational, executive and Board-level reporting and insights related to residents, other clients and VMCH staff. It includes data relating to occupancy and care services, quality and compliance, financial and operational performance, and security.
“This was delivered by investing in our internal capabilities in business intelligence, data integration and warehousing,” Paz notes.
Helping to further improve employee experiences, Paz and her team delivered staff and resident Wi-Fi and hybrid working, and digitised staff onboarding and offboarding requests enabling seamless HR, property and technology access.
“These innovations are significant and unique because they were established over a relatively short (two-year) period, in an environment which was digitally immature and facing the full force of COVID impacts,” she recalls.
During the worst of it, VMCH absorbed a 40% staff shortfall for well over 12 months.
“This meant we needed to leverage relationships with business areas and external partners to address the skills gaps as well as greatly increase internal productivity to meet the challenges," Paz adds.
Building a “strong and cohesive team” was critical, as was investing in and standing up scalable and flexible platforms.
“The last two years have been more challenging than most for clients who are seeking to secure care,” Paz laments.
“For both VMCH and our customers, it was important to gain their confidence in our services from the enquiry point. I spearheaded this initiative by bringing together all service areas to work through an extensive service design process to understand what was common to and what was unique about each service area.”
Information was also collected from client interviews and ‘mapped customer journeys’ to understand the ‘moments that matter’, helping to further inform VMCH’s understanding of what customers needed to access critical services.
Paz’s 18th place in this year’s CIO50 is all the more impressive given that not only is she VMCH’s first chief information officer, but it’s also her first job as CIO, and first job in the care sector.
“Whilst I was working out how to transition into a CIO role, VMCH was also trying to understand: ‘what does a CIO do?’,” Paz says. “So, we already had that in common.”
Prior to her joining the organisation, the role of technology was primarily concerns with the provisioning of equipment, telephony and networks, and not on enabling and supporting business strategy and operations.
“At that time, trust and confidence in IT were low, so I focused on identifying genuine business problems and pain points and helping them to solve these. This allowed me to gain influence through developing trust.”
Paz encourages her teams to engage the business, listen with intent and forge relationships and partnerships through jointly solving problems of varying complexity, and/or exploring the art of the possible.
“We went from being the “ICT” team to becoming the IT and solution services team. Therefore, my contributions led to a fundamental change in the role that IT played at VMCH, who was involved, and how IT was used."