Though he has been in charge of the IT services for the Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) for years, the past year has been unusually challenging for CIO Chris Dever in the wake of the earthquakes that shook the region. Yet, this is a manager who is not afraid to give praise where praise is due.
"My team are the stars of the day! Large numbers of our staff responded to the major quakes even when, in the event of the February 22nd and June 13th quakes, many of their own houses were damaged and their sections covered in mud,” Dever says.
"Obviously, as a health organisation, as well as ensuring that the servers are still running, there is much activity for the IS group in these situations – setting up emergency response centres, moving displaced staff, providing additional cellular phones etc. In all matters the employees’ performances were outstanding.”
Infrastructure across the CDHB had obviously suffered considerable disruption. Dever points out that much of the damage was unseen, buried in service ducts across the many buildings that make up the CDHB environment. The computer services continued with very little disruption through all significant events.
"Generally, the IT resources handled the shakes well, and my staff can feel very proud that the work they have done over past years to ensure that the hardware was ship-shape paid off when tested,” he says.
He says the IT environment at the CDHB is by nature very complex, and they have disaster recovery plans in place. After each event, the response was reviewed and some minor changes were incorporated.
Reflecting over the lessons learned from the extreme situations after the quakes, Dever mentions these points as his experience:
- Modern telecommunications is very robust. We have a very extensive telecommunications network running across the city. These links run over copper and fibre and are supplied from both national telecommunications providers and local providers. We had no telecoms issues across any of the events.
- Great staff and good teamwork are essential.
- When incidents run for several days or weeks it’s very important to send people home so that fresh staff can take over in the next shift.
- Time must be made for staff to be able to organise their personal situation. Many had damaged houses and sections, distraught families and some had family tragedies. It’s important to ensure that skills are spread.
Dever explains that once the IT area was settled, he was rostered onto the DHB’s Emergency Response Centre looking after logistics for much of the time after the earthquakes.
Working in the health sector is nothing new to Dever, who had been working at the MidCentral DHB for more than a decade before joining the CDHB. It is a sector he sees as broad and highly complex, and as an exciting environment in which to be involved.
"Working in this environment requires strategic thinking and strong team leadership skills, and you have to be politically savvy. In my previous role, I had been working at national level on many health projects and when the opportunity to take up the CIO role at New Zealand’s largest District Health Board came up I leapt at the opportunity.
"This job is much larger, in all aspects, than the role in MidCentral – larger budget and larger staff numbers. As a result, CDHB tends to have many more projects ‘on the go’ at any time. We also tend to be leading national progress on many fronts, which makes the role both more challenging and more interesting.”
When it comes to attracting staff to this sector, he acknowledges that health is not the most lucrative sector for IT staff. But he says it can provide complexity that can attract and retain staff.
"Health organisations have large, mission critical environments, which are highly interfaced. Many good technical IT professionals thrive in that environment.”
When asked about whether today’s role of IT executive is lending itself more to a business background than a technical background, Dever says that CIOs still need to have a good knowledge of the technology they manage, but he also maintains that the role is much more than just a ‘technology manager’.
"I see the CIO role as an information manager with a scope that covers information technology (the data centre), information systems (application requirements, process management, project management and information architecture) and records management (physical and technology based records management as well as data quality),” he says.
"The health sector CIOs role is to understand international trends, national strategy, regional and local planning – and to turn all that into a robust annual action plan.”