Interview with Myles Ward | CEO healthAlliance

"The expectations of customers, people, and the real benefits associated in deploying digital technologies means that you can't afford to slow down."

Myles Ward is the CEO of healthAlliance and has over 15 years of public and private sector senior ICT related leadership experience. Myles was the former Chief Technology Officer at Inland Revenue and was primarily focused on the strategic direction and the technology aspects of the company's large scale business transformation.

Here's our full conversation with Myles, where we discuss everything from New Zealand's record on data and analytics to crowd-sourced healthcare:

PwC: What has been the largest change you've seen in the last 20 years, from a business and commercial perspective?

Myles: The expectations of customers, people, and the real benefits associated in deploying digital technologies means that you can't afford to slow down. However, introducing the right pace for change within the Health environment safely is key, as too is the need to leverage third party technology partners to source those innovations and digital technologies; NZ Inc. play a key role in this. These expectations present an exciting future for Health and one which will see digital technologies being utilised more and more. Like any industry, the Board and CEO have a huge part to play to bring these opportunities to life and deliver those benefits.

While we use words like 'transformation' quite freely, it's important to be clear about what that means and the pace at which you will be pursuing it. A lot of the change I see at times starts with the technology. Transformations, like any change, need to start with the business outcomes being clearly defined with technology then being utilised as the key enabler. The benefits can then be better realised through the use of technology. Within Health, there is advanced change being undertaken to provide better patient outcomes in primary, secondary, community and tertiary care, with technology being one of the key enablers.

PwC: How advanced do you think New Zealand companies are at analysing their data? Maybe out of 10?

Myles: I'd say at the moment we are about a six. The level of sophistication we use to analyse data is advancing however there is a way to go. There is a realisation here in New Zealand that using data is important, but we are past the point where it's a competitive advantage. Now, you have to be using data just to keep up with your competitors. That's why I'd say we're a six.

PwC: So there's plenty of room for improvement?

Myles: I think it's about how you practice it. If you aren't well versed in data and analytics, you won't be asking the right questions. What I am seeing is a lot more use of market, NZ Inc., and third-party service providers to achieve this. So companies are moving away from a model where they have to do everything themselves to one where they are focused on the strategic core of their organisation and then using different methods of market engagement, like a public-private partnership (PPP), to create a viable solution. That's a win for me as a CEO because it means I'm not having to build everything from scratch, and it's a win for the market because it means greater diversity in product offerings.

The challenge for companies, and this is true in health as well, is to develop a better system without building the system yourself from scratch.

PwC: For businesses in general, do you think there are more risks or uncertainties than in the past?

Myles: In the last 20 years, risk has certainly become more sophisticated. While CEOs 20 years ago still had a lot of risk to consider, the introduction of digital and borderless economies provides a far greater reach which introduces a different series of risks. Becoming more and more online, while ensuring data remains private, introduces that cyber dimension. There is a level of sophistication that is required to run a company within a borderless economy.

In a world where it is difficult to predict where technology is heading within the next five years, companies are having to move away from a model where they have to do everything themselves. The ability to utilise strategic partnering and leverage third party relationships is key to advance and remain relevant. Focussing on what you should be good at is key and it's a win for the likes of NZ Inc. and other partners because it means accessing a greater diversity in product offerings while investing in the economy.

PwC: You mention technology, what impact is that having on your organisation?

Myles:  Within the Health Sector, Technology is a vital enabler to deliver Primary, Secondary, Community and Tertiary Care. Being an enabler within the Health Sector to deliver this is very rewarding and seeing the great advancements made by DHBs in delivering high quality care has been amazing.

PwC: You mentioned PPPs/NZ Inc. earlier, do you think that corporates and government should be working more closely together?

Myles: Yes I do. Utilising the sector to support achieving Health outcomes is key and there is a place there for this to happen.

NZ Inc. also play a key role. Accessing innovation from NZ companies is key, as too is supporting the economy. Again, it comes back to that core functionality that companies are focused on. Using PPPs/NZ Inc. means you can then use the market to assist delivering and improving the delivery of services to customers.

PwC: That conflict between the board and the executive in terms of adjusting to the pace of change – how do you think CEOs should figure out what the right pace is for their organisation?

Myles: Well setting expectations is key. But also having common goals that you can work towards means you at least understand where the business is going. From there, it's about unpacking “speed to objective” and then working out why a certain speed is required. At the end of the day, the CEO and Board might just have different contexts – that's why having the same context right from the start is key.

What I'm also finding is that, if I look at healthAlliance, having a technology background enables you to appreciate that pace of change. In a digital environment, it means you can utilise multiple speeds to deliver those technology enablement programmes of work. One pace is not the answer any more.  As a CEO, that appreciation allows you to then communicate to the Board around how you are going to get from A to B, as well as what speed you are going to set to get there.

PwC: So where do you think the New Zealand economy is going to go in the next couple of years?

Myles: In terms of the NZ economy, while having a strong Service Sector, the Primary Sector continues to dominate. NZ does have opportunity in terms of value adding. There is real opportunity in sectors such as technology. There's a greater focus on technology hubs and we're also seeing the Universities taking a strong lead in cyber and fraud. So there's some great investments that are taking us up from that base and towards those value added services.

PwC: And how do you see that playing out in the regions? Because technology hubs are in the cities, but will that have a knock-on effect for regional New Zealand?

Myles:  I see that regions will play a key role and it's a necessity for New Zealand's future.

PwC: Speaking of talent, what's your approach to recruitment?

Myles: Well certainly the employee value proposition is key. What really dictates that is the company's values – so that when we are finding new staff we are looking for people whose values align with those of the company. That was one of the first things I looked at when I joined the company. Now those values match someone who is community-oriented, who wants to give something back. I go to every induction of a new employee and I thank them for choosing our company and share with them why I chose to work here. That all comes back to wanting to make health a great outcome for 1.5 million New Zealanders. As a CEO, having that as a goal is a massive opportunity and that informs our hiring strategy.

PwC: And what about crowd-sourcing?

Myles: Crowd sourcing will be a massive trend, it's one we are only just now starting to explore and we've only seen the tip of the iceberg so far. In healthcare, there's huge potential to use crowd sourcing. Our behaviours are changing and now there are different ideas about how people work with one another, and that's where this idea of crowd sourcing has grown from.

The way to be customer centric in the first instance is to put your staff at the centre. From there, your staff will put customers at the centre of their work.

PwC: So what do you think will be the big trends for the next 20 years?

Myles: In the next 20 years, while digital advancements are unquestionably going to drive enormous benefits, I think it is also going to test us all to new limits. The sheer pace and advancement that technology is offering us is one that we all have to harness as CEO's and consider wisely.  The International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) is already highlighting the moral and social dilemmas in automation and the tough questions that have to be tackled.

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