Pictured above, left to right: Cynthia Weaver, VP, Strategic Initiatives, Kinark; Dr. Vicki Mowat, Senior Director, Planning and Research, Kinark; Dr. Laurel Johnson, Clinical Director, Community Mental Health Chief of Psychology, Kinark; Karim Ramji, Chief Information Officer, Kinark; Lynn Holloran, Account Executive, Healthcare, Telus; Cathy Paul, President and Chief Executive Officer, Kinark.
Sometimes a digital transformation means rethinking the jobs that your IT department is doing and identifying where you’re better served in outsourcing pieces of your infrastructure.
That’s a lesson that Karim Ramji learned in taking on his role as CIO at Kinark Child and Family Services. Coming from a position onto the board into a non-profit organization that had seen three IT leaders come and go in three years, Ramji knew that a big revamp was needed. At the same time, he needed to find a way to make sure that Kinark’s mission remained at the centre of focus – helping children with mental health issues at varying degrees of severity.
Not only did Ramji manage to succeed at steering his team through a major transformation and realize many benefits in terms of savings and service, but Kinark is now taking on a role as a leading health agency that serves as an operational model for organizations across Canada. That’s why he’s a finalist for the Information Technology Association of Canada’s CanadianCIO of the Year award, given in partnership with ITWC.
We’re doing a Q&A and podcast series with some of the most interesting CIOs nominated for our annual awards program. Follow along as we meet the technology decision makers that are driving innovation in Canada. The following interview is edited for length and clarity.
CanadianCIO: Before you came into the role of the CIO at Kinark, you were on the board. There were also a string of IT leaders that weren’t as successful as you’ve been, at least. Tell me about how you moved into the CIO role at Kinark.
Karim Ramji: I’ve been in technology for more than 20 years and I joined the board about six or seven years ago, with my responsibility being to oversee the technology and oversight committee. We put together a technology strategy that required us to revamp everything we were doing.
At the time, I decided to leave one of my organizations and the opportunity of the role of CIO came up at Kinark. So I decided to throw my hat in the ring, to see if I could help. Since I was part of the genesis of the technology strategy overall, that allowed me to accelerate my success.
CCIO: You were nominated by Telus Corp. and I understand that you’ve partnered with them on outsourcing many IT operations. But I want to understand what you were doing before working with Telus – what were the internal operations at Kinark like before?
KR: In our sector, and certainly in the area of children’s mental health and at the Ministry of Youth and Child Services, and the people that we work with, operations are very focused on programs. Providing services to kids and lesser so, on the financial parts and IT parts. So it tends to be more about keeping the lights on than bigger strategies. Our infrastructure was about 20 years old and it came from various different places, so it was somewhat disparate.
We outsourced one component to Telus and when we started to work with it, we noticed that it’s broader and wider than what it appears to be. They weren’t just a carrier of services and connections, they provided a strategy and they’re very large in the healthcare space. So we started to grow with them organically and work with them on a human resources perspective as well as connecting all of our devices and services. It started from need, moved to organic growth, and then an overall digital transformation really started to happen.
CCIO: At what point was Telus identified as the right outsourcing partner?
KR: Kinark needed to change its infrastructure. So it invested in my role to provide leadership to run that strategy. Next, they invested in the technology, leading-edge cloud services, business intelligence, and the Internet of Everything. We put together a five-year plan and revamped what the team needed to do – not just keep the lights on, but become service managers that are client-centric.
Telus was a fantastic partner, but there were partners from other organizations. Apple, Microsoft, and IT Weapons, lots of organizations that will help us grow that strategy, so there’s not all the eggs in one basket. As I mentioned we grew with this organically. At first, it was “hey we gotta get rid of our stuff because it’s just not working.” And then it was about making it better, faster, and smarter. All with the framework of security, understanding, and being client-centric, because kids are at the centre of everything we do. We don’t change anything in our infrastructure unless what we’re doing actually supports our clinical transformation for kids.
CCIO: Give me one example of one of those moments you had when your team realized that change was necessary.
KR: We had a legacy human capital management system, which was really three systems, collecting data from various different places. It was difficult for people to enter their time. It was hard enough to log your time and get a paycheque, nevermind being able to do a lot of other services. So we plan to put in a web-based system. So it can be anywhere, anytime, you can look at your schedule and then you can spend your time in front of the children that you need to serve.
CCIO: So you go through this IT transformation. Tell me what that looks like in a nutshell, where you move from this legacy mode of operations to an outsourcing model.
KR: Part of it was moving to an Apple device, and that was fairly easy for people to do. The change management came with a lot of communication. We spent time talking to our users about what was going to happen.
At Kinark, we love boring IT. It just needs to work and that’s the number one important thing. We don’t do any major fanfare when we deploy new devices or applications, we just train our staff and we move on.
CCIO: Now that you’ve gone through the transformation, I’d like you to detail for me some of your best wins. In your mind, what are some of the things that you can point to and say “This has improved.”
KR: I’ll point to a couple of things. While I’m calling it boring IT, it’s also seamless IT. Our service levels are amazing. When you turn on your laptop, or you connect to our network, or you use one of our services, or log into one of our secure sites, it just works. And it’s fast.
The other part is communications. We spend a lot of time educating our users. Plus we have a user community that is ready and used to change. We spend a lot of time talking about change management.
The last piece of it is that we have support across not only our sector, but from our board and our executive team. Although we’ve put things in cloud services and we’ve outsourced different pieces, we still have the same people. We haven’t shrunk our organization. So they’re focused on something different and they’re focused on more client-centric services, on more collaboration tools, and on strategizing what the next technology might be. So we get to change our focus, not our people.
CCIO: Kinark is being used as a model agency for other health services organizations to follow across the country. Can you tell me how it is that you could export what you’ve done to similar organizations across Canada?
KR: We’ve had this fortunate ability because of our size and strength, not only in IT but in overall leadership. We speak to other similar agencies in our sector across Canada about the good things that we could do from an IT perspective. We share the lessons learned and how to avoid the pitfalls. A lot of the organizations in our sector are not IT focused, sometimes they don’t even have an IT person, they just outsource everything. They often ask us what the best ways to approach IT and leverage that from a learning and technology perspective.
So we’ve created an amazing program, with what we call our affilliates. We provide services and support to organizations in York, Durham, Peterborough, and Haliburton. They can leverage our support services, our technology, our contracts with Telus. So they can get better email service and not have a server sitting underneath somebody else’s desk. We export not only the knowledge, but also the financial components as well as the contract components through different vehicles across Canada.