2020 CIO of the Year – Next Generation Leader – Ivan Yao

The recipient of the newly launched award category CanadianCIO of the Year Next Generation Leader, Ivan Yao, has been chosen for his unique leadership style, continuous and successful technical innovation, desire for excellence and best management.

This is a new award for 2020, which recognizes the recipient as demonstrating remarkable promise and outstanding talent as a future leader in the technology sector.

A manager of program effectiveness at the workplace health and safety services department at the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board of Ontario (WSIB), Yao implemented a digital tool that digitized health and safety in just 80 days. His leadership style is a model for future leaders to follow in creating innovative technology products that help the people of Ontario. He is also known for creating a fun atmosphere in the teams that he leads, never taking himself too seriously but with one eye always at the goal.

Ivan Yao, Manager, Program Effectiveness, Workplace Health and Safety Services

“I think, as IT professionals or technologists, what we ought to do when we partner with business areas in all of the organizations is to help them chisel away the excess of their vision and focus on what is truly needed in the IT space to make that vision a reality. That’s what we did with the digital portal that won the award. That was really my leadership style in getting us to this point in a very short runway, and there’s an entire team behind me that are of the same mindset,” Yao said.

The WSIB delivers the no-fault workers’ compensation system of Ontario. A prime WSIB mandate however is to make Ontario workplaces safer by preventing the injury/illness from occurring in the first place.

“Workplace health and safety practices are traditionally paper-based. With the launch of the WSIB’s new health and safety excellence program in November 2019, the WSIB took the opportunity to change safety’s paper-paradigm into a digital-based experience,” Yao told the publication. “We strongly believe that more Ontario employers will join the program when we make it digital-based. It also upholds the WSIB’s ‘digital first’ guiding principles on any new program being implemented. Employers that register into this program will make their workplaces safer by developing and demonstrating their health and safety practices and receiving financial and non-financial recognition for their investment and efforts.”

Yao and his team had an aggressive timeline of just four months to launch the program’s digital tool. The WSIB’s Chair, Elizabeth Witmer, promoted the program’s flexibility and digital-first nature throughout 2019 and the WSIB had to ‘go live’ by November 1, 2019. Funding approvals were finalized in July 2019 and Yao led the team that completed the solution lifecycle of ideation to full implementation. He leveraged the agile approach to identify the ‘minimum viable product’ needed at launch without sacrificing ease-of-use, functionality, and adherence to legislation like Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). Yao’s pragmatic approach took the program’s theoretical items and made it “real” by translating the ‘workplace safety language’ for non-safety professionals to understand. This included explaining business requirements to IT, vendor, and business teams throughout tight sprints. He led the design theme of the digital platform by working with UX designers making it intuitive and ‘Apple-like clean’. Knowing the importance of data, Yao included an easy-to-use dashboard showing real-time information, reducing the need for ad-hoc analytics. He also added an online “safety culture” survey that measures workplace attitudes towards safety.


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Not only is the WSIB reinvesting into Ontario’s economy, this program saves the lives of hardworking Ontarians. Yao’s leadership, tenacity, and unique skills led the team that digitized workplace safety. As a result, employers spend less time on administrative tasks and more time on making their workplaces safer.

Yao is a people-person, a unicorn that can speak in business, technical, or a combination thereof comfortably depending on the audience he is speaking to. He was able to keep his cross-functional team fixated towards the end goal of “making Ontario workplaces safer” by being able to tell the story consistently across all levels. In a large public organization like the WSIB, he navigated through approval and gating processes effectively and removed obstacles. Beyond the internal team, he consulted with and brought along external partners as well as a network of 26 external provider organizations leading to the launch of the digital platform. A provider commented: “I have never met an IT guy like Ivan that I understood, and he’s funny too.” Without Yao’s ability to story-tell and bring multiple teams and stakeholders along, the WSIB wouldn’t have launched the digital tool on time and on budget.

“This digital tool is a solution that we’re very proud of, and I’m proud to represent the team that built that solution together with our solution partner Digital Echidna that we collaborated with. This solution is really digitizing workplace health and safety in Ontario and we’re in the midst of a pandemic now and how much more relevant can that be as to what we’re all experiencing today,” said Yao.

Yao says he believes this solution is the first step in continuing with that journey for the rest of the province.

The WSIB’s target enrollment for the new program is 2,000 employers representing 1 million working Ontarians by year-end 2020. As of Q1 2020, over 1300 employers (65 per cent of target) have already enrolled into the program all across Ontario, comprising businesses of all sizes.

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Pragya Sehgal
Pragya Sehgal
Born and raised in the capital city of India - Delhi - bounded by the river Yamuna on the west, Pragya has climbed the Himalayas, and survived medical professional stream in high school without becoming a patient or a doctor. Pragya now makes her home in Canada with her husband - a digital/online marketing fanatic who also loves to prepare delicious meals for her. When she isn’t working or writing around tech, she’s probably watching art films on Netflix, or wondering whether she should cut her hair short or not. Can be contacted at [email protected] or 647.695.3494.

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