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CIO podcast: Ireland’s public sector celtic tigers


Ireland reported gross domestic product (GDP) growth of 5.1% in 2016, unemployment is dropping, property prices are rising and Irish talent is returning to the homeland having left the Emerald Isle following the banking collapse of 2008.  With many British organisations planning moves to Ireland as the UK leaves the European market the opportunities for Ireland’s boom to double look positive.  

A booming economy may provide healthy tax returns to the national coffers, but it comes with challenges too. Since April 2016 Barry Lowry has held the role of Irish Government CIO and like so many of his public sector peers in nations across the continent, the CIO is balancing the need to deliver civic services in new ways and ensure all members of society see the benefits of the boom. Alongside Lowry until he begins his new role in Leeds, Richard Corbridge is CIO of the Health Service Executive (HSE) Ireland’s health service.  As the two most senior public sector CIO roles in Ireland, Lowry and Corbridge joined the Horizon CIO podcast to discuss modernising public sector technology during a boom, data access, customer centricity and of course the UK’s impending exit from its largest market.

Lowry took the CIO role having been a career public sector technology leader, with much of his career having been in Ulster. Lowry is a modest but confident CIO and says he is focusing on making sure all parts of the Irish government feel equally loved by him and his team: “So my strategy has been to create a cohesive vision of how we are going to implement the strategy especially around the data sharing,” he tells the Horizon Business Innovation CIO podcast. Lowry brought all parts of the government together upon his appointment and as a group they created an 18 step programme for implementation, he says of making sure all voices are heard equally.

Listening to the two CIOs share stories in the basement of the HSE headquarters in central Dublin as the cities trams rumble past it is clear that Ireland has benefited from having CIOs at the helm that listen and engage all views.  Corbridge joined the HSE in December 2014 following a successful career as CIO with the Clinical Research Network in the UK.  In August this title revealed that Corbridge is returning to his native Yorkshire later in the autumn of 2017 to become CIO of the Leeds NHS Teaching Hospital Trust.

Like Lowry Corbridge has been actively involved in ensuring all stakeholders in Ireland’s health sector feel listened to and have an opportunity to influence outcomes.  Icon Business Media, publishers of the Horizon CIO podcast have had the opportunity to work alongside Corbridge and his team on a number of these projects and have witnessed first hand how nurses, technologists, clinicians, suppliers, startups and civil servants work side by side developing the narrative of the HSE.

Corbridge told the Horizon CIO podcast that the strategy developed back in 2015 is 70% delivered and that the organisation is preparing its next five year plan of action. It is clear that one of Corbridge’s proudest achievements during his time as CIO with the HSE is the uptake of the Clinical Chief Information Officer (CCIO) role in Ireland as well as the digital patient identifiers.

Data led

Both CIOs are at the forefront of ensuring there is better data sharing between government and health organisations, but also with the citizens.

“In too many cases data protection is being used to prevent good data sharing and that can lead to poor services or no services at all and that is a cultural challenge that we have had to face,” Lowry says.  “I have had to challenge that with authentication so that content and services that are directed to you, so that government is an eco-system so your MygovID is a way to open your bank account,” he says of how government services should benefit your relationships with commercial transactions, not just be silod to your dealings with the state. MygovID is a secure online verification service.

Secure digital identification is going to be vital for the government too as demands on the country increase: “Post Brexit we expect that to increase as people come and work here,” he says of the potential surge Ireland’s civic services will have to deal with.  “Ireland prides itself on its stewardship of data, that can be a double edged sword in that we are absolutely paranoid about dropping the ball.”

As is common amongst public sector CIOs, Lowry and Corbridge are having to develop the latest ways of delivering services, but also ensure that all members of society benefit. “66% of people want a simpler way of doing business with government and amongst 18-35 years olds those figures are higher and they are the future,” Lowry says. “But government doesn’t choose its customers, so what we are finding we are looking at how can we maintain the digital journey for those that don’t want to come and join the journey through perhaps a trusted third party like the post office, library or citizen centre so they feel part of the new world and not left behind,” he says of being efficient without dividing the community into pieces.

“We talk all the time about evidence based decision making and we have a body called Solas that provides training interventions for people who are out of work and one of the evidence points they are using is; are they using the right training interventions?” Lowry says of further education and training authority in Ireland. Solas is harnessing its data to monitor its interventions when measured against the roles that those who have used its services have gone on to secure, so that Solas knows if it is providing a good return on the taxation it spends.

Corbridge says giving citizens more control over their data has helped reduce data worries: “By giving the patient the ability to audit who looks at their records we have taken away some of the fear factor away.”

“Transparency has been forced on us by the law and like any CIO you look at what you can exploit and you end up  in a better place. GDPR gives citizens the right to see what information we hold on them and for some companies that will be a logistical nightmare and hence the number of conferences and training courses.

“We see the services gateway being a means to make it easier for them to make it easier to find the data that is being held on them in an efficient and citizen friendly way and that will challenge our entire view on data protection,” Lowry said of the new Gateway to government services currently being developed. The central gateway will join up a series of government services aims to increase customer services and improve data sharing.

The gateway and so much of Lowry and Corbridge’s strategies are not just about serving the needs of the island of Ireland, much as that is clearly their first priority, it is also about Ireland place in the wider community of nations.

“Ireland exports as much to Belgium as it does to the UK, so although Brexit is a problem, growing performance and credibility in the EC is increasingly important to us,” Lowry says of the wider vision the nation has. Lowry is keen to ensure Ireland is a leader in European e-government plans that will enable cross border transactions, taxation payments to happen digitally so that citizens of all parts of the EC can deal on a level playing field with Ireland.  It is interesting to note how global consumer goods CIO Darrell Stein spoke in a recent CIO podcast about the challenges and opportunities of cross border transactions, and the same challenge exists for the public sector.  Government CIOs are often thought of in more localised terms, but as the digital agenda sweeps all parts of citizens lives, so too will it change the role of government.

Cost cutting & connecting

“Digital in healthcare is not about reducing cost, it is about making more capacity, it is about making it safer healthcare and putting the patient at the centre more,” says Corbridge. The health sector CIO is clear that the macro-economic challenges of an aging population, rising diseases such as diabetes and cancer the health services of the world must embrace digital methods to keep pace with the demands patients will place on them.

“It is not reducing the number of nurses, it is to make the nurses, doctors ambulances have access to information more efficiently and effectively,” Corbridge adds.

For Lowry digital methods are an opportunity to reduce costs, but like Corbridge he sees improved services to cope with rising demand the main opportunity.

“There are some drawbacks, when you are recruiting the best talent when you have Google and Facebook in town, but it has meant we have to be more innovative in how we recruit people,” Lowry says of Ireland’s boom and in particular how the digital pioneers have chosen Dublin.  

“Dublin is a digital city, it is seen as a European stepping stone for so many digital companies and they have people here who live and breath a digital living and they are all in the dock and they are influencing everything,” Corbridge adds.  

“There is a huge desire to make sure that no one is left behind and that is seen in the broadband commitment and the digital champion lives in the West Of Ireland, Cork , David Puttenham, the film director,” Lowry says of his position to ensure that all areas of Ireland benefit from the boom, not just the capital city.  Many commentators rightly point out that many of those the voted for Brexit in the UK were not in the South East and cannot see the benefits of EC membership.

We have made sure that two of our most digital hospitals are not in Dublin, Cork and Tralee and these are two of the most connected hospitals from a data point of view,” Corbridge adds.

As Corbridge heads back to the UK in the winter of 2017 it is clear that the desire to work together has been one of the resounding impressions of his time in Ireland.

“One CIO said it won’t take you long it only has the population of Greater Manchester,” Corbridge says of a conversation he had back in 2014 when he took the HSE role.  “That is grossly unfair. The thing that has impressed me is the whole clinical engagement and some of the UK have come here and seen that and want a piece of that and the HSE has opened its doors to the startup community so a flag has been waived that Ireland is open to huge amount of clinical innovation and Ireland is ready and capable to invest in those and help those organisations to make them to a wider market.”


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