CIO50 2020 #26-50: Tony Carpinter, New Zealand Blood Service
New Zealand Blood Service (NZBS) provides safe, appropriate and timely access to blood and tissue products and related services to meet the health needs of people across the country.
Its CIO Tony Carpinter applies a wider lens to describe what they do.
“We work in a manufacturing landscape where the inputs are donations, donated by people, and not made to order and where demand can be variable,” he says.
“In this we need to consider our donor’s motivations, health status such as seasonal illnesses, and availability.”
Thus, he and his team are looking at the same digital tools, specifically data-related, that their peers in otherwise disparate sectors are deploying.
“We are working through an approach to this which will be using data analytics, and modelling our donor landscape and demand trends,” he explains.
He explains the steps they have taken so far. “We have been undertaking a productivity and capacity modelling project across our core operational functions; blood collections, processing and manufacturing.”
Data rich, information poor
He says this is a large body of work that started two years ago and was initially focused on the processes around collecting blood.
The project has recently moved on to the processing and manufacturing of blood products with the goal of understanding the resource required, at an activity level of detail, for the majority of the blood products that are issued by NZBS.
He says NZBS created a set of standards tables in its data warehouse. It partnered with Mindful to produce a TM1 based tool that delivered a presentation of calculated results and a user interface for team leaders to interact with.
This tool provides an analytical representation of historical performance, actuals versus expected, future FTE requirements to meet forecast, and a sandbox to do scenario analysis, he says.
This major project evolved from outside the ICT function.
Carpinter says NZBS staff wanted a better understanding of resource requirements, and a rollout of a Workforce Management System.
They also wanted aspects of an enterprise resource planning (tool) system, but in a more iterative approach and at a fraction of the cost to implement, says Carpinter.
“NZBS is an organisation, probably like others, that can be data rich and information poor (DRIP), with many sources of data,” he notes.
Through this work, they learned how much resource is needed to undertake their various processes.
The main benefits are an increased understanding of the resource utilisation for core business processes, practical and theoretical capacity of NZBS operations, and improved data driven resource planning, he explains.
NZBS also realised savings through the workflow planning model.
They improved resource planning based on practical labour capacity and a staff adjustment feature. The latter allowed NZBS to plan ahead, taking into account secondments, on-boarding, long term sickness, maternity leave, reduced hours, split duties and resignations.
“Having these forward planning adjustments enable full time employee (FTE) numbers calculations that reflect availability and this assists in more accurate rostering to take place,” he says.
This flows on to many secondary benefits including more accurate costing, process improvement analysis and KPI reporting.
Carpinter was frank this work had its share of challenges.
The workflow model is only as good as the best operating floor structure, he states.
To overcome this, NZBS has implemented a zoning system nationwide which mirrors the calculation methodology in the model. “For us, this is a nurse to donor ratio,” he explains.
There were operational impacts of the project, as NZBS works in a regulatory environment. Being clinical in its focus, there are times when operational efficiency gains in theory are not practical, he says.
He says the team is currently working through supply and demand management, and how they can improve their approach to this.
“This is a key piece to the overall puzzle, as an increased accuracy of forecast at a lower level of granularity could be inputted into our model to advise resourcing requirements to that.”
Punch above your weight
Carpinter notes that the blood industry differs from commercial enterprises. Blood services typically operate within one country, and in most countries there is not a competitive model (the USA is an exception).
“This means that there are good opportunities to collaborate and learn from our counterparts overseas,” he says.
For instance, NZBS is a member of the International MAK User Group, which involves the many blood services that use software from MAK-System, the dominant vendor of these systems.
“We are represented on the board of the organisation by one of my direct reports,” he says. NZBS hosted the group conference last year, which is rarely held outside Europe and North America.
“New Zealanders often punch above their weight in groups like this, in terms of influence, by using our national characteristics like being friendly and informal, and achieving good value with limited resources,” he states.
Carpinter further points to the advantages of working in a medium sized organisation such as NZBS.
Most of the leadership is based in one location. “It’s easy to interact with the C-level managers.”
“This also suits my leadership style,” says Carpinter, who says he veers towards a more quiet and collegial way of working with peers.
“This style is probably more effective in small meetings and one-to-one discussions, and less so in large meetings,” says Carpinter. He has since attended Toastmasters to develop his skills in speaking up in different settings.
“It’s important to pitch the messages at the right level and in the right language for the audience,” he states. “Obviously it’s often important to avoid geek-speak and to find appropriate metaphors.
Carpinter says the IS team has grown significantly over the past two years, and represents a diversity of nationalities.
“There is a good, friendly spirit within the team, which we try to foster,” he says. “The team is relatively young, and family-oriented, so there are common experiences and normal life issues coming up.”
“I am the most senior person in more ways than one, so I can provide a different perspective on issues,” he says.
“In a long career you see one or two really bad things happen, like deaths and serious illness, so the normal ups and downs are easier to accept and work through with people.”
He says when issues arise, it is critical early on to go into a logical thinking mode.
“Look clearly at what has happened and why,” he states. “This will mean discussing the issue with colleagues and team members, who will know more about the issue.”
“You need to find solutions, probably interim and longer-term. You need to develop these solutions and communicate them. Apart from remediation, the focus will be on what you can learn from the issue.”
“As you go through this, your perspective will probably evolve into something more positive,” he states.
He reckons most CIOs will have developed their own playbook for working through, individually or with the team, a painful experience.
“And that’s part of getting perspective on difficult events,” he says. “They happen to everyone, it’s not just you, and people find a way through them.”