Friday Fry Up: Election tech debate no show, Ministry of Health’s tech lessons, CIO50 awards

Friday Fry Up is Computerworld New Zealand’s weekly look at the world of IT.

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Election tech debate no show

Finally, finally, finally the general election will end tomorrow. As many have noted, it seems to have gone on forever, possibly because the date was pushed back due to COVID-19.

You might think that with so much time there would be more opportunity to release lots of policy, but apparently not. Tech ideas in particular has been thin on the ground, which is maybe why National’s leader Judith Collins decided to relaunch the party’s tech policy again this week when she visited Tait Communications in Christchurch.

Also missing this year was the chance to hear from the tech spokespeople in each party. IT Professionals CEO Paul Matthews apologised to the organisation’s members for not hosting a debate this election. In an email, he described a frustrating process of trying to get the appropriate representative from one unnamed large party, to front up.

I lost count of the number of times we were in contact with their office over the last two months trying to get this locked in, and to my knowledge this is the first time we haven’t had all parties chomping at the bit to debate tech policy before an election—especially the two main parties. ITP has arranged tech debates every other election in living memory, and in fact last election we did two!

Late last week, the party proposed a back-bencher with no real contact with the tech portfolio to stand in. While that was appreciated, frankly, the election is this Saturday and it’s just too late—we can hardly expect the other parties to now drop everything to participate a day or two before e-day (having already held a number of dates previously).

Ministry of Health’s tech lessons

IT Professionals may have been unable get a political debate going, but they have been running a fortnightly webinar session almost since the pandemic lockdown began back in March with lots of topical speakers discussing their COVID-19 response. (Full disclosure: Fry Up’s editor is on the media panel that precedes the keynote speaker.)

This week, it was the turn of Shayne Hunter, the deputy-director general for data and digital at the Ministry of Health. During the lockdown, the country became enamoured with the Director of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield, who starred in the daily 1pm press conference, but supporting him was a team of people, such as Hunter, making stuff happen. From launching the contact tracing app to organising the medical supply chain, Hunter described a fast-moving, dynamic response which saw them create systems in six weeks that would normally take 18 months.

While they had a huge amount of license during lockdown levels four and three, Hunter says they also knew that the decisions they made then would be scrutinised later. His view is it’s important to share how the ministry responded to the crisis. “I’m keen for us to be transparent about what we did.” During the response, Hunter said they kept the governance lean, established advisory groups to consult of specific areas of expertise, kept in close contact with the privacy commissioner, and for security they “did penetration testing at speed—we threw bodies at it.”

This ability to move fast, without getting bogged down in process, is something Hunter wants to take into the post-COVID world. Here’s his list of the data and digital health projects that have advanced as a result of the work done during those frantic early days of the pandemic.

  • Accelerated uptake of e-prescriptions and removal of paper (before COVID, e-prescriptions were at 32%; now they’re at 90%).
  • Accelerated the move to virtual healthcare.
  • Accelerated the move to cloud (Hunter queried if they could have achieved as much five years ago, with the technology available then).
  • Accelerated the use of collaboration tools.
  • Improved business continuity.
  • New digital channels.
  • Advanced aspects of the national health information platform and proof cases.
  • Upgraded public health management platforms: case management and contact tracing, test ordering and results reporting, and surveillance and reporting dashboards and analytics.
  • A new immunisation system on its way—a COVID-19 vaccine is first cab.
  • A new confidence—the ministry can do/can use (it boosted digital literacy as well as agile delivery and culture).

During the lockdown, the tech industry was keen to lend support, but it wasn’t always helpful. At one stage Hunter was receiving a thousand emails a day from “people offering widgets and gadgets to solve our problem”.

His advice to tech companies wanting to get involved is to first understand what the ministry is trying to do and then see how the tech can enable it. “Through the pandemic we had a lot of fancy tech coming our way that was going to be the silver bullet for everything, but we still had to get the basics in place,” Hunter noted.

CIO50 announced

Taking what was learned in the pandemic and applying it in the so-called “new normal” was on the minds of the top ten CIOs in our sister publication’s CIO50 New Zealand awards, announced this week.

As Watercare Chief Digital Officer Rebecca Chenery put it: “The question is how do we embed the gold and find a new normal operating rhythm.” Chenery placed first of the list of a very impressive group of CIOs. You can read about the achievements of this fantastic community at the CIO50 New Zealand awards site.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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