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A healthcare executive reveals ‘insider’ perspective about IT failures

Jennifer O'Brien | July 17, 2017
‘Whether in the private or public sector, we don’t do big IT implementations well.’


Dr. Malcolm Thatcher

The biggest failing of the IT industry is the fact there’s not enough focus on “people and business change,” according to former interim CIO/CEO of eHealth Queensland, Dr Malcolm Thatcher.

That’s one of the lessons learned by the former Queensland health executive, who’s now on the other side of the fence and able to reveal insights and key learnings about his time in government and industry.

Thatcher has been in IT for 35 years, with a range of roles including chief health information officer for Queensland Health; interim CEO and CIO; as well as executive director, information and infrastructure and CIO for Mater Health Services.

Since leaving Queensland Health in February 2017, Thatcher has focused on completing a book, based on his PHD research and industry knowledge, titled Digital Governance Handbook for CEOs and Governing Boards.”

“It tries to provide competencies to board members, in particular, who often don’t know the questions to ask or are afraid to ask for fear of looking foolish. So it is trying to raise the competencies around digital investment, and what questions they should be asking to make sure their organisations are on track to deliver value on those investments.”

He has a chapter in the book that highlights a case study on a notable IT disaster. “Funnily enough, I chose the Queensland Health payroll system for that case study. I was an expert witness at the commission inquiry so I have quite an in-depth knowledge of the inquiry process and all of the evidence,” he said.

“There is nothing in that case study that is not in the public domain. But I give my own insights into what I feel contributed to the failure and how that failure could have been avoided.”

He told CIO Australia the payroll failings included: “a false sense of urgency; the project was poorly scoped; there was unclear accountability and poor governance which resulted in the warning signs of pending disaster being ignored.” 

No doubt, the Queensland Health Payroll system debacle was widely reported on at the time and will be remembered as one of the most disastrous IT projects in Australian history.

A Royal Commission of Inquiry detailed the disaster that was the Queensland Health payroll upgrade. Essentially, the Queensland government had to pay costs to IBM Australia after failing in a bid to recoup losses from the $1.2 billion health payroll disaster.

Looking back over his time at Queensland Health and highlighting some of the failures in the industry overall, Thatcher said issues arising from a lack of focus on ‘people change management’ is a classic contributing factor.

“I have been in IT now for 35 years and certainly seen a lot of change. I often thought that the challenges in IT were very much around the technology and the incredible pace of technology and issues with new technologies - whether it is equipment or poor integration, poor vendor support or factory changes. But but when I reflect on those challenges, I think they will always exist, and still exist today. Not a lot has changed unfortunately.

 

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