‘The pandemic placed a spotlight on the crucial role of health-tech’

31 Mar 2022

Jennifer Hughes. Image: Clanwilliam Group

Clanwilliam Group’s Jennifer Hughes discusses the acceleration of health-tech and the ‘primary concern’ of security, as well as how she has progressed in her own career.

Jennifer Hughes is the chief commercial officer of Clanwilliam Group, a healthcare technology and services firm that began as a start-up in Dublin around 25 years ago. The company now has a team of more than 1,000 people globally and focuses on areas from clinical software to AI-powered tools.

Hughes has worked at Clanwilliam Group for more than 15 years, holding a number of senior marketing positions before being appointed to her current role in 2021. She now oversees sales and marketing strategies and works with teams across the company on product innovation, go-to-market plans and more. She is also part of the leadership team, which is focused on growth driven by organic and M&A activity.

‘The onus is on us as the technology provider to illustrate effectively how new technology will benefit healthcare professionals and their patients’

What are the biggest challenges facing your sector and how are you tackling them?

Nowadays, when we think about technology in the healthcare sector, there are some key challenges to consider. As the sector becomes more reliant on technology, security is a primary concern, especially since healthcare applications often deal with confidential and sensitive data. We saw the very real-world impact of this last May with the cyberattack on the HSE.

At Clanwilliam, we obviously take these challenges very seriously, adopting many varied systems and processes to hold us to the highest of standards. We undertake proactive continuous vulnerability and penetration testing of our public estates using third-party independent security experts and conform to international standards. Additionally, our R&D teams are trained to employ principles such as privacy by design in all aspects of our software development life cycles.

Finally, there’s the human aspect. With any new technology, there will be people who might not be willing to change their existing methods and systems out of fear, distrust or a simple lack of familiarity with the new product or service. Therefore, the onus is on us as the technology provider to illustrate effectively how this new technology will benefit healthcare professionals and their patients.

What are the key sector opportunities you’re capitalising on?

While the healthcare industry has historically lagged behind others when it comes to digital transformation, the Covid-19 pandemic placed a spotlight on the crucial role of health-tech and created greater openness to new ways of delivering and receiving care.

However, advancing interoperability in healthcare can’t be achieved alone, which is why we continue to seek and create collaboration projects both internally, with products and services across our group, and externally with key health-tech partners.

Recently in Ireland, we’ve worked with the HSE and other private companies to introduce electronic prescriptions, video consultation services and integrated online payments to primary care. Late last year, we also introduced the AI-powered speech recognition and dictation services of our UK company Dictate IT into the secondary care market in Ireland.

Looking ahead, I expect health-tech innovations to continue to accelerate. Current advancements in healthcare technology – from telehealth, AI and wearables to voice-assisted technology – are creating enormous opportunity for innovation in the delivery of care.

What set you on the road to where you are now?

I received my BA in business and marketing management from in 2006, which led me into a number of marketing roles. I joined Clanwilliam Health about a year after graduating as a marketing assistant. I thrive on change so working in an organisation that is constantly evolving really suited me and has kept me energised and motivated.

Gradually, I moved into more senior roles until I was appointed as group director of marketing in 2014 before becoming chief marketing officer in January 2020. I was appointed chief commercial officer last year.

I’m also a huge fan of lifelong learning and what this can do to enhance your career. As part of my upskilling drive, I recently graduated with an executive MBA from the UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School.

What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?

I think this one sort of follows on from the last question. Undertaking the MBA was a huge achievement and I’m very proud of it. But it was certainly a risk in the sense that I pursued it while balancing a demanding job and a young family. And, on top of it all, I had our third child at the end of my final year – something which certainly added another dimension to my final exams!

Somehow I managed to balance it all and achieve my qualification. Looking back now, I feel incredibly lucky that I was able to experience those two huge moments in my life in close succession. Having the unwavering support my family, teammates and lecturers, as well as my colleagues at Clanwilliam was key to helping me through it.

How do you get the best out of your team?

I think it’s important to have a passion for what you do and to feel connected to your organisation’s purpose. Clanwilliam’s products and services play an essential role in healthcare settings worldwide – I try to bring that back up to the surface whenever people get bogged down by the day-to-day of business activities.

Understanding my team’s personal and career goals is also key. When you tap into someone’s personal objectives, you can align both the individual’s goals with the organisation’s to help deliver greater all-round success.

Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector?

Diversity in all its shapes and forms is really important in any industry. In Clanwilliam, our geographic spread has naturally helped with our ethnic diversity and we currently have 39 nationalities across our global team. Our male to female split across the group is broadly equal, which I am also proud of, particularly given in Ireland it is estimated that only a quarter of STEM jobs are held by women.

Diversity and inclusion in the workplace don’t just happen though. Companies need to adopt processes and approaches to ensure they have a diverse and inclusive workforce. Apart from being the right thing to do, there is more and more evidence showing that greater diversity leads to greater company performance.

In Clanwilliam, our teams participate in regular educational programmes that focus on important topics such as unconscious bias and insider/outsider dynamics. We also facilitate maternity and paternity coaching to support our working-parent population and help ease the transition back to work after having children.

In my personal experience, I have always felt supported and encouraged as I balanced my role in Clanwilliam with my family life. In fact, two of my promotions were received while on maternity leave! Listening to people outside of my organisation, however, I understand that this type of experience may not always be the case for women. For employers, it’s really important that women are given the right supports, flexibility and trust to enable them to advance into more senior roles and realise their professional aspirations.

What’s the best piece of career advice you have ever received?

Keep learning. I know it sounds a little like a cliché, but if you can keep learning and keep challenging yourself, you will never get bored in a role and you will naturally create more opportunities for moving into more senior positions.

Of course, moving into a more senior role or a similar level role in a different sector can be intimidating, but remember that no good employer expects you to have all the answers straight away. If you are open to learning and to embracing change, you will learn the rest of what you need to as you go along and probably surprise yourself along the way.

What books have you read that you would recommend?

When it comes to books written about leadership, I have to say I really enjoyed Making Strategy Work by Lawrence Hrebiniak. The book focuses on the well-known fact that “without effective execution, no business strategy can succeed”. Hrebiniak uses real-world examples to demonstrate the common failings when it comes to execution and a framework that can be used to overcome them.

Developing successful strategies can be difficult but translating those strategies into solid operational plans and tasks is a skillset in itself. There are so many decisions and choices that come up daily that can throw strategies off course. Hrebiniak steps through all the key success factors such as organisational structure, incentives and culture, and offers a systematic road map for success.

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