The five minute CIO: Enda Kyne, Royal College of Surgeons

18 Mar 2016

Enda Kyne, director of IT and Technology Transformation at the Royal College of Surgeons

“We regard successful IT as invisible IT,” says Enda Kyne, director of IT and Technology Transformation at the Royal College of Surgeons.

Enda Kyne joined the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland in March 2014 to take up a new role as director of IT and Technology Transformation. Prior to joining RCSI, he worked in senior management roles in both business and IT, having initially started his career with well-known software engineering and consulting firms.

RCSI are leaders in Health Sciences Education, with campuses in Ireland, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Malaysia. As well as having Ireland’s largest medical school, RCSI were the first to offer a graduate entry programme into medicine, they delivered Ireland’s first nurse prescribing programme and Ireland’s first physician associate programme, and they also operate the National Internship in Pharmacy programme in Ireland.

RCSI also operates the School of Physiotherapy, the School of Pharmacy, the School of Postgraduate Studies, and the Institute of Leadership, alongside a large contingent of researchers based in Ireland and Bahrain.

With over 3,000 students from 50 countries, and a full-time staff of 1,200, RCSI is a unique institution in its field, and the only medical educator with four international campuses.

Can you outline the breadth and scope of the technology roll-out across your organisation and what improvements it will bring to the company?

We operate a Microsoft application stack and technology stack that delivers solutions to manage our student journey, and to support our back office and research teams. Together with a suite of bespoke legacy applications, we also operate some Tier 1 solutions in-house, as well as utilising many other equivalent solutions in Software as a Service (SaaS) environments.

Naturally, most of our solutions are education-centric, but we also have standard industry solutions such as HR and finance.

This year, we are focused on continuing the consolidation of legacy solutions into our core applications, such as student registration and management. We have introduced annual upgrades to our core applications, including VLE (Virtual Learning Environment), HR and finance.

We are moving from concept stage for our new digital strategy to the first implementation phase, and this has enabled us to bring all our stakeholders into a valuable conversation about something they can directly relate to, with IT at its centre.

We have also initiated a number of projects with new software suppliers who are leaders in our industry in the areas of scheduling and event management, curriculum management, student assessments, technology enhanced learning and research information management.

One of our main aims is to simplify the daily work environment of our stakeholders and subject matter experts who, as well as lecturing, typically practice in hospitals and lead major research programmes. When we engage with them, we are always clear on our requests and also the benefits that we bring to their work, as we are all dependent on each other to deliver for our students and help them to be successful in their chosen healthcare careers.

What are the main points of your company’s IT strategy?

IT is regarded as a key enabler for RCSI’s growth and excellence strategy, with RCSI leadership fully aligned on the pervasive nature of IT in all aspects of our business. IT holds a role at the top management table, and contributes to the overall leadership agenda of RCSI on a global basis.

We have three key strategic focuses for IT for the period January 2015 to December 2017, which are:

  • Consolidate individual end user computing (EUCs) solutions and legacy bespoke applications into core solution areas, including master data management and associated data cleanup
  • Migrate our infrastructure to a single global campus, with single solutions per business area covering all global locations
  • Automate manual processes and move from monthly historical reporting to the everyday use of trusted rich data and predictive analytics.

Throughout all our programmes, we regard successful IT as invisible IT. By this, we mean that we help our colleagues to become more successful through the intelligent use of technology and software, so that the successful outcomes are what is noticed and not the use or implementation of a specific technology or solution. When our students and teaching colleagues are successful, we too are successful.

Can you give a snapshot of how extensive your IT infrastructure is?

We have two data centres in Ireland: one located with HEAnet and the second on-premises. We operate two data centres in Bahrain, and a separate small data centre in Dubai. Our Malaysian data centres are fully outsourced.

Our Irish users are based across multiple campus locations and hospitals, and are constantly mobile, often travelling abroad to lecture or participate in programmes at our global locations. We operate a significant storage area network (SAN) capability that includes capacity for research groups and collaborative programmes between education institutions.

At a user level, most staff use HP or Dell laptops, and our student population uses laptops provided by RCSI. Our typical users, including students, often have four devices in simultaneous use, and we are heavy users of Wi-Fi infrastructures.

We have also implemented devices in our training and assessment process. After trialing various devices, we found that the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 worked best for clinicians and students, as they have the typing facilities of a laptop without the clunkiness.

In terms of managing IT budgets, what are your key thoughts on how CIOs/heads of technology should achieve their goals?

As IT is regarded positively across our organisation, we are allocated healthy investment and operational budgets each year. We have a typical spend on keeping the lights on, as well as annual upgrades to our core solutions. We utilise a senior stakeholder group to prioritise new developments, ensuring alignment with our strategic and tactical goals, and this also brings our key people with us on that journey.

Our local data centre has a significant sand box capability to allow us to experiment and innovate, and we are not shy in working with interesting partners to drive out new ideas, either by failing fast or by having something interesting to demonstrate to our stakeholders. Budget spending for innovation varies depending on the level of ongoing change to core applications, and it allows us reasonable scope to try out many new ideas each year.

At a CIO level, I constantly work to get ahead of the business by understanding new trends and cross-industry developments. It is imperative that we are able to understand the impacts of these future changes on our marketplace, and to be able to bring these updates to our stakeholders in a comprehensive way. There is a strong need to effectively communicate the potential impacts of new global solutions and trends.

How complex is the infrastructure, and are you taking steps to simplify it?

We are moving from multiple local data centres (including disaster recovery sites) to a hybrid cloud model, where the core applications and data at a global level reside in Cloud platforms such as Microsoft Azure. We will maintain local data centres for disaster recovery/business continuity planning purposes.

The current complexity relates to having over 60 separate solutions in each geography, each with bespoke modifications and a suite of End User Computing solutions (eg complex spreadsheets and specialised individual databases). The move to single global solutions with vastly reduced EUCs is where our complexity challenge is, rather than our infrastructure.

For bespoke applications, we have moved from PHP to .Net, and we are ardent users of Microsoft Dynamics CRM.

We implemented a new app platform in 2015 that allows us to publish content from multiple sources, and we launched the successful RCSI MyHealth App on iOS and Andriod to bring this platform to life.

Do you have a large in-house IT team, or do you look to strategically outsource where possible?

We have teams based in Dublin and Bahrain, mostly staffed with senior IT resources. Our teams are structured across three distinct disciplines: programme and project management, enterprise architecture and software engineering, and IT service management. We outsource our IT helpdesk and infrastructure management, as well as our 24/7 security monitoring. The vast majority of bespoke software development projects are completed by third-party suppliers, and all licensed software vendors complete projects related to their applications on a fixed price basis.

What are some of the main responsibilities of your own role, and how much of it is spent on deep technical issues compared to the management and business side?

I spend 70pc of my time operating at a business level, planning our direction and our alignment with our global business strategy. As we have invested a lot of time to date in communicating how IT will deliver benefits into the future, we now have more time to spend working on our programmes and interacting with our colleagues to deliver value together.

I spend 30pc of my time on complex technical issues, especially as we are making the transition from local data centres and highly bespoke legacy applications to hybrid cloud and much more modular leading edge solutions. We work directly with Tier 1 suppliers and find their solution architects to be a major benefit to us as we plot our next steps to deliver on our IT strategy.

What are the big trends and challenges in your sector, and how do you plan to use IT to address them?

The delivery of education is changing rapidly. Today’s students are sophisticated users of technology, and their constant use of apps, social media applications and video have placed significant expectations on the university sector to have educational material and support structures delivered in the same simple fashion. It looks great and sounds easy, yet takes time, investment and a significant change in work practices to achieve this goal.

In RCSI, our medicine and health sciences courses are sophisticated, with a strong practice focus. We refer to our education approach as useful learning. As such, the layers of teaching methodology and the assessment of competencies required to have a working graduate in the healthcare sector allow us to get IT right into the centre of how our teachers teach, and how our students learn.

From supporting online and blended learning, to the flipped classroom, personalised learning, simulation, and adaptive learning, IT is pervasive throughout the design, delivery and assessment of these environments.

Students need the infrastructure, content, support and immediate feedback to allow each individual to learn at his or her own pace, as well as ensuring they are making the progress needed to qualify in their discipline. Mobile-first solutions that support this process are the leading drivers across the third level sector globally at this time.

What metrics or measurement tools do you use to gauge how well IT is performing?

We use internal SLAs and OLAs to measure IT helpdesk and service, and to measure our core solutions. For our main suppliers, we have monthly governance meetings to review SLA performance and discuss new requests and requirements, as well as trends they are seeing on the global marketplace.

Are there any areas you’ve identified where IT can improve, and what are they?

Our move to hybrid cloud and the consolidation of legacy systems and EUCs into core applications have already delivered significant benefits across our global locations. We have invested heavily in technology enhanced learning pilots over the past 12 months and, aligned with the on-going development of our curriculum, we are re-engineering how our course materials are delivered and consumed so that our students are given every opportunity IT can provide them to excel in their chosen discipline.

What other projects do you have lined up for the year, and what will they contribute to the business?

RCSI has invested €80 million in a state of the art, 10-floor new academic and education building on York Street, in the heart of our campus on St Stephen’s Green, Dublin. It will be a global showcase for the best of surgical, medical and simulation teaching. It has a major focus on the use of technology, and we are on target to formally open this facility in early 2017. It is an interesting project with the students and technology at its core, and we are really looking forward to bringing it live next year.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years