AGP Ep 2: Bill Le Blanc—From programmer to CIO, becoming comfortable with the uncomfortable

by | Oct 23, 2016

Bill Le Blanc is the CIO for South Australia Government Department of Health. He comes from a hands-on technical background, he was an introvert and felt he didn’t enjoy dealing with people. But he pushed outside his comfort zone, and realised he did enjoy working with people, then his career took off.

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Show notes

  • Guests’ opinions are their own and not those of their employer
  • Myers Briggs Type Index. A personality type assessment used very commonly across businesses globally. It’s great for helping people appreciate that people are different, and you can’t expect everyone to think and deal with the world the way they do.
  • The pendulum of government decision making
  • Shadow IT
  • Please subscribe, comment, share and review the episodes, it will make a big difference to our ability to continue with these. Thank you!

 

Credits

Topics/Transcript

Andrew Ramsden: G’day, Bill. Thank you for joining me on the show.
Bill Le Blanc: My pleasure.
Andrew Ramsden: Bill, you’ve had a career that started in a fairly technical role as a programmer, but you also had some early exposure to sales and marketing. How did you get involved with programming?
Bill Le Blanc:[00:00:30] I went into programming because initially I thought I wanted a career where I didn’t have to deal with people, and I had this misconception that programmers didn’t have to deal with people. I can sit in the back dark room and just work quietly away, and not have to deal with these awkward beings called people.
Andrew Ramsden: I can relate to that.
Bill Le Blanc:[00:01:00]

 

[00:01:30]

It turned out to be just the opposite. I found through that experience that I actually was … Self-discovery as a very young man, I found out I actually am a people person. Through that, was attracted to different lines of work and went into … Early in my career, I still really loved technology and dealing with new technology and finding out what makes it tick, and how does it work, and using it to bring business benefit. I then found myself in roles where I was the technical support person going on sales calls and then being involved in extensive sales campaigns for large deals initially for technical product sales for IT vendors, and then moving into more services business and outsourcing, much bigger and more complex deals.

Through that, on that journey, learned that … I actually ended up enjoying learning more about business in the way businesses operate and people than the technology. It was great to have the strong technical background, but I discovered that I had all these other interests that I also wanted to explore.

Andrew Ramsden:[00:02:00] It’s interesting how that happens. I found something similar in my career and I’ve talked to a number of people who also feels similarly. I think us sort of techies start with this very inquisitive mind. We love to learn. We love to explore, and sometimes that crosses over then outside of technology.
Bill Le Blanc:[00:02:30]

[00:03:00]

You can get an insatiable appetite. I would consume technical journals and as fast as new version of software or new tools and bits of software would come out, I would learn as much as I possibly could about it and took pride, in fact, in being essentially an expert in specific fields. Then I started to discover what I even found more interesting was reading business magazines and learning about finances and what the different business drivers in different industries and challenges they were having. I found reading about business and working with business executives on their business challenges, I started to find that more interesting than keeping up with the technology. Being able to bridge that gap between business and technology, I think is a key attribute that’s critical in a digital leader.
Andrew Ramsden:[00:03:30] I think there’s also something really interesting about the complexity of technology over time. This is my observation I guess. As technologies become more and more complex, it’s become less black and white. Therefore, you start dealing with these highly complex issues that are not that dissimilar to dealing with political, and people, and cultural issues. I liked technology in my younger days, in my early career because it was fairly simple and predictable. I think more and more these days, that’s not always true. There are so many moving parts.
Bill Le Blanc:[00:04:00]

[00:04:30]

It’s become more complex, absolutely. It’s also become more ubiquitous. We’ve now got a generation and a workforce who have grown up with digital technology. I don’t consider myself old by any means. However, when I started my career in IT, PCs hadn’t been invented yet. We were still working off mainframes and mid-range computers with dumb terminals. IT back then was still seen as very much as a black box in the fiefdoms of geek-hood. So the general public and business weren’t IT illiterate? They feared IT. If they wanted to get something done in a business that required technology, they had to come on bended knee to the IT department who spoke this special language all of their own. If you’re nice to them, they might cut some code for you and write a program.
[00:05:00]

[00:05:30]

Fast forward to today where technology is so ubiquitous. Look at the power of a smartphone. I get people today in the business who will say … I can go to down to Harvey Norman and buy a PC for X hundred dollars and you want to charge me X thousand dollars in our business for a service. People use IT in their daily lives. A lot of people have PCs at home. They’re very comfortable with the internet. They know apps. They use this technology to do their banking, to book airlines. That wasn’t the case 20, 30 years ago. You now also have a lot of people who … The layperson often feels they themselves are IT experts. They’re the two-minute expert. I watched the video on YouTube. Therefore, I’m now an IT expert.
Andrew Ramsden: My nephew can build a webpage and that’s …
Bill Le Blanc: Absolutely.
Andrew Ramsden: …it only took him an hour.
Bill Le Blanc: It’s a different dynamic now that IT people have to deal with because now that it is a lot more complex. We also have technology literate, intelligent customers to deal with.
[00:06:00]
Andrew Ramsden:
Very true. I guess more now than ever that connection to the business and that connection with people is so critical for really good and great technical leaders.
Bill Le Blanc:[00:06:30]

 

[00:07:00]

It is. In today’s world, we’ve seen IT go from being the dark corner of a business where you have to go, like I said, down on bended knee to make your request to get IT done, to, then as people become more IT literate and technologies become more advanced and PCs have come along, now that we’ve got cloud computing and the ability things as a service, and the customers are technology literate, your internal business customers, they don’t actually have to come to IT to get things done anymore. They can go to a service provider and buy an application as a service without engaging with IT. They can hand over their credit card and start paying a monthly subscription and get a service. Really all they’re using is their PC and an internet connection. The IT department may not even know. Internal customers actually have a choice these days. Now, there are reasons why you wouldn’t want them to do that from a strategic perspective for certain elements of your business.
Andrew Ramsden: Can cause a bit of a headache for the business and for IT in terms of….
Bill Le Blanc:

[00:07:30]

In many areas, we absolutely support them doing that. It’s the best delivery mechanism, the best outcome, more flexible, more nimble, and cheaper. But for key elements of corporate systems and corporate data where things need to be tightly linked, if you do that, you start ending up with islands of information, that has to be done in a very controlled fashion. The dynamic is very different now at the IT department. They don’t have to come pray at our temple to get things done. If they don’t like us, they’ll go buy it from somebody else.
Andrew Ramsden:[00:08:00]

 

 

It’s very true. I like that analogy, and I think that’s very true that it was about coming and kowtowing to the IT gods. I think the transition that you are describing is really … there was a stage in there where IT then just became a commodity service. It was very much subservient to the business and would often being moved off into corporate services or a shared service provider top model. It was expected that IT would just deliver whatever the business asked for. I think that’s been quite detrimental to IT and to the business. I think now what we are seeing is this rejection of that approach where very much … and I think this is where this concept digital comes from. I know that’s a pet peeve of yours, so I’d be really interested to explore that, but for me digital is filling that gap now to try to connect technology better back the business and to the customers.
 [00:08:30] I guess I don’t want to pre-empt what you are going to say, but I feel that we possibly don’t even need that concept of digital if we could just make the connection happen within the business.
Bill Le Blanc:[00:09:00]

[00:09:30]

I agree completely. One of the reasons that it’s a pet peeve is because I’m not a fan of jargon because I deal mostly with business executives. Even as an IT person who does … I speak technical lingo at quite a detail low, but I prefer not to. It’s not my native tongue. I’m a good translator. In terms of the word digital, I guess we need to call it something, to refer to it, but it makes it sound like it’s something new, and different, and special, and I don’t think that it is. In the IT of old, IT, like you said, was more part of the corporate services, or a back office function. It was typically used to automate repetitive business processes like processing payroll, financial accounts, and it wasn’t often sued to run key elements of business in the old days.
[00:10:00]

 

[00:10:30]

Fast forward to now in our business in healthcare, we are not calling it eHealth, which I already call it technology-enabled healthcare delivery, because we’ve moved from an environment where the business of treating patients, clinical service delivery was really done on paper and pen. There was some back office supporting It systems in the corporate services space. That then moved into, let’s use it to track patient details. It then run the administrative side of the business; looking at patient demographics, names, addresses, when you came in, when you left, and if we have to charge you. Some billing information. Now we are moving into a world where some would call it ‘digital’, in our sphere we tend to call it eHealth, which is technology-enabled care delivery. As technology becomes more integral into the core business and core service delivery, in days of old, if the IT systems went down, you might not be able to pay some bills for a couple of days, but the business of healthcare could still function.
[00:11:00]

[00:11:30]

[00:12:00]

Now as we move to a world of electronic medical records, treatment systems, pathology, radiology, and so on. Look at X-ray images, they are no longer a film being stuck on a light box on a wall. It’s film being taken with a digital X-ray camera being store digitally, being displayed digitally. The request for pathology test and the result that come back are no longer on little paper slips. It’s all being done completely electronically. If the IT is not there now, the business actually can’t function. It can’t provide its service core purpose. The dependency of core business functions on technology has actually being increased exponentially as this digital trend has been taking off. We are now calling it eHealth. What I’ve been telling my people is it won’t be very long until we stop calling eHealth. It will just be called eHealth again because that’s just the way that health will be delivered. It’s now dependent. Has enormous dependency on technology that it didn’t have before.
Andrew Ramsden: It does. Doesn’t it? That’s a really interesting distinction. I had not thought of it that way, but I guess there was that automation of the administration side of things which could happen asynchronously. It doesn’t have to happen critically in real time.
Bill Le Blanc: Correct.
Andrew Ramsden:[00:12:30] That puts a lot more pressure on IT in terms of disaster recovery and availability, and ITOs, and IPOs, et cetera. It really adds to the pressure.
Bill Le Blanc: The banks of old, they used to use the IT to account and track the money. Now these days, banks are … they are really technology companies. They are probably more technology companies than they are anything else.
Andrew Ramsden:

[00:13:00]

I think that’s the observation you made, is that really that’s true of eHealth, it’s true of every business. These days digital and technology is just our BAU, it’s not something that’s enabling, it is the business. I think that’s another reason why the term digital is a bit misleading because you create a digital strategy and when you do that process and you get everybody around the table and you have those conversations, nine times out of ten, you are not really talking about technology. You are talking about, what are we doing with the business.
Bill Le Blanc:[00:13:30]

[00:14:00]

The other thing we are saying … It’s not the first time it’s happened. Multiples of generations in a workforce. I’m not speaking health specific or I’ll be speaking about any large business is that we have a generation that grew in a workforce that didn’t grow up with technology. Some are afraid of it, not necessarily all, but they probably don’t necessarily recognize the need for it. We always did our business without technology, why do we need it now. We’ve always done it this way. They don’t really care, they’re a bit ambivalent about technology. Some portion of them are actually resistant. Then you’ve got the next generation that grew up with some technology. They are more willing to work with IT to get things done, and then there’s the generation that grew up knowing nothing else but technology.
[00:14:30]

 

[00:15:00]

If I compare those three segments, the older generation is almost … in terms of how they relate to an IT department or embracing digital… will be, “Don’t really need it, it’s all okay,” and a little bit resistant. Obviously stereotyping, and there’s exceptions of the stereotypes. The middle one are more like, “We’ll work with you, but not so much could take it or leave it,” but IT would bring that group ideas, and say, “We think you can do this with technology,” and they’d ponder and go, yes or no. “Yes. All right. We’ll work with you.” That middle generation, it was like, “We can’t get …” The IT folks would be over exuberant, and want to put in more technology than the business could consume and digest, but they could see the potential and all the possibilities.
[00:15:30]

[00:16:00]

The newer generation is actually outpacing the IT department. We are now having such a pull for IT. They are saying, “What do you mean we are running this aspect of our business on paper? Why isn’t it like this app I found in the iTunes Store.” They are wanting to consume technology at a rate much faster than a corporate IT department can possibly deliver it. Now we’ve gone from, in terms of supply/demand curve of having lots of supply and not much demand to a situation where there’s probably a little bit evened out. IT was very enthusiastic; the business would consume it. Now we are saying, such demand for consumption of technology that IT just can’t keep up with.
Andrew Ramsden: Wow. I think that’s a fantastic breakdown of some of the different stakeholder groups. I think that that resistance, whether that’s an older generation or a younger generation that’s resisting for another reason, I think that can be such a blocker and such an impedance to progress.
[00:16:30]
Bill Le Blanc:
It would be very unfair for me to be too stereotype of different generations because I went to a … We all do lots of things for fun. One of the things I did for fun, I went to a focus group run by a marketing organization on e-commerce and internet shopping.
Andrew Ramsden: I’m not sure how much fun that sounds like.
[00:17:00]
Bill Le Blanc:[00:17:30]
My wife and I buy lots of stuff on the internet. It’s probably our go-to place before we go to a physical shop. However, in this focus group, I probably would have been quite happy to decline it in my 50s, and I was probably the oldest by far in that focus group. There was a range of people, right down the folks that had just left school. Out of about 20 people in the focus group, I think I was the only regular user of digital retail. There was a range of folks who had browsed a little bit, maybe brought occasional thing to those that were thinking about it. There was a group of actually very young people who were fearful, and had never bought anything on the internet, and had no intention to. It’s definitely not a … That experience taught me that it’s not a generational thing, and it would be unfair to point the fingers and say the older ones are resistant and the younger ones take it along.
[00:18:00] Certainly that’s the trend, but I’ve got 80-year-old-relatives who spend the whole day in front of the computer and they love it.
Andrew Ramsden:

[00:18:30]

Absolutely. It’s not always the oldest people, but I think in the past, there have been some changes that have just happened gradually over time through attrition as people retire and fresh ideas progress upwards through the ranks. I just feel like these days we can’t wait for that to happen. The pace of change is too fast. If we have to wait for attrition, it will never happen. How do you deal with those resistant people? What kind of mindset shift do they need and how do we bring that to them?
Bill Le Blanc:[00:19:00]

 

[00:19:30]

You can’t force things. In business, it’s the responsibility of business people to run their business. Unless you are running a technology business of course, but a regular business where technology usually provides a support function, it’s up to the digital group or the IT group to support the business leaders in change. Part of it is showing them … Overcoming that resistance is showing them what’s possible, how things could be different, and you can do that through … The worst thing you can do is try and force change. If you are in a commercial environment, you’ve got to look at what your competitors are doing. Are they outmanoeuvring you, are they stealing market share on you, and how are they doing that? Are they using technologies that…? Are they accessing markets and getting insights about their customers from big data that we aren’t getting because we are not embracing technology in that way.
You’ve got to turn on the light for people by showing them, A, what’s possible, how things could be different, and how they could benefit, and therefore, how they can be more successful in what they are trying to do in the business through embracing technology.
[00:20:00]
Andrew Ramsden:
There’s some nice leverage point there when you look at it commercially like that and you think about the profits and the margins, and you think about your competitors. It’s a bit different in government, I guess.
Bill Le Blanc:[00:20:30]

 

[00:21:00]

It is. I’ve to a very much of commercial mindset because I worked in private sector for 25 years before I joined government. Having seen both sides of the fence, that’s also drives how I treat suppliers as well. What I found, and again I’m reluctant to make sweeping statements, but often folks who haven’t worked in the commercial world are very suspicious of suppliers. They think they are just out to make profit, and they are going to screw me over. They are just going to charge me as much as I possibly can, and they are not interested in the success of my business. Some private sector providers might think that way, but most of them who are mature players have come understand long ago that the way to become commercially successful is to make your customers successful and then we all benefit together. Because I’ve got that mindset, I’m very free and open with information exchange, and I’m, very transparent about my business problems.
[00:21:30]

 

[00:22:00]

I worked together in partnerships with suppliers because I’ve pretended that I’ve got all answers. No one ever can know everything and have all the answers. I feel by sharing my business problems with the suppliers, I can then tap into ideas, innovations, products and services that they’ve got that can help me to be successful. I can never find out what those things are unless I share with them, what my issues are. I’m very sharing. One of the other ways, I think we can come back to your original question around driving change, is we are starting to see in terms of age demographic the Gen Y who grew up with technology. They are no longer teenagers. In fact, they are no longer early 20s. There’s a lot of Gen Ys that are in their late 20s and coming up around 30, and they are now having a level of success in their careers where they are becoming middle management. Some of them will soon be moving into senior managers.
[00:22:30]

 

That’s when they then have … They then start getting control over direction within a business. Not just at the consumer level within the business, around the increasing appetite to consume technology. What we’ll see is as folks start to take senior leadership roles we’ll see even more, not demand, but direction in terms of “we are going to take the business this way, and we are going to use technology to do so”.
Andrew Ramsden: There will be a tipping point soon enough?
Bill Le Blanc: There will be a tipping point.
Andrew Ramsden:[00:23:00] Do you find that that use of shadow point has been causing problems? I guess it’s the take of the digital natives that you say are really diving into that space. They are just out there using cloud-based solutions off the shelf and deploying them in the business. Has that been easy to manage or has that been a bit of a nightmare?
Bill Le Blanc:

 

[00:23:30]

It depends on the size and the scale of the business in my view. If you are working for a large, complex organization, you’ll never eliminate shadow IT. I don’t think it should be your goal. What should be the goal is to have a level of control and governance over information assets and how … You’ve got to have priority as to the value of the different information assets, and how they would interrelate to each other to support the operation of the business. In some instances, it’s absolutely critical that information is linked and held together. Therefore, you don’t want different business units going off buying different cloud services and end up with items of information that aren’t integrated. In other instances, that’s perfectly acceptable, and there’s no problem with doing that.
[00:24:00]
Andrew Ramsden:
I guess there’s inefficiencies there, but there’s also risk. There’s a whole range of policies that are in place for a reason, and the people who are out there just grabbing things off the shelf have not always done the assessment back against the policy to make sure … I guess it depends on that they are using it for, but if it’s anything that’s sensitive or anything that carries a bit of risk, are there any other aspects to it, or is it sort of there’s a lack of efficiency and there’s increased risk?
[00:24:30]
Bill Le Blanc:[00:25:00]
Risk is a big part of it. There’s risk to the operational nature of your business. In any hospital, for example in our business, we have an enormous amount of corporate IT which is run out of the data centres, and then there’s specific IT systems that clinicians use that are very specialist systems to track maybe a patient cohort with a particular disease. They use that not just to help service delivery, but also to support maybe some research activities that are going on. Often you find these IT systems are running on a PC under someone’s desk and we don’t even know about it, and there’s lots of it out there.
Andrew Ramsden: That’s a business critical …
Bill Le Blanc:[00:25:30]

[00:26:00]

It quickly become a business critical systems. That’s where the risk element comes in, and you go, “What’s really wrong with that? It seems to work,” or, “What’s really wrong with it. It’s not being backed-up.” Then you have a hardware failure, and suddenly you’ve lost the patient data. There’s that risk perspective. Here’s also I guess … In a corporate world, you’d have lost opportunity in terms of the opportunity … There’s potential further benefit from connecting that information to other information at the organization. In a healthcare context, that benefit is in a clinician having a complete end-to-end view of the patient’s ailments and treatment history. If some of that is being held on a computer under a clinician’s desk and the rest of it is being held in electronic medical record and the two aren’t connected, then trading clinicians don’t get to see a full picture of everything that’s going on with their patient.
[00:26:30]

[00:27:00]

That introduces risk and danger from a treatment perspective. If you are a doctor and you are treating me, I want you to know everything about me so you can take that up and weight it up and make good treatment decisions. I don’t want you to only see part of the picture. If I may, a corporation competing in a commercial sector and potentially missing out on opportunities to combine different pieces of information to create more corporate value to use for the further amount of the goals and objectives of my company. That’s a good business reason why you need to not shut down shadow IT, but be aware of where it’s happening and be selective about when run it in and when you allow it to continue.
Andrew Ramsden: While you are ruining it in, there’s three really good reasons, is the inefficiency space, the additional risk space, and then that lost value opportunities.
Bill Le Blanc:[00:27:30]

[00:28:00]

Exactly. I’ll give you a quick example of something that’s happening in our business, and it’s in healthcare, and it’s very common across the entire Western World in healthcare. Right now, one of the emerging things as IT, we are trying to figure out, how do we deal with controls less governed. He used case if you like, is you are an intern at a hospital, you are working night shift, you’ve been trained as a doctor but you are not terribly experienced. A patient will come in with a particular injury and there’s consultants who have vast, enormous experience on call. What they’ll do is they’ll take a picture of the injury with their iPhone. They’ll text it or share it with the on-call consultant who is at home. That consultant can get on the telephone with them and talk them through. Give them an opinion to then help the junior doctor treat the patient.
[00:28:30] In doing so, you’ve immediately two more islands of information because they’ve done it on their personal phone, not a corporate device. You’ve now got essentially a visual portion of the clinical record is now on the intern’s phone. There’s a copy over on the consultant’s phone. It’s not controlled or governed by corporate IT.
Andrew Ramsden: It’s not traceable.
Bill Le Blanc: It’s not traceable, and it’s also not available for … The next time the patient comes in, it’s not part of the medical record. It’s something that we are going to have to deal with, and we are going to have to figure it out.
Andrew Ramsden: Because that’s a remarkable advantage to have.
[00:29:00]
Bill Le Blanc:[00:29:30]
It is. It’s a bit of shadow IT that we’ve discovered, no way am I going to shut that down and tell people to stop doing that, because they are doing it for all the right reasons. They are doing it for the benefit of the patient, to provide the patient with the best outcome. The reason that they’ve done it is absolutely admirable. Right now, I can’t offer them a better or alternate solution. Part of my challenge is to figure out how to do that, and that’s one of the things on my to-do list, but in the meantime, it’s a bit of shadow IT if you like, that I’ve discovered, and no way am I going to shut that down. I’m going to allow it to continue because it’s in the interest of patient care.
Andrew Ramsden: Do you think there is a role there for shadow IT in helping to forge a new ground, and innovation experiments, proofs of concepts, and then it gets to a point where it needs to be formalized and rolled into the more enterprise level offerings?
Bill Le Blanc:[00:30:00]

[00:30:30]

 

Yes. Absolutely there is. I don’t believe you can corporatize and I don’t believe you should corporatize innovation. Innovation should be allowed to flourish wherever it can, but of course once an innovative concept then proves itself to scale it up and make it robust for a sustainable corporate use, that’s when you need to … Where you start engaging with It departments. For example, I know there are areas of our business that are not in my central IT group that are looking at remote patient monitoring where we have digital devices, whether it be as digital blood pressure cuff in a home, or even with some of the smartwatches. We’ve got things … I’m doing patient monitoring in the patient home. It’s not in widespread use yet, but there’s little innovative pilot programs going on. I know it’s going on. I’m not trying to take ownership or control of it. I’m very happy to allow that to continue. It’s proved the benefits of technology.
 [00:31:00] Then with the benefits proofs, let’s look at putting a corporate framework around it so that we can support it …
Andrew Ramsden: Absolutely.
Bill Le Blanc:

[00:31:30]

… so that when the business then becomes dependent on it for its operational needs, that we can make sure it is robust and it’s always there, because when you run skunkworks, you tend to put things together with a bit of band aids and sticky tape and try a few things out. That doesn’t mean it has a level of rigor in it that can support business operations that’s ongoing. That’s where you need to bring in your corporate IT. Once these little projects prove themselves, that’s when it’s time to put a more robust governance framework around it and then bring it into a supported environment.
Andrew Ramsden:[00:32:00]

[00:32:30]

Absolutely. I can see this lovely ability to try to really encourage people to do that. To go out there and innovate and try things, but also communicate so that you can stay aware of it and then try to find a way to have a nice gentle handover so there is a continuity of service as it gets formalized. But that seems like a really challenging thing to get right because there’s a tension there between as soon as it has visibility, there’ll be people throwing up red flags, left, right, and centre, and the risk evasion kicks in and the whole process gets shut down. “Don’t do anymore until we’ve signed this up.” Have you ever seen that work well? Is there a way you think to make that transition happen quite simply without shutting down the innovation, but being responsible and appropriately managing those risks? I know that’s a big, high level abstract sort of question.
Bill Le Blanc:[00:33:00]

[00:33:30]

It is a big question. I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all answer, but I think often the benefits of an innovation become self-evident. Whether you are in government or private sector, no one can deny that money makes the world go round. Whether it’s because there’s underlying profit motive, or because there’s a public benefit motive, it doesn’t really matter. You need to be able to cost justify, and your project has to have benefits. To emerge an innovative incubator stage and to have something then growing to be embraced, if it’s not absolutely self-evident, then the people who are promoting the idea have to be able to sell it. You’ve got to get the ear of the right executive stakeholders. You’ve got to show them what the benefit is, convince them of the need to allocate costs, to scale it and make it more robust.
[00:34:00]

 

[00:34:30]

One of the simple examples of that we have in our business is tele-health which is the use `of essentially video conferencing technology to do clinical consultations, particular in a country like Australia where we’ve got concentrated population centres on the coast, but we still have large segments of our population spread in rural and remote areas. It’s a natural thing that started many, many years ago as an innovation. Here is a bit of common place technology. How could we use this to do our business differently? If you think about the supply and demand curve for a lot of specialist medical services, there’s not enough of a particular medical condition to warrant having a permanent medical specialist for that condition based in a regional population centre. These people are also … They are very valuable and very expensive, and they are not in high supply, so it’s not a good use of their time for them to spend many hours traveling out there and many hours travelling back.
[00:35:00]

 

[00:35:30]

In a tiny health setting, you can have a local, more generally skilled clinicians sitting with the patient in the remote centre who can potentially assist with the physical exam, take a blood sample, tissue samples for testing, but you can do a clinical consultation with a more highly skilled specialist in that field. It may be in a metropolitan area. You save the clinician’s time. It’s a better experience for the patient. They can stay in an environment where their families and support networks are. They don’t have to go to a strange, unfamiliar environment, and an expensive environment in the city, incurring all the trouble, time and cost associated. It’s a win, win for all around through the use of actually what’s now simple and common place technology.
Andrew Ramsden:[00:36:00] You would play a really important role there because you are seeing the value in these innovations that perhaps others aren’t seeing or they are resisting. Do you see that as your role?
Bill Le Blanc: I do see that as part of my role.
Andrew Ramsden: I guess to help champion those ideas and spread them.
Bill Le Blanc:[00:36:30]

[00:37:00]

Yes. Again, because of the generational change we are seeing in the work place, we are very much at the point now where the demand for technology and technology enabled services exceeds our ability to supply. In some cases, I’m disappointed by that because I have an insatiable appetite to assist the business functions to become more efficient and to provide better services, whether it’s customers or patients or clients or to the general public. I’ve got an insatiable appetite to use technology to better the way people run their businesses. Now we are in a situation, whether it’s because of economics or sheer supply and demand, I’m unable to meet the demand. In some ways I feel disappointed by that because I like to make my customers happy.
[00:37:30]

 

We are in frugal economic times, so we are having to get much harder at prioritizing which means as an executive in our business, part of my job is unfortunately to disappoint people who come to me with fantastic ideas, all of which have great business cases behind them, but because we have limited resources, we are now having to prioritize and say, “Your idea is a fantastic idea and it would bring benefit, but this other idea will have more benefit on a broader scale of our business. Even though the first idea is a fantastic one, we are not going to do that because we’ve got limited resources, so we are going to put the resources in this other area.
Andrew Ramsden: That’s the right way to prioritize, isn’t it, because sometimes good is the enemy of great, and you have to say no to a lot of good opportunities to hen be able to embrace the great ones.
[00:38:00]
Bill Le Blanc:
I have a sense of frustration around that because I would love to help everybody, but you just can’t.
Andrew Ramsden:

[00:38:30]

Technology is more and more the cornerstone of all businesses, so you’d assume something is got to give. What do you think the future holds for that? Do you think people will start to increase the resources aligned with technology, or do you think it is about tapping into the rest of the business, tapping into those in the business that can do a little business to themselves and leveraging them to do that appropriately?
Bill Le Blanc:

[00:39:00]

I think we are coming into a new era where we are going to have to learn a new balancing act in terms of the shadow IT. I think we need to recognize because there’s more demand, then we are able to meet the supply for, we’ll have to work out a new set of parameters of when is it okay to acknowledge that and let them go ahead and source from other providers where it doesn’t matter if it’s not part of the interconnected architecture and foster, and encourage and let them flourish. Let them go out and do their own thing. In other instances, we need to have frameworks that say, “No. We can’t do it. It’s critically important for our business to have that as part of our broader interconnected architecture.” You are going to have to wait, and we are going to have to do that for you.
[00:39:30]

 

[00:40:00]

I think in the governance, and controls, and risk management mechanisms, we’ll struggle for the next little while to control innovated growth of people accessing, say for example, cloud services. We need to have a level of control. I think we are entering an era where we are going to see a lot more uncontrolled use of external services. I think we are going to see people realizing … We’d love to learn from the mistakes of others but I think sometimes we have to make our own mistakes. You’ll see every big business going through a cycle where that will happen and they’ll go, “Erh.” That’s some implications than you already think off, and then there will be a pulling back from that. The pendulum will have to come into a neutral position where they come up with new governance and control mechanisms that foster and allow that to happen where it’s appropriate and control it where it’s not appropriate.
[00:40:30] I think we are entering into an era where it will be uncontrolled for a little while, and then they’ll realize that there’s some implications of that that we really don’t want, so the pendulum will then swing back the other way. [crosstalk 00:40:37].
Andrew Ramsden: As it often does. Look, I’ve been really enjoying out that chat about strategic ICT space. If you don’t mind to have a little bit of idea change. I would love to hear some more about your leadership journey. I think it’s interesting that you talk about yourself certainly in the early days as being an introvert.
Bill Le Blanc: Very much so. Yeah.
[00:41:00]
Andrew Ramsden:
Do you see yourself as an introvert these days?
Bill Le Blanc:[00:41:30]

[00:42:00]

If I was to do, Myers-Briggs, there are many different kind of personality tests. They say you can’t change someone’s personality. I think to a large degree that’s true. If I was to do a personality test, my native type will probably still be introvert, but you can’t change your behaviours. I learned if I wanted to be successful in the areas that interested me and I found interesting to work in, that I wasn’t getting the enjoyment I wanted out of my career unless I stepped out of my comfort zone. As I moved from technical into more sales and then following that into organizational leadership roles, that was not comfortable for me. It’s something I absolutely wanted to do, so my desire to achieve the outcome overrode my pain barrier, if you like, to get out of my comfort zone. I find that with a lot of things in life.
Andrew Ramsden: Is that something that you then would actually focus on and target is that that state of being outside of your comfort zone, or …?
Bill Le Blanc: It is. I would practice it.
Andrew Ramsden: … or was just a means to an end?
Bill Le Blanc:[00:42:30]

[00:43:00]

It wasn’t a means to an end, but once you start doing a lot of it, it then seizes to be uncomfortable. Whilst I’m still intrinsically an introvert, I’m now very comfortable being the first person in the room to wake up and introduce myself, and extend my hand, and start a conversation, and doing network. Lots of people, particularly technology people find networking uncomfortable because there is a lot of introverts in technology. I don’t particularly find it comfortable, but the more you do it, the less uncomfortable it becomes. People and relationships make the world round, so on the one hand, while some elements maybe uncomfortable because of my personality type, it’s also incredibly gratifying.
Andrew Ramsden: It is. Isn’t it?
Bill Le Blanc: Yeah.
Andrew Ramsden: You don’t get if you don’t ask, and you don’t experience if you don’t put yourself out there and you don’t do.
Bill Le Blanc: That’s right.
Andrew Ramsden: Those things are uncomfortable.
Bill Le Blanc: You’ve got to take a personal risk.
[00:43:30]
Andrew Ramsden:
I think what’s really interesting about that is it feels like a big risk, and then the more you do it, the more you realize on reflection that what’s the risk really? What’s the worst thing that could happen?
Bill Le Blanc: Exactly.
Andrew Ramsden: that maybe the conversation could be a bit awkward. That’s the worst possible thing that could happen. I don’t think anyone would form lasting negative impressions of you based in some small talk…
Bill Le Blanc: No. I agree.
Andrew Ramsden: …that was a little bit awkward.
[00:44:00]
Bill Le Blanc:[00:44:30][00:45:00]
You’ve got to get out of your comfort zone, particularly if you are a technical person and you want to cross over that virtual bridge and move more into leadership, you’ve got to be … If you’re not already an outgoing person, you’ve got to learn tricks, techniques, behaviours that can get you to a shade of your outcome, because you can’t lead people, you can’t lead a small or large group of people if you are standing in the corner keeping to yourself. The thing about leaders is there’s different types of power. Positional power is probably the smallest type of power, and your position in our organization, a lot of people go, “I’m the manager, therefore, I’m a leader,” but management and leadership are two different things. You can only be a leader if someone wants to follow you. You’ve got to be able to communicate a vision. Take people on a journey. They’ve got to want to go where you are going as opposed I work and I do what you tell me to do because you are my manager. That’s a very different dynamic.
To take organizations on transformational journeys, and a lot of digital technology drives business transformation. To take people on a transformational journey, you have to be able to lead, not just manage.
Andrew Ramsden:

[00:45:30]

I’d be really interested to hear your thoughts on my pet theory which is about the culture that we have here in Australia. I believe that we are very happy to have a culture there is a bit of an anti-authoritarian attitude with a lot of people, and this tall poppy syndrome. I think if you are the type of leader that relies on positional power, you get cut down quite quickly in Australia. I hear and I get the sense that that’s not quite the same overseas, but I think in Australia, it means we have to be great leaders that are transformational leaders and quite inspirational. Balancing that confidence with the humility.
[00:46:00]
Bill Le Blanc:[00:46:30]
I agree. I think you are onto something. My accent might betray me a little bit in the fact that I’ve lived here for a very long time, but I’m a dual national with the United States and Australia. I’ve worked for several big American corporations, so while I’ve spent most of my working life in Australia, I’ve also spent some working time and leadership roles in the United States. What I found if exactly what you’ve just said. Australians are also more willing to speak their mind and be more forthcoming. I don’t mean by being willing and demeaning, but we are more happy to say what’s on our minds and have the robust conversation. Certainly, in the U.S. context, what I find is U.S. executives will say, “I can’t believe you just said that.” It’s like, “We were all thinking it, but no one was going to say it, but you actually said it.” We’re like, “Yeah. That’s what we do. That’s what Australians do.”
[00:47:00]

[00:47:30]

I do think that’s one bit of an aspect about Australian culture that I actually love, and that people are taught not to disrespect authority, not at all, but not be afraid to challenge it and not just take everything on “face value”. My children were born here. They are first generation Australians, and I liken it … I don’t mean this as a shallow contrast, but we encourage people in the workplace here most like we do with our children, when my kids were growing up, it’s the bane of every parent when kids ask, “Why. Why is it like this daddy?” and so you explain it, “But why is that?” You explain it a bit more. “Well, why? Why? Why?” People do that in the workplace. Workplaces that are working on hierarchical authority, they are not used to being asked why. They say, “I say, you do and everyone gets along just fine,” where’s in the Australian workplace …
[00:48:00]

[00:48:30]

[00:49:00]

…sorry, in a modern contemporary workplace, it’s no longer acceptable just to say as a manager I get to say and you have to do. People do need to buy behind a common … They need purpose. They need to understand why they are there, and it’s okay to challenge the way things are done. Why do we do things? We understand why we are here, but why do we have to work this way? What are our work practices? Why does our work process go this way? I think it’s incumbent on a contemporary leader not to get angry or upset, or see that as antagonistic or tribe. It’s part of modern leadership in Australia. It’s actually, take the time and explain to people. I’m always very happy to be challenged, so I encourage all the folks who work for me and particularly in my direct reports to not be backward about … Everyone is going to have an opinion and we should share our opinions, but if you don’t agree with me, tell me. Let’s talk about it, and by considering a variety of views, we can actually weight things up and get a better outcome.
[00:49:30]

 

To think that boss always knows what’s right, it’s a completely wrong way of thinking. Encouraging that diversity of views and that dialogue to occur is you actually get better business outcomes. People who are natively introverts might actually interpret that as conflicts or someone has challenged my opinion. If you can take something to stand back and take a view of, “That actually a good thing to do,” is to have the discussion, weigh up different points of view, and then collectively or otherwise pick which is the better out of the alternatives that have been put forward. You are going to get a much better outcome than if you just go with the first idea that you’ve thought of and defend it till death.
[00:50:00]

Andrew Ramsden:

Absolutely. Again, that’s the idea that the good can be the enemy of the great, and since you have a good answer, if you don’t … You sometimes just stop searching. You need to sometimes have that external impetus to push past that. I think that layered questioning of “Why? Why? Why?”, it’s interesting that children do that because it’s very similar to almost a double or triple loop learning process or a root cause analysis where you are trying to go deeper, and deeper, and deeper into what’s really at the heart of it.
[00:50:30]
Bill Le Blanc:[00:51:00]
Even as a leader. Even after considering a range of views, I still may go with my original opinion. Often I’m very happy to be swayed. I’ll often then adopt the view of someone else that’s been put forward, but if you don’t consider the different views, then you haven’t got the choice to make. I think as contemporary leaders we have to encourage that discussion. Even after I go with my original opinion after considering your range of views, it’s important for the others in the room to understand why you’ve taken that decision, and what you are thinking is behind it. It is important to explain to people and not just do it because I said. It’s like, “No. We are going to do it this way for these reasons, and it has this impact on our business. That’s why I’ve taken the decision. You may not agree with it, but my role is to take the decision, and I’ve taken it on this basis.”
[00:51:30] That’s a much better way to lead and manage than to go, “I’ve just decided we are doing this. Suck it up and get on with it.” I think that’s a really poor way to run an organization.
Andrew Ramsden:

[00:52:00]

I think sometimes even if you go with your original plan of action, it’s giving you an opportunity to think it through, and talk it through, and clarify. I think you need to have that clarity in terms of your Myers-Briggs profile, whether you align with that ‘N’ for intuitive … I certainly do. I guess what that means is I’ll often have an intuitive sense of which way I should head quite early on, and then my ‘T’ for thinking comes along later and backs that up. Sometimes those conversations even with staff in a nice safe environment in your team gives you that opportunity to consolidate the thinking and be able to communicate that to others as well.
Bill Le Blanc:[00:52:30]

[00:53:00]

In my native personality type, I’m more analytical, and I’m very much aware of that. I know that my preferred decision making style is to take information in, analyse it, weight up the options, and then make a decision. In many instances in business, you’ve got the luxury to be able to do that. In other instances, you actually don’t. As leaders, we have to recognize that there are circumstances that do demand immediate snap decision making. Even though that’s out some people’s comfort zones, you still have to do it. You have to take the decision because the risk of not taking a decision and the impact of not making or delaying a decision is even worse. Sometimes, if you are analytical person, you still have to make decisions in the absence of all the information. Have that level of comfort in taking risk.
Andrew Ramsden: How do you come to peace with that?
Bill Le Blanc: It’s the reality of life, the universe and everything really.
Andrew Ramsden: Right.
[00:53:30]
Bill Le Blanc:[00:54:00]
The funny thing is we all have deal with some level of ambiguity in our personal and family lives and make decisions. You have to do that in your work life as well. Moms are very wise. One of the things my mom said to me many years ago with respect to any tough choices or decisions you had to make in life, I remember her saying to me, “If you have a choice of A or B, you’ll never know which one was the right one.” As an analytical person, I was obsessed. I wanted to make the correct choice because whatever choice I make; it has to be the one that’s right. There’s right and there’s wrong. She was saying, “You will never know, because where you do have binary choices, you’ve got to go down one path and you’ll never know whether the other one was the right one because you didn’t go down it.” You’ve got to make a choice and be comfortable with it.
[00:54:30]

[00:55:00]

When it comes to making snap decisions, whether it’s in business or in your personal life and you don’t have the luxury of time to over-analyse and consider or weight up all the options, you’ve got to look at the information you’ve got and make the best judgment you can at the time with the information that’s available, and then just move. Recognize that that was the constraining factors. If it turns out down the track to have been the wrong decision, then so be it, but you made it at that time for all the right reasons, and don’t get hung up about it.
Andrew Ramsden: Based on the best information that you had, wouldn’t it be fantastic if we could always understand and appreciate and see with clarity both the path that we followed and the factual path that we didn’t?
Bill Le Blanc:[00:55:30]

[00:56:00]

20/20 hindsight is a wonderful thing. When you look at some of the strategic things that we’ve done in our careers and even in IT, I can look back to many examples. It’s the 80/20 rule, I would say. I’d be comfortable to say 80% of the strategic and tactical decisions I’ve made in the past have been spot on. 20% have been poor decisions, but when you look back, you can say, “I made that decision at that time for these reasons, and with the information I had, that was the right decision to make.” Fast forward, a year or two, with 20/20 hindsight and what we know now, we shouldn’t have done that, but we didn’t know that back then. You’ve got to be comfortable with going … We did the best we could with the information we had. That’s all you can do.
Andrew Ramsden: Do you think that pushing outside your comfort zone and almost becoming more comfortable with the uncomfortable, is that something that puts you in good state for dealing with that degree of uncertainty?
Bill Le Blanc:

[00:56:30]

It is. It’s a key part of being a digital leader because folks who work in IT tend to be, not so much binary, but they tend to have … They believe they see everything with pure clarity, and I think they want the world to be black and white; you are either right or you are wrong. You are not maybe wrong. You can’t be part pregnant. You are either not pregnant or you are pregnant, but in business, in organizations, there is a lot of great space. There’s an awful lot of great space. There’s a lot of ambiguity and you have to be comfortable in your own skin as a leader. You have to be comfortable with ambiguity.
[00:57:00]
Andrew Ramsden:
I think an extension on that for me is this incredible value in focusing less on what’s right and wrong. It’s much more valuable to focus on what’s useful in this moment right now. What’s going to take us forwards? Do I really need to point out that they were wrong and they were right? Can I just let that go and focus on what gets us where we need to be?
[00:57:30]
Bill Le Blanc:[00:58:00]
We did a complete re-structure of our organization and recruited a brand new leadership team. This is going back about six years ago. We recruited an organizational psychologist who helped us do profiling and psychometric testing when we recruited the new leadership team. When we were reviewing the results of some of the candidates, the organizational psychologist said something to me that really stuck with me, because again, ambiguity is not something I’ve struggled with. Maybe early in my career when I was young and super analytical and wanted everything to black or white. Even now, through that restructuring, I was getting hung up on some elements which was the right way to go in certain decisions. This organizational psychologist said to me something that I wrote on a sticky note and I stuck it on my computer screen. I left it there for a couple of years.
[00:58:30]

 

[00:59:00]

He said to me, “When you feel that way, ask yourself how much does it really matter?” I wrote that down on a poster note, and I stuck it on my screen. It actually stayed there for a couple of years, and in all sorts of situations, I would start to get hung up on, “Which decision should I make?” If I had a range of choices, whether it’s A or B, or whether I had five different options. I was weighing them you and I had to make a quick decision, and you feel the pressure. There is pressure to make decisions in a timely manner, and you start thinking about, “What are the outcomes or implications of making a particular decision?” I then would look at that and go, “How much does it really matter?” In some cases, it matters the hell of a lot in which case you’ve got to pay a lot more attention to that decision.
[00:59:30] In other instances, it’s like, the difference in the outcomes between the different options is actually not all that difference. In terms of, how much does it really matter? Not that much. The risk of making a wrong decision is much less.
Andrew Ramsden:[01:00:00] It’s very easy to treat every decision like it’s life or death. Often I see this failing where when that mentality creeps in, all of the decisions end up getting sent through to the highest person available at the time. There is no delegated decision making power at that point, and often that becomes a bottleneck, and things slow down.
Bill Le Blanc: Often people misread how empowered they are to make decisions. I believe strongly empowering people; setting the direction and leaving people alone to get the job done. I exchange trust by default, and I expect people to come and approach me if they are having difficulty and they need assistance, otherwise I’ll leave them alone to get on with it.
[01:00:30]
Andrew Ramsden:
 

How do you communicate that trust and empower them? Sorry to interrupt you.

Bill Le Blanc:

[01:01:00]

Partly is to show people that you’ve got their back, and that you’ll back them. I’m all about outcomes, not about how things get done. As long as we achieve the goal and objective, my leaders are free to achieve in any way they want as long as they stay within the budget. Empowerment is quite important. In many organizations including ours, there is a falsehood or a false sense of, “I’m not allowed to make that decision. I’m going to have to ask the boss, or get the boss’s boss to make that decision,” when in actual fact, they are perfectly empowered to make that decision, but they are afraid to. They’d rather the boss make the decision, so if the wrong decision gets made, they can, “The boss made that decision.” People are empowered to make a lot more decisions than they actually make.
[01:01:30]

Andrew Ramsden:

 

This is true. That can happen as well. I’ve absolutely seen that happen. What do you think the best way is to really have that taken to heart and to really expect your staff to make those decisions?

Bill Le Blanc:

[01:02:00]

Part of it is if they come to you for a decision that they themselves are empowered to make, to tell them. You are empowered to make a decision. I could make it for you, but I’m not going to. You have the ability to choose and run your part of the business. And so what I’ll then turn around and say is, “given that this is your decision. Do you want to talk it through? What would you do? Do you want to talk through the implications? but at the end of the day, it’s your decision to make,” and put it back on them. The more they do it, the more comfortable they then become in taking those decisions.
[01:02:30]

Andrew Ramsden:

Just jumping back again, you talked about making that journey across the bridge from being a hands-on technical professional into leadership. Why did you take that journey yourself? What drew you to leadership?
Bill Le Blanc: What drew me to leadership? Try not to laugh when I say this.
Andrew Ramsden: Okay.
Bill Le Blanc:[01:03:00]

[01:03:30]

[01:04:00]

As a technical person, I prided myself. I went from systems programming to database administration and application programming. In every field that I went into, I tried to be the best that I could. I would master a technology and once I’d mastered it, I’d get bored and want to move on to something else. I have been in IT for 30 years, more actually, after about 12 years as a technical … 12, 15 years as a technical person, I had an appetite to learn more. That’s when I started to read more about business and that’s when I started to find business finance, business operations looked a lot more interesting. Whilst I was working my ring off as a technical person. I would say, “The managers don’t seem to be working so hard, and what they seem to be doing seems to be a lot more interesting. I might try and do that.
[01:04:30]

[01:05:00]

I particularly sort join a larger organization where I would have the opportunity to work in different roles and learn about big business and big business operation. I reached out and I joined a company. A multinational corporation that had more than 20,000 employees. That gave me the opportunity to work in different roles in more of a business function. What I found of course was that it wasn’t true that leaders and managers had it easy and that they didn’t work very hard. I found that the worked just as hard as the technical people. It’s not always visible to the technical people. That gave me the opportunity to bridge from technical to more managerial and then more senior leadership. I’ve benefited from large corporations who invest in training and development opportunities for people, and training people in leadership and so on. I was very fortunate to have done that.
Andrew Ramsden: All right. I know we’ve come to the end of the time that we’ve got with you today, so we’ll leave it there, but thank you so much for taking the time and for sharing so generously with us.
Bill Le Blanc: It’s been my pleasure. All the best to you.
Andrew Ramsden: Cheers. Thank you.
"I don't believe you should corporatise innovation. Let it flourish wherever it can"—Bill Le Blanc
"To take people on transformational journeys, you have to be able to lead not just manage "—Bill Le Blanc
"As I moved from technical into leadership roles, I learned if I wanted to be successful I had to step outside my comfort zone"—Bill Le Blanc

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