With 166 permanent hearing centres as well as visiting sites, Hearing Australia is a statutory authority, which provides services including hearing assessment, hearing device selection and fitting, training, counselling, rehabilitation and more. With such a large and far-reaching organisation, seamless and comprehensive IT is imperative and the CTO of Hearing Australia, Andrew Bakhsh, knows more about this than most.
The reason for this is that Bakhsh has not only been with the organisation for a decade, but has also worked his way up the ladder, beginning in 2010 as an IT manager, before becoming head of IT Service Delivery and Operations and then promoted to his current role in 2017.
His experience prior to joining the organisation was wide and all encompassing, he says. “I started off doing a programming degree, so I’ve had immersion in everything IT. From networking to storage to systems administration – all across the infrastructure stack and the application stack as well.
“I’ve managed infrastructure, I’ve managed application teams and data analytics teams and so there’s been a whole broad cross-section of experience.”
Role at Hearing Australia
In his current position, Bakhsh sees his role first and foremost as a facilitator.
“I am responsible for empowering and liaising with the IT staff,” he says, “but also showcasing the value of technology in the business, the identification of new technology and the subsequent use cases in the organisation.”
As part of his everyday workload he is also working externally, liaising with industry partners and thought leaders.
“As part of that I have a key focus on IT strategy, IT governance, data analytics and enterprise architecture,” he explains.
His job is made easier by working in an organisation that values innovation, he says. “Hearing Australia has a really good appetite for technology and of course we want to leverage this in the right ways, to gain competitive advantage.”
The caveat is that this naturally leads to challenges. “With new technology there will be new skill sets and there will be change management involved; there will be changes of our business processes. And that’s the stuff that we’ll need to really manage well going forward.”
One of Bakhsh’s tasks is to smooth out this process – particularly when it comes to strengthening the communication of IT governance, and talent acquisition, retention and growth.
“We have to ensure that we keep aligned to strategy and also data governance and literacy within the organisation,” he stresses.
Wins on the board
Bakhsh is proud of what he’s been able to accomplish over the past decade at Hearing Australia, nominating a collaboration with Australia Post as a particular highlight. “The biggest achievement that I’ve been part of and actually responsible for was a digital document management project, where we digitised all of our physical client records,” he says. “Imagine – 600,000 records...”
The project entailed gathering this huge amount of physical data from 180 different sites across Australia, taking it to Australia Post to be digitised and then accommodating the resulting internal repository.
Bakhsh says what made it especially satisfying was that it pointed to the direction Hearing Australia was taking.
“It was like a stepping stone for a whole digital-first initiative within the organisation,” he says. “Our systems had really stepped forward to the digital age, but so had the ambitions of Hearing Australia.”
Aligning with AC3
These ambitions also paved the way for a productive relationship with AC3, says Bakhsh. The specific issue was an existing disaster recovery platform that needed an overhaul. While the platform worked, it was “costly, complex and not optimised,” he explains.
Utilising multiple different technologies made it difficult to maintain and keep up-to-date. An internal review to really understand exactly what was needed for a capability that was not core to the business, but undeniably important, led to a ‘request for quote’ process to identify a managed service provider to deliver a suitable replacement system.
AC3 was selected for its considerable experience across local, state and federal government spaces, as well as its flexibility around licensing, options and solutions as part of the overall technology, says Bakhsh. “Third, it was about capacity – the ability to have a larger computer network that we’ll be able to use, not just for now, but also into the future.”
For Hearing Australia it was vital that any provider would be able to scale when necessary, he adds.
AC3 pulled together a dedicated project team with in-house specialist engineers and solution architects, which examined the Hearing Australia environment and developed a hybrid cloud solution, similar to the one utilised by the New South Wales State Government.
“It was very secure and gave us a lot of confidence,” says Bakhsh. “It brought together major partners such as HPE, VMware, Microsoft, Oracle… the list goes on. It gave us a really all-encompassing solution.”
Bakhsh says the proof of the pudding was definitely in the eating, with Hearing Australia now in a much better position than it was previously. “The results have been astounding,” he says, pointing to cost reductions, as well as 50 percent improvements in both net recovery point objectives and recovery time objectives.
On top of that there is now 24/7 available capacity and it’s scalable too. “What the team and I have definitely learned is that getting AC3 as a managed service provider has given us confidence that these business critical tasks – which are not core to our business – can be taken outside and we then have the ability to focus on more strategic tasks that add value to the organisation.
“It’s an effective tool in helping us manage that business compliance risk,” he adds.
Bakhsh’s experiences in the managed services provider area are not the only advice he has to share with other chief technology officers. Over the years he’s picked up a few strategies he recommends for success in the field and the first certainly speaks to his progression through the ranks at Hearing Australia. “Stay the course!” he says. “Persistence really pays off, that’s one thing I’ve learned. And also back yourself. If you have a notion, if you have something you feel passionate about, stick to your guns. That is persistence, but it also takes courage to bring up those ideas and those concepts.” In the contemporary landscape, he believes, there is a thirst for innovation and a willingness to try things out.
“It’s around technology giving us the enablers to be able to really bring some of those ideas and concepts to fruition.”
Bakhsh also recommends taking the time to breathe every now and then – being confident in both your own skill sets and those of the people you manage or work with on a day-to-day basis that operations will not suffer. If you can periodically stop and trust the systems you have put in place, then you can really look in depth at the bigger picture.
“You need to give yourself time to step away to be able to think strategically,” he advises. “We’re all so busy in our lives, we don’t get time to reflect and to be open to those new ideas and concepts.
“But also refer to your peers. And partners such as AC3, because you can’t have all the ideas, you can’t have all the experience, you can’t have all the technology. And that’s where you can learn.”
His satisfaction with the AC3 partnership is clear. “It’s always been professional, they’ve always brought their A game to the table and it’s always a pleasure,” he says. “They really understand what you’re trying to do and they’re dedicated to it.
“And what I really appreciated is they’re not going to do something if they can’t deliver it 100 percent. A lot of vendors promise that, but AC3 actually practises it and that’s important in this industry.”