Feb 2018 CIO Australia
Why innovation is a key DNA strain across Cochlear
“Cochlear is one of Australia’s most famous innovators,” says David Hackshall, chief information officer at the world-leading hearing implant technology provider. “This [innovation] is a key DNA strain across the organisation. It is also a major part of our intellectual property and directly impacts new products and offerings that we introduce to the market,” he says. Consequently, Hackshall apologises for being somewhat vague about Cochlear’s investments in machine learning and artificial intelligence technologies. “We have made two investments in machine learning and AI,” he says. “In one case, we expect to shorten the amount of time it takes for an implant recipient to reach the optimal hearing outcome.”
To aid in training professionals and implant candidates, Cochlear has delivered (internally) several immersive virtual reality tools that allow people to see and walk through the internal workings of the implant and sound processor – to go inside the processor and understand what makes it tick, adds Hackshall. The organisation has also internally evolved its next-generation sound processor to be iPhone-capable. This provides the cochlear implant recipient with more real time data on the performance of their device and ultimately hearing outcomes, says Hackshall. This marks the beginning of a Connected Health strategy at Cochlear, which ties in with the implementation of the SAML (security assertion markup language) or single sign-on platform that provides a seamless user experience as the recipient ‘on-boards’ to Cochlear through a mobile application.
“Like most organisations, our online presence has evolved over time and created by different teams. This has led to multiple entry points and structures for our customers,” he says. “This was tackled this year with the implementation of the Salesforce SAML platform. The migration of our online store and portals to this platform has made it easier to do business with us online. Instead of a customer having to retain differing credentials for our online store and our service portal, they are now integrated through the universal authentication process delivered by Salesforce.com,” he says.
In addition, the rollout of Salesforce to Cochlear’s field sales and service staff has completely transformed the way field and operations members engage with each other, as well as how the organisation manages end devices. “Now our field teams and service teams are on the same page when it comes to how we are servicing our professionals and device recipients alike. This model has been deployed in more than 20 countries and has been a key enabler in driving towards process standardisation across the countries and regions,” he says.
Product quality and performance vital
High quality product is of utmost importance to implant customers and to the Cochlear organisation, says Hackshall. As each product rolls through the manufacturing process, it needs to be quality and performance checked at each step in the process. The checks were previously recorded in the ERP system manually. Now, Hackshall and his team have integrated the testing equipment into a Cochlear cloud-based machine integration platform that records the tests and references the test results back into the ERP system. The result is significant improvement in process automation within manufacturing and improved data accuracy for quality control. “The scalable AWS cloud platform based on open source technology provides ‘system enforced quality gates’ and validation rules instead of manual processes and data entry. This ensures the quality of device build, compliance to strict quality parameters, avoidance of ‘corrective and preventative action’ and unwanted events,” says Hackshall.
Hackshall and his team have also improved manufacturing record keeping by replacing paper records with an electronic system that makes centralised data easier to search and retrieve. This has reduced costs by eliminating paper records that are normally stored in physical archives.
Finally, Cochlear’s manufacturing and logistics, and research and development teams are using data to gain insights into product yields, efficiency, returns and rework across various product lines. This helps them optimise workflows, anticipate maintenance events and plan inventory, says Hackshall.
You can’t communicate too much
Hackshall has learnt a few key lessons during his career; the first being that a CIO should ‘over communicate.’ “Never assume they heard you the first or second time; it’s critical to stay on message. Secondly, you can’t control everything, and thirdly, if you see a behaviour that does not reflect your culture, stomp on it,” he says. “To explore just one of these – a part of bringing about a new culture, you hope that all staff you inherit can rally around and embrace the direction you want to head towards. As part of our cultural shift, we needed to develop service metrics that measured IT performance to targets. “The development of a services catalogue was required with targeted SLAs. As this was a new concept for staff at Cochlear to embrace, and as we globally integrated our differing IT functions into our global group, alignment and process standards became critical to ensure we were measuring in a consistent way,” he says. Given the historical level of independence, combined with the cultural shift towards service orientation, not all players on the field were aligned, or for that matter, playing the right game, he says. “This had to be overcome by recommunicating the need, building cross-functional teams and shared goals. We also openly rewarded demonstrated behaviour that moved us towards integration and counselling of staff on behaviour that was not supportive of the new direction."