CIO Spotlight: Alan Payne, Sensyne Health

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? "In the coming year, Sensyne Health will continue to drive the adoption of accelerated AI for clinical outcomes..."

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Sensyne Health

Name: Alan Payne

Company: Sensyne Health

Job title: CIO

Date started current role: February 2020

Location: Oxford, UK

Alan Payne is a qualified Management Accountant and an Honorary Professor in Intelligent Systems at UCL with over 25 years of experience as a technology leader in Healthcare, Financial Services and as a successful ‘technopreneur’. He has worked on four continents with knowledge of globalisation in local health systems, leveraging latest generation Cloud technologies with a passionate purpose to improve health outcomes at scale.

What was your first job? My first real job was as a qualified chef where I worked for a couple of months under Raymond Blanc and was head chef at a restaurant called Oxford Cellars whilst I was studying my accounting degree at Oxford Brookes during a voluntary year off!

Did you always want to work in IT? No, I started off as an Accountant following my studies. My first role out of university was as a graduate management trainee at BAE Systems in the army weapons division in Stevenage, where I joined one week before the Falklands War started.

Despite being in accounting, this was the role where I discovered I had an interest in IT. When I arrived in an office of 270+ accountants there was one PC still in the box in the corner and on my second day, I unboxed it and taught myself how to use Lotus 1-2-3. In fact, I was the first person in the organisation to put all the accounting on to a microcomputer. By the end of the first month, I had queues of people asking me for help and that kickstarted my interest in computers as a vehicle to facilitate productivity and improved outcomes.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I’m a qualified chef from City & Guilds, a qualified Accountant from the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants, an Honorary Professor at UCL and I’m a qualified PADI scuba Assistant Instructor!

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. I’ve had several career changes and I think it’s my diverse career background that has facilitated my outlook and ability to respond positively in various situations; ranging from chef and accountant, to managing financial systems in the very early days of relational database with Oracle, which fast-tracked me into the use of technology from a business perspective. My focus during my career has been less on the technologies, but rather the outcomes they create when implemented.

I was an entrepreneur for several years working on four different continents and I was in banking for the first 15 years of my career. I’ve held roles including CTO at Merrill Lynch and I also ran global financial systems and operations at JPMorgan Chase. I spent two years managing financial systems for Oracle in Asia, running a sales force. That was a deliberate move for me as a CIO to understand revenue generation, which was where I learnt a lot about where business value occurs and how a business creates and retains it.

I shifted to healthcare tech in 2006, and that’s where my focus moved from stakeholder and shareholder growth, to purpose growth. I was frustrated just delivering value to shareholders and customers without a thought for the real purpose behind it. Even though working in the healthcare industry is traditionally less paid, I felt I wanted to make a greater difference to society by giving back to patients.

I adapted my banking tech background where I built everything from early internet banking services through to cash machine systems, and I applied that thinking to healthcare tech. Which to this day, is still where banking was 20 years ago in terms of lack of information sharing, security governance, document management etc.

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? In the coming year, Sensyne Health will continue to drive the adoption of accelerated AI for clinical outcomes, by creating the AI engine room that will drive innovation in healthcare supporting clinical endpoints to improve decision making.

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? Our top priorities will be continuing to support the business’s exponential growth, leveraging the technology relationships to optimise value for Sensyne Health, and ensure safe, secured productive environments for our teams.

Healthcare is a highly regulated environment, therefore, ensuring security and operational excellence is a key priority for us. Given that we are now a fully remote working company, one of my most important jobs is to make sure our employees have a seamless working experience no matter where they are.

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? No, I’m responsible for all technology in the company ranging from client facing products through to the AI engine we have developed, and I also support the implementation of AI tool sets that our academic researchers use.

Are you leading a digital transformation? If so, does it emphasise customer experience and revenue growth or operational efficiency? If both, how do you balance the two? I’m lucky enough to be working in a company that is only two years old, so we don’t have many of the legacy issues usually faced with digital transformation. That said, we have already automated many mundane tasks to free up capacity for our teams to do more for patients, clinicians and the life science industry. For example, our onboarding process has been fully automated, so when new employees join, their data is entered in one place and our HR system sends the relevant onboarding documents employees need to get settled in.

We’re also automating our medical device regulation, which is a highly regulated and very document-intensive process and we’ve aligned our engineering process and documentation to reduce administrative burden.

We are also helping to lead digital transformation for healthcare systems, which is about providing actionable insight to facilitate health and wellbeing through clinical intervention or a wellbeing suggestion.

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? We measure extensively from service levels to forecasting our infrastructure use. For example, we have made 60% infrastructure cost savings in the last five months alone by our ability to measure more accurately, and apply that insight.

Having a better understanding our usage means we can be more efficient in how we use technology to deliver the same service, but faster and cheaper. This also enables us to understand what our product costs more accurately so we can assess business value to technology value, and pass that on to our customers

We’re definitely at the leading end of ‘digital’ as a company – we are, after all, in the digital transformation business for healthcare. A good example is how quickly we adopted remote working practises. Our CEO continually reinforces how much more productive we have been since lockdown.

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? A good culture fit at Sensyne Health is an employee who is transparent, participative, encouraging, diverse, purpose-driven and passionate for what we do. People work at Sensyne Health because they love it. Our recent employee survey showed that we all share a purpose of delivering clinical-grade capability to support patients.

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? Machine learning skills are in high demand at the moment, so we’re always on the lookout for all levels of capability.

What's the best career advice you ever received? Be resilient. When it comes to innovating in the healthcare space; always solve the disease, not the symptom.

And some words of wisdom from one of my favourite films, never give up, never surrender.

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. High performing teams are critical and, in my experience, the best teams are those built around shared pain and success. Building a succession plan early is beneficial to yourself and the company, I believe you should always be prepared to make yourself redundant. By that, I mean, you shouldn’t be shy of recruiting someone who’s brilliant and leadership is about doing the right thing for the company, and not just for yourself.

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? Don’t just manage up, manage around yourself and your peer network. This includes your teams, stakeholders and influencers. Make sure to look after yourself; the hours you work don’t matter; it is the results you achieve that do. Ultimately, that’s what you’ll be recognised for.

What has been your greatest career achievement? Delivering a wellbeing platform to the Singaporean Government for diabetes, smoking cessation and weight management, must be up there. Establishing a Global Institute for Digital Health Excellence (GLIDHE) in partnership with UCL, to develop predictive techniques for behaviour change and reduce the global burden of increasing healthcare demand, is also an achievement I am very proud of.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? I don’t think I needed 13 years of global experience. It can be hard on family and hard on yourself, particularly with the amount of air travel you need to do to accommodate. I also wish I’d moved into the healthcare sector earlier.

What are you reading now? For the 20th time, I’m reading Dune by Frank Herbert, which is possibly the best science fiction book ever written. I’m also a voracious reader of anything healthcare and AI related.

Most people don't know that I… have cooked for the queen. It was an apricot-stuffed chicken with a cream sauce followed by choux pastry swans.

In my spare time, I like to… run, work out, scuba dive, entertain but most importantly, cook. I have retained my love of creative cooking and eating.

Ask me to do anything but… do the same thing and expect different results.