IT to the rescue

International SOS' CTO Todd Schofield shares how real-time information access has helped the organization provide better medical assistance, even in the most remote locations.

CIO 1-on-1 Delivering prompt and high quality medical service in the most demanding situations is International SOS' business, and it is Todd Schofield's job to sure its global IT systems run like clockwork.

As chief technology officer (CTO) of International SOS, which provides medical and security assistance to businesses, governments, non-profit organizations and individuals, Schofield is responsible for the entire info-communications and technology infrastructure spanning 14 regions worldwide.

Based in Singapore, the industry veteran boasts over 15 years of experience in IT, which extends across several industries, including high-end luxury goods, broadcast entertainment, as well as import retail.

In an e-mail interview with ZDNet Asia, Schofield talks about the demands of the job and how he aligns IT with the organization's business needs.

Q: How does your current role as CTO in the health and risk management industry differ from the previous roles you held?
Schofield: As CTO, the core responsibility of providing high value technology functionality to the business is similar to other industries. As with other industries, there is also a lot of emphasis on raising business efficiency and gaining a competitive edge through improving the IT infrastructure. In the last five years, though, the role has seen radical changes. Now, we are all expected to strike a balance between the technology and the business, ensuring that the technological direction of the company ties in with the overall business directives.

My current role is challenging in that it requires us to have extremely efficient response mechanisms. IT has to support this critical business and be a tool specifically to enhance how we provide assistance to our clients in a medical or security situation. The focus is constantly on prioritization, deciding which IT investments will impact the customers the most. To achieve this, I have to constantly ensure that we allocate our funds realistically, both from a cost point of view as well as the implementation.

Todd Schofield
Job title
CTO, International SOS
Work experience
Schofield took on the role of CTO at International SOS in January 2006, and is responsible for ensuring the organization's ICT infrastructure fulfils the medical and security assistance provided by its 27 centers globally. The 15-year industry veteran holds a Bachelor's degree in Rhetoric--the study of discourse and communication--from UC Berkeley as well as an MBA from UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) and an MBA from National University of Singapore, earned through a double-MBA program.
About International SOS
Founded in 1985, International SOS is a global organization with headquarters in Singapore and employs over 4,500 people worldwide. It provides medical assistance, international healthcare, security services and outsourced customer care, to its clients across five continents in 66 countries.

What are the demands of the job and the challenges that you've encountered since you assumed this role in 2006?
Since joining International SOS at the beginning of 2006, I have put a lot of effort into understanding our businesses and the services we deliver, which allows me to make better decisions about the company's IT direction. There are very high expectations of not only the quality of our IT, but that it be the right fit for our organization now--and as a foundation for our technology in the future.

Aside from executing the duties of a CTO, I also assist the CFO who owns the CIO function as well. Together, we run an ICT (information, communications and technology) organization that covers 14 regions around the world and is responsible for the global information infrastructure. I constantly have to ensure that every part of our infrastructure works in every location in the world, even the remote ones, so crises can be managed effectively and efficiently. Everything has to be up and running--and running well--right from the phone systems to the PCs to the servers.

In short, I have to focus not only on setting the IT direction but oversee the operational IT functions, too, and this is always challenging.

What do you see as the most pressing security challenges today in the health and risk management industry?
We take IT security very seriously due to the sensitivity of health and risk management information. Our clients trust us with data such as medical records, and we go to great lengths to ensure control and confidentiality of information.

Another pressing challenge, I would say, lies in disaster recovery and planning. As patient care and information become increasingly automated, we encounter the risk of disruptions to the automated operations. Hence, we need to have a good disaster recovery plan that can be applied even to remote servers. This is especially crucial to International SOS as we are in the business of providing emergency assistance where timely response is critical.

From your experience, what advice would you give to CIOs who want to manage risks?
Because the IT perspective sometimes differs from the business perspective, I have found that it works well to consider risk management in the context of how risk averse the senior management is. By presenting the IT options and the risk level to the executives, I help ensure they can be guided on taking the appropriate IT actions based on their tolerance for risk and the company's stage of growth. Ultimately, all IT implementations are tied to a business decision.

Tell us more about the Magellan project, and how instrumental it is to the business?
Magellan is critical because we manage assistance in terms of cases. A case is a record of all interaction and activities associated with providing assistance to a customer. Magellan is a custom-developed, single, integrated global case management and financial system designed to support our assistance operations: medical, security, healthcare management and specialty services.

The Magellan application serves as a vital link for International SOS' global network of 27 alarm centers, as critical client information such as medical conditions, family contact details and certification for air evacuations can be accessed and updated simultaneously, even in remote locations.

Where is IT in terms of priority rankings in the organization's management strategy?
Service to our customers will always be the top priority in our organization's management strategy, and IT is an important factor in providing that service. There are two levels of IT efficiencies that have to be achieved within the organization: one at a day-to-day operational level, and the other at an overall strategic direction level.

Both are equally critical to the company's well-being, and there is a great deal of management attention and focus on enhancing how we use IT. Any IT investment has to meet business needs, work well with the existing setup and ultimately benefit the external customers. Due to its ability to drive business innovation and affect organizational change, IT has become a key priority for the organization.

How does IT add value to your organization, and to what extent would you attribute the organization's success to IT?
We are in a dynamic line of business where timely response to customers--often caught in crisis situations, is of the essence, and technology plays a key role in enabling that. Our Magellan deployment has allowed us to have all information about all customer cases available to our alarm centers around the world. The unified communications deployment will further enable quicker response times, helping us serve our clients even better.

All our IT innovation is driven by the need to raise the bar on customer satisfaction. Our company motto is "Worldwide Reach, Human Touch", and IT is doing an increasingly good job providing the tools and structure that allow us to service our customers around the globe, while at the same time we can maintain the person-to-person contact that we are known for.

What are some of International SOS' current and upcoming IT investments?
Now that we are completing the rollout of our Magellan case management-finance application, we are looking at other areas where we can globalize and standardize IT. One of our main IT investments this coming year will be our integrated communications initiative in partnership with the Nortel-Microsoft Innovative Communications Alliance. We are anticipating significant communications improvements as well as financial benefit from this project.

What's top on your agenda these days, and what do you deem as most important?
Our current IT focus involves creating a solid IT strategy and direction for the future that matches up to the business strategy and direction. This means being actively involved and understanding our various business components as well as the expectations of our management. Ultimately, all technology innovation is a matter of prioritization, and IT investments are made in areas that have the most impact on customers. Customers remain the key focus.