In 2002, Computing Canada introduced the IT Executive of the Year award to recognize information technology leaders who stand apart from the crowd. Readers encouraged us to expand the awards program to all levels of IT leaders, so this year we are launching the IT Leadership Awards, which recognize the achievements of IT professionals in six categories. From a large number of nominations, our judges chose the following people and projects as outstanding examples of IT Leadership in Canadian organizations.
IT Executive of the Year
Ben Grebinski, superintendent of school operations, administrative services and technology, Regina Catholic Schools
Ben Grebinski is passionate about education and how it can enrich the life of a child. The superintendent of school operations, administrative services and technology at Regina Catholic Schools sees technology as a tool in the learning and teaching process. That is just one of the reasons Grebinski is Computing Canada’s IT Executive of the Year.
“I’m a firm believer that education in schools is there to give children and youth something they don’t already have,” says Grebinski. “If we’re providing them with experiences they already have, we’re not providing them with education.”
Grebinski says one of the challenges he faces is in acknowledging that not all of the more than 10,000 children in his district have the same resources at home. And this can have a huge impact on their learning experience.
“I have to recognize that there is a divide here so I don’t (want to) create a situation where the school has it all and they can’t transfer that learning back at home,” he says.
The seasoned educator and administrator has lived his entire life in the province of Saskatchewan, and he has had many opportunities to visit schools throughout Canada and the U.S., preaching the message of how to engineer more effective schools. Grebinski says the competitive climate among Canadian schools means schools are continually vying for precious government dollars in an effort to improve their learning environments.
“Education is seeing a challenge all across the nation,” he says. “Everyone is competing. Student scores, achievements are being publicized and compared. And as dollars become more scarce, government officials who are responsible for those different portfolios have to argue why they need more dollars. If their scores aren’t up there relative to everyone else’s, then the general coffers suggest that perhaps they shouldn’t put dollars there.”
As for Grebinski’s technology vision for the 30 schools across the district, his dream is simple: “To have technology at the fingertips of every student.”
When he moved into his new role as a district superintendent five years ago, he recognized there were a lot of holes in the technology fabric.
“We had limited access to applications,” he says. “We had a WAN, but it was on a much smaller scale. We had a non-Windows based platform.”
Grebinski oversaw a refresh of the district’s technology infrastructure in 2000, including 2,500 PCs, 100 or so laptops and 40 servers. Support for these systems is carried out by a staff of 14 technology professionals who focus on infrastructure, education technology and business technology, such as student tracking systems.
But there have been challenges, including IT suppliers’ perception of an education facility’s technology requirements, which Grebinski says are miles apart from other enterprises.
“For one thing, you never have the same set of hands on the machine all day long,” he says. “In most of our classrooms, there are six kids to every computer, so you have 24 children accessing four machines.”
The other big difference in Grebinski’s mind is the fact that schools run more applications than the average business — a lot more.
“We have more than 125 different applications because you need different applications for different grade levels,” he says.
The ultimate dream, says Grebinski, is one-to-one computer access for every student.
“It’s important to teach kids to share, but we can teach them to share other things — their hearts, spirit, humanity. When it comes to a computer, I would hope we wouldn’t deny access.”
— Patricia MacInnis
IT Champion of the Year
Greg Brownless, (former) Vice-president, Sales and Marketing, Vita-Tech Canada Inc.
When Greg Brownless took over the sales and marketing team at Vita-Tech, he didn’t sell people on the idea of customer relationship management technology.
“It wasn’t so much putting in a CRM system, but taking on a cultural shift, and that’s how I presented it,” said Brownless, former vice-president of sales and marketing with Vita-Tech Canada Inc. and this year’s IT Champion of the Year. “If you don’t get support from the top, it’s not going to work.”
Vita-Tech provides diagnostic testing and laboratory services for veterinary, institutional and regulatory government bodies. But some of its customers complained that Vita-Tech was getting too big and growing out of touch with the family values it was founded on. As the company expanded in size into new and international markets, it took longer for customers to get responses to their queries.
While Vita-Tech had a sophisticated lab system, it wasn’t integrated into any type of CRM component and didn’t allow for any data mining or business intelligence to help the customer, said Brownless.
After extensive consultation with employees, he advocated the deployment of Maximizer CRM software for customer profiling and activity logging, tracking information, delivery programs and tying customer touch points to sales efforts.
While it’s one thing to explain how technology can streamline operations, it’s another to encourage transformation in change-averse employees.
“Never underestimate the amount of time necessary for user adoption,” said Brownless. “They will go through the training, they will demonstrate their understanding, but do they give you their commitment? That was the biggest challenge.”
Brownless’s motto: collaborate, cooperate, coordinate and communicate.
“The premise was we were going to bring better health to the animals of Ontario,” he said. “It was a real esprit de corps in the sense of doing good. We weren’t just making money, there was a sense of real worth, a sense of pride, and the change was welcomed.”
So far, the system has helped the company grow its annual revenues by more than 20 per cent. Last year, when Vita-Tech’s competitors were offering discounts on heartworm tests, Vita-Tech was able to retain $100,000 worth of business through a program managed by its CRM system. This involved offering a “wellness profile” for dog-owners. So, in addition to providing heartworm tests, it offered a bundle of blood tests to check for various health risks. This enabled veterinarians to make more money, but it also meant they could provide a more thorough service to their customers.
Brownless recently left Vita-Tech to start his own company, called Solaris Healthcare. Solaris offers a range of services, including a coaching program for veterinarians to help them establish their vision and grow their practices.
— Vawn Himmelsbach