CIO50 2021 #9 George Gorman, Janison

  • Name George Gorman
  • Title Chief Technology Officer
  • Company Janison
  • Commenced role 2019
  • Reporting Line CEO
  • Member of the Executive Team Yes
  • Technology Function 100 staff, 4 direct reports
  • George Gorman joined online assessment and learning solutions provider, Janison in 2019 and since then, he has shifted the organisation’s product strategy away from rolling out large, high risk and low margin custom solutions to a software-as-a-service (SaaS) ‘build it once’ strategy.

    Gorman tells CIO Australia that Janison is ‘now a true SaaS company’ that has multiple clients using the same functionality, which provides high implementation and ongoing revenue margins and reduced costs to operate and maintain.

    “This strategy has seen Janison’s share price almost triple, and our costs reduce by half in some areas over the last 12 months as investors and our operations see the benefits of this strategy,” he says. 

    He and his team have created an architecture that split the organisation’s monolithic solution into functional microservices, moved to a Microsoft Azure cloud and built a central data lake to provide insights for customers relating to their students.

    “We can now build for much higher volumes and innovative functionality is added faster as an additional service rather than adding to the monolith,” Gorman says.

    For instance, Janison’s Insights platform, built for high volumes, was used for Australia’s NAPLAN online 2021 event. It broke Australian and global records for concurrent student tests: 800,000 students, 197,000 concurrent students at peak with more than 32,000 transactions per second. 

    “Our ‘low and no bandwidth’ solution was built to allow high scale, high stakes exams to be run anywhere in the world with the same equity of experience for students in regional and metropolitan areas no matter how much bandwidth is available to them,” Gorman says.

    AI proctors

    Janison’s online remote proctoring tool was built to allow students unable to sit in a physical exam room due to COVID restrictions to sit their tests from home or at the organisation’s COVID safe digital centres.

    The tool monitors students during an assessment to ensure they don’t cheat by accessing other browsers (their browsers are locked down), using cheat notes or devices nearby. Artificial intelligence capabilities check for eye movements, unusual behaviours, others in the room, time away from the keyboard and other variables.

    “We have trained proctors to act as a final check, contacting the student over Teams or Zoom channels if our AI tagged them as having suspicious behaviour," Gorman explains. "During COVID, this has allowed hundreds of universities, professional accreditation organisations and educational bodies globally to continue to assess their students remotely".

    Recently, schools in NSW with students sitting trial HSC exams have worked with Janison to adapt its technology and enable thousands of year 12 students to sit their exams.

    Lessons learned

    Ten years ago Gorman took a contract APAC IT director role, covering for an executive on maternity leave.

    He was hired by a marketing and loyalty organisation which had many older style management and culture legacy traits that meant it was poor at planning, resourcing and delivering. This resulted in a high pressure, high turnover environment that was costing the business in terms of lost knowledge, agency fees to hire, and few experienced leaders who understood their solutions. 

    “When I arrived, the company had just delivered a significant project for a big client and in the process, burnt out the majority of its staff," Gorman recalls. "There had been a 40% turnover in the last six months of delivery staff in the technology team".

    He immediately implemented agile ways of working, better pre-sales governance around the activities the company would commit to, and a culture of trust to try new innovations and potentially fail.

    “I built up a new team from the 40% turnover and a new organisation structure in the technology team," Gorman notes. "We started delivering on time and burning out resources and I had zero staff turnover in my 12 months that extended to 18 months.”

    But Gorman had made a big mistake. Despite building up a solid relationship with his executive peers, he failed to manage one important stakeholder: the executive on maternity leave.

    “I failed to bring her on the journey of significant change I was making, I failed to get her buy in and opinion and feedback and, as such, when she started her transition back into the business and I started to move out, there was immediate resistance to a number of changes I had made; there was immediate animosity toward a number of resources I’d brought into the business.

    “Eventually, the hard work was overturned and rituals and artifacts mostly dropped, and the next year again they experienced significant turnover, including most of the team I’d brought on board,” he says.

    Gorman says he learnt that it’s essential to follow a solid change management process, to ensure all stakeholders are identified with a tailored plan for how to engage and consult with them, ensure they are not threatened by your change, and to have their buy in.

    “I have applied that ever since and it saw me deliver some of the biggest transformations in Australia including Westpac’s online transformation program and the Opal Card Concessions and Open loops payments program.

    “At Janison, I meet fortnightly with each of my direct reports and each of my executive peers to ensure there are no surprises and their feedback is considered,” he says.

    Byron Connolly

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