Effective management of information security risk is a classic example of the interplay between people, process and technology.

CISO Interview Series: John Sutherland, CIO, Ramsay Health

Question 1 – When you think about your role as CIO at Ramsay Health. How critical is cyber security in your priority of accountabilities?

Managing technology risk is an integral part of good governance and often a responsibility of the CIO. Cybersecurity is a risk that is constantly evolving and one of many risks which require careful management.

Question 2 – How well versed is Ramsay Health Management and Board with understanding information security risks?

Boards of all large Australian companies with experienced directors have a good understanding of information security risks and mitigation. One of my responsibilities is to ensure that management and the Board’s understanding of the risks are well understood within the business context. It is very pleasing to have strong engagement on this issue.

Question 3 - HIPPA compliance is a large requirement for organisations like Ramsay. Can you talk to the degree of effort required on a global basis to achieve compliance?

Ramsay does not currently operate in the United States, therefore HIPPA compliance is not a regulation we need to work with. Having said that, I’ve previous experience in the medical device industry with direct operations in the United States and more than 25 countries. From a global perspective, running common, centralised systems becomes very complicated when one needs to comply with a multitude of country specific regulations. Harmonisation of regulations would be helpful for multinational companies, but in reality this isn’t going to happen. In Australia, the legislative process relating to privacy and data breach reporting continues to be refined, with further changes expected in 2017. It is helpful to see the government working with all stakeholders as it prepares the next wave of legislation.

Question 4 – As health tech matures we will start to see more and more connected medical devices. It is acknowledged that this increases the cyber risk but clearly the digitisation of processes will continue. How do you manage this tension?

This is one of the challenges arising with the connectedness of medical devices, a classic example of the evolving ‘Internet of Things’ trend. As with most technology innovation, the regulators will lag the technology, so companies need to make a judgment call on where to draw the line on this risk. That line will be drawn based on many factors. Cochlear for example, that great Australian international success story, sees benefits for its customers by securely connecting their devices to consumer electronics such as smart phones. All interventions, be they pharmaceuticals or medical devices carry risk and I expect security concerns will over time be better understood and accepted. In terms of managing this tension, the problem needs to be well understood by all parties, first and foremost. With the tradeoffs understood, an organisation can then have a reasoned discussion on how to approach the problem. When the balance between convenience and security needs to be weighed up, it will often be best that the decision be made by an informed consumer.

Question 5 – On a scale 1-5, would you expect that your investment on Information Security will be increased over the next 3-5 years? What’s going to drive that?

Ramsay, along with most organisations, continues to invest in Information Security. It is important however to recognise there is no silver bullet, no single piece of technology that can solve the challenge. Our approach is to work across people, process and technology. One of the great things about working for an organisation like Ramsay Health Care, is our brand promise; ‘people caring about people’ is something we live and breathe. Caring about our patients and staff means doing the right thing and protecting their privacy, be it in the clinical context or that of the digital world.

Question 6 – We are entering what will be termed the “golden age of surveillance,” with more and more extensive monitoring of staff and 3rd party contractors. While personally I’m afraid of ‘big brother’, I do prefer to be safe and secure. What’s your view on this?

It is an interesting, often perplexing question David. My own view is that most of the protections or controls required to remove the majority of risk, can be done so with minimal impact to employees or customers. For example, having the appropriate contractual protections in place, keeping sensitive information in country or on premise, while being open to new computing models such as Cloud services. I don’t think many of us are aware of how much surveillance already takes place as we go about our daily lives in Australia, be they from government or by our own choosing when using consumer electronic devices such as smart phones. I personally think it will be some time before the tide starts to turn on the question of surveillance.

Question 7 – The pace of Smart Objects particularly in Medical arena will quicken – with sensors, wearables, 3D printing and low power wireless. Is this an area that you are monitoring closely?

Read more: ​RSA Conference 2016 – The Top Five Issues

This is why we love our jobs in the technology industry, there is always something fascinating taking place somewhere in the world. Billions of venture capital dollars are flowing into health start-up organisations, and it is a challenge to stay on top of all the innovation. Ramsay has many technically savvy, forward looking surgeons and physicians working across our hospitals. Thankfully for me, I’m just one of many people watching the market and looking for opportunities to continue to improve health care outcomes for our patients.

Question 8 – My view is that information security detection is important but prevention is equally important. What’s your view on this?

I would agree David – it is not an either / or question. Control mechanisms to prevent information security breaches are becoming increasingly sophisticated, but technology is one part of the solution. Effective management of information security risk is a classic example of the interplay between people, process and technology.

Question 9 – With what a shortage of information and cyber security talent, along with an expectation of increased external risk from hacking. How do you keep your balance and perspective?

It can be difficult to keep perspective, given this is one of the ‘hot topics’ of the day. Technology vendors don’t help matters by stirring up the hype as part of their own sales and marketing agendas. For me, seeing cybersecurity as one of many technology risks and incorporating this into the broader enterprise risk framework is how best to keep perspective. This and having strong top down support.

Question 10 – Finally what’s the best career advice that you ever received

Trust the people that put their faith in you and discharge your responsibilities to the best of your ability.

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