Transformational Leaders: Amarjit Dhillon, CIO and Trustee of Turning Point

Transformational Leaders: Amarjit Dhillon, CIO and Trustee of Turning Point
Published: 13 July 2020

Turning Point is a leading social enterprise providing health and social care services across England, supporting people to improve their health and well-being whether that is at home, within the workplace or through our specialist services. They have over 56 years of experience in the fields of substance misuse, mental health, learning disability, autism, acquired brain injury, sexual health, healthy lifestyles and employment support.

Inspired by possibilities, Turning Point has been helping people live the life they want since 1964. It has grown from a small alcohol project to a leading provider of more than 370 health and social care services and supporting 112,000 people annually. With a vision to constantly find ways to support more people to discover new possibilities in their lives, the onset of digital has opened opportunities for service evolution and innovation.

Berwick Partners’ Matt Cockbill first met Amarjit Dhillon when he was tasked to recruit a CIO for Turning Point; a new role at the forefront of shaping and delivering the digital ambitions of the organisation. A driven, determined but humble character, Amarjit has a clear focus upon the generation of measurable value, which delivers improved outcomes for Turning Point and its customers. Nearly six and a half years into this journey, Amarjit now has a seat on the Board, is an Executive Director and Trustee, and leads the development of Turning Points commercial ventures;

Set the scene for us Amarjit: the heart of your career features some substantial multi-nationals you joined Turning Point as CIO – what made you join them?

It takes a while to process your life, and you come to a point where you recognise how you want to spend your time and effort. At the outset, post-graduation, I cut my teeth in the health sector. I enjoyed the impact that my skills made to people’s lives. When you talked to me about Turning Point, I confess I hadn’t heard of them, or thought of this kind of a move, but the opportunity made me think about what I wanted to do. I believed that I could apply my skills here and get satisfaction from what needed to be done. Upon looking harder at the opportunity, I felt that the sector and the organisation was at the right point to for updating its technology. We needed to embrace digital transformation and modernise IT, and in doing so create a springboard to increase the reach, breadth of the charity, as well as drive ever more social value from its service offerings. When I spoke to the people I now know as colleagues, they were uniformly a great bunch of people and it was obvious that it would be great to work with them.  My challenge has been to harness the depth of health & social care experience we have in Turning Point, bring that together with some ‘out of sector’ learning in order to deliver shared value and so far, it’s been hugely valuable to me.

You were hired with a double headed accountability for improving IT and driving transformation, at a time where the demands placed upon Turning Point had never been more challenging. How did you establish a greater trust in IT, and the willingness to let IT be more than systems?

When you join a bunch of good people, it is crucial to start to build relationships with trust and rapport. I found that people who have been less confident around IT, maybe because of less professional exposure or a previously suboptimal experience, react really well to finding a kernel of communality and shared interest. Tech has an important role to play in delivering services in the modern world. Here, co-production has landed really well; share the art of the possible, de-threat ‘enterprise grade technology’ away from cost and how it can be ‘in reach’. Large businesses use it because it works, and because it delivers – when the dialogue is moved to be about outcomes of clear business cases, the fear of cost is alleviated. We’ve created an environment where the business has a shared role in producing solutions, this has allowed them a hand in improving their own confidence, while ensuring their expertise is baked in from the outset. It’s been essential to building trust at all levels.

With much of what we do, there are people making critical decisions, and there are technical solutions to help remove the pitfalls. We’ve actively encouraged our teams to raise a voice, offer a solution and establish trust. But this only works if you are able to be authentic; none of us are perfect and we will make ‘best’ not ‘perfect’ judgements at any given point in time. Those who recognise the authenticity will come with you on a journey; enabling relationships, co-production of effective solutions and shared journeys.

Digital has been at the forefront of shaping services in charities such as Turning Point – how is that journey evolving, and how have you influenced the thinking of the Board?

As a CIO, the ‘foundation layer’ is what we live or die by; the service desk is the business barometer - if this doesn’t work you haven’t earned the right to have a strategic conversation! After fixing this, we moved on to building a multi-disciplinary team, with a diversity of skills experience and perspectives. This cornerstone is where we’ve been able to bring together people and their views. Through this we see how people can complement each other. In creating the space to work, we realised we have a platform that works and that runs the back office, but what is it that we now want to do? What’s this business all about? The answer was clear; reach more people, be a broader person centric, not condition centric, organisation and be upstream to reach people before conditions become medicalised. In defining this we brought together thought leadership with key sponsors – it was really important to engage people who can hold attention and keep others aligned when things aren’t going to plan. In doing this we were actively building a coalition and really lifting-up what differentiates us. We want to be known for our outstanding services, known for reaching more people and delivering parity (and better) outcomes than what the national standards are, and of course being compliant with regulations.

When this comes together the art of the possible moves firmly into happening! This brings fresh confidence into projects; people are more willing to take risks and work with you. Even when they don’t understand something, people can have the ambition to make the journey. This now exists within the organisation, and while we built a new IT team, the rest of these folk were from across Turning Point. There was a journey of discovery; evolving real value in developing people within the business to create the vision of achieving meaningful societal change. This is a big vision for a small business in a corner of East London, but it’s become a powerful shared vision.

In terms of achievements – translating the vision. Historically we delivered bricks and mortar clinics, and people came into buildings for those services. Ours is a conservative world, governed by Medical Directors who need to be NICE complaint. So, we got the Medical Director into the programmes to ensure we were set right from the ‘get-go’. We proved the concept of video consultation in mental health. This was a revolutionary idea at the outset. One of my team called me to celebrate the first completion of a fully digital service. The individual who undertook this was this an 88-year-old man who really saw the value for him. He had a chaperoned 25-mile round trip, which was no longer required. His experience of our service went beyond the session, and into the overall experience, which was improved.

Of course, there is digital exclusion, but if we can segment our customers, and actively address it; using technology to transform service and service outcomes, we can focus the non-digital services directly upon need.

Since then we have created a research base, including peer review journals, to prove the method of delivering healthcare is as effective, and in some cases more so, than face-to-face. We are a resource intensive business, and these workflows are enabling us to see more people and actively reduce the barriers to treatment. We are dealing with very complex individuals. For example; a trafficked lady, who is a sex worker, suffering a drug habit and ensuing health conditions, while fighting to feed her children. She has three co-morbid conditions – we use the data and insight to deliver the right service at the right time in a complex matrix. Where we talk about referrals – either self-referral from primary care, a letter, an appointment etc. it’s now digital and instant. If someone has a smart device or computer, you can enter the triage state straight away. Wrapped around this is healthcare data, which is at the top of the most compromised data globally, so we are on an ISO27001 pathway to ensure we remain at the forefront of securing our data. And we are doing this with the backing of major technology solution providers; Oracle Microsoft and Cisco etc. This whole journey has shown us that our journey is about endeavour. We couldn’t just buy the solutions - we had to identify and solve the problems first.  

You have grown our role to encompass revenue generating capabilities including, what is the vision for these new businesses and how do they complement the overarching vision for Turning Point?

The CEO(s) has been a key sponsor of mine, and the co-visioning and joined up thinking has given us the opportunity to step into areas where there is no-one doing the things we need. Our beating heart will always be the social enterprise, and any revenues we might generate are all being driven into the purpose of the organisation. Where we generate digital ‘treatment’ assets – the electronic version of 1:1 treatment, we realised these could be applied to the pre-medical sub-threshold space. These could be used outside of our traditional boundaries and be commercialised. What we have created is an evidence-based service which reverses healthcare issues before they escalate.

If you are impacting and supporting people in the pre-medical state, you are supporting them and supporting the wider community. We sweat the asset we used internally and took it into a new market; a typical Boston Consulting Group matrix. This has given us confidence, as well as delivering innovation and new thinking into Turning Point, in turn generating markets and revenues. Customers ‘here’ are employers in different sectors; a host of different businesses and organisations. We have also done a collaboration with a regulated financial provider, providing healthcare interventions but also financial intervention, as financial well-being and mental health are, in many cases, inextricable linked.

This has seen us engage with HR Directors, through employee assistance programmes.  We eat our own steak too; 13% of our workforce, had a 50% absence in one of our regions. We realised that some of our youngest, least experienced people were doing most stressful work. So, we looked to a resilience focused intervention with our psychologists. This is now a digitised service. It has been applied and the intervention was successful; all aspects of company data remain on trend and absence has declined to a more regular pattern for that particular group of the workforce.

With exception of salespeople this new service area was entirely staffed from within. It has been a revelation in developing our people to use their knowledge to define, and launch, a new revolutionary service. We’ve been able to give the organisation the confidence to have the answers ‘in house’, we just need to know how to tap into them! Through our data strategy, we can create a performance framework, manage and look after performance challenge separate to service delivery and operations. This culmination of trust and progress has seen me join the main board and become a trustee for Turning Point. I took great heart from this, what’s better in life to get that recognition from your peers.

What we have got now is a service delivery platform that other social enterprises and charities can collaborate upon. We are keen to work with other social enterprise and value-based enterprises to create solutions to deliver greater social value. We have the backbone for a health & social care platform and are keen to help reduce the pain others have to go through in undertaking this journey. We are committed to investing further in this, and if an organisation doesn’t know where to start, we can offer them a step up.

For more information, please contact Matt Cockbill, Head of the IT & Digital Leadership Practice at Berwick Partners.

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