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Career Cafe Industry Insights Episode 1 | Data Science & Career Planning w/ Hardeep Chaggar

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Jeremy Tiffin video, Clients, Candidates...


In the first episode of the podcast, Jeremy chats with Hardeep Chaggar, Executive Director of Systems Operations at the Fraser Health Authority. They discuss how COVID-19 has affected operations in health care and how data and data science can help you build a better career, regardless of what you do.

Listen to the audio version of the podcast here:

You can also read the interview below:


Jeremy Tiffin:
Hardeep Chaggar is the Executive Director of Systems Optimization at the Fraser Health Authority, a $4 billion healthcare provider here in Western Canada. Hardeep has built a career that started in finance and has moved into operations and supply chain management over the years. He's developed a keen sense of how to enable business through systems, technology, and agile methodologies. Hardeep is an action-oriented leader who relishes in what he's doing, not what he plans to do. Hardeep thank you so much for doing this. Really appreciate it.

Hardeep Chaggar:
Yeah, sorry it's taken a few days to get online with you. It's been pretty busy and hectic within the healthcare sector with everything going on, so thank you for having me.

Jeremy Tiffin:
No, I really appreciate it. I mean we know that the front line is as busy as can be. But in talking to you, I know that the team that supports those people are equally as busy. Just give us a real brief description of what's happened for you and your team over the course of I guess the last three or four weeks.

Hardeep Chaggar:
Yeah, I mean, about four or five weeks ago, we started to see the wave of COVID-19. I think a lot of people within healthcare and probably outside healthcare thought that this pandemic or the virus was kind of out in Asia and it really wasn't going to make its way over here until it was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. I think since that day it really started to significantly change the way we're working and really what happened within the healthcare sector. I mean, we still have it easy because we're in the back office, we're providing technology and supply chain or data support. It’s really the frontline clinical staff that are really suffering, that gives us a great purpose to come to work to make sure that we can do whatever we can to support them.

Jeremy Tiffin:
Yeah, I mean I can only imagine, I know how it's affected us and our team and how real it got about three weeks ago when we sat in our office and looked at each other and said you know what, I guess it's time to go home and I guess for you and then the front line staff is just amped up that much more in terms of what everyone's been responsible for. On behalf of everyone who's listening to this, we're certainly thankful for everything that they do and that you and your team do as well. Let's shift gears a little bit and talk about what you're responsible for. Your title is Executive Director of Systems Optimization, tell us a bit about what you and your team do there because the scope has grown as your tenure with the organization has gotten longer. Tell us a bit more about what you do.

Hardeep Chaggar:
Yeah, actually Victoria, our CEO came up with the groups title of system optimization, which really is system thinking around business acumen, process, but really powered by data. In short, I'm head of analytics for Fraser Health and we saw around 1.8 million Canadians. Everything from descriptive analytics, to predictive analytics, and machine learning, and building products of real time dashboards. That's really what we have really focused on over the last six, eight months. But, with system optimization comes all the business challenges. And so over the last four weeks we've been thrown into leading the supply chain for Fraser Health as well, along with the data analytics piece. That's primarily my role here, it sounds like a small task, but when you've got 25,000 employees and 1.8 million Canadians to serve, it becomes pretty challenging very quickly.

Jeremy Tiffin:
Yeah, absolutely. I mean what you're talking about there all sounds very innovative and leading edge. And forgive me for saying this, but it almost sounds like it wouldn't necessarily become something that comes out of healthcare in Canada. Can you talk a little bit about how that mindset and how that type of initiative came to be within Fraser Health?

Hardeep Chaggar:
I mean, it is who I am. Firstly, coming from industry, I don't know any other way. I wanted to work somewhere where it was meaningful and purposeful. Over the last several years working with the healthcare, bringing that industry perspective around innovation, data technology, and supply chain thinking has really started to pay off. But it was really exponentiated by our CEO, Victoria Lee, who has this innovative nature. She started hackathons at Fraser Health many years back. And so that's really where it began for Fraser Health. And you know, having met Victoria, we realized that we can actually do something very different within the Fraser Health environment. When you come to system optimization in Fraser Health, it really is like a startup. It's an environment where we run Agile, we run Scrum and it's an environment where we really will want people to come in and do their best work. You come and work with us, you would think you're in a tech company downtown.

Jeremy Tiffin:
You're talking about systems and technology and Agile. When I first met you, you were predominantly a finance guy, at least that's how I positioned you in my mind, as a finance guy. You were running finance and accounting for a major transportation organization. And then, over the years, I've seen you move and shift from a career perspective, from that into general management, supply chain management, technology. How do you think about yourself and how do you think about your skill set and where you're going in your career?

Hardeep Chaggar:
Yeah. Jeremy, my mum really sent me to a finance school and says, become an Accountant, so that's what I became in the UK, but it really wasn't where my heart or my interest was. And then having worked in industry banking, and finance, and aviation for many years, I kind of got fed up of the numbers and having to explain the numbers after the fact. For me, I was interested in naturally working upstream to try to find out what is going on? What's driving these numbers? Or what are the drivers behind the numbers? And that's really where my supply chain career began. I never really went to school formally to learn supply chain. It's been learning on the job for the last 15 years. And working on the shop floors, working on the aviation engine shop floors. And here it's working on the front lines with the healthcare providers.

Hardeep Chaggar:
To me, as I told you a few years back, supply chain is no longer this way. It's no longer the silos. Supply chain is everything and it's horizontal across everything that we do. And my chain is data related, right? We move data, we move people and we move products.

Jeremy Tiffin:
Yeah. Let's just take a real quick tour through your background, so you spent a number of years working for a major CHC helicopter and they had you go to Australia for a while. You came back to Canada, you spent a little bit of time in healthcare and then you went to a company called BuildDirect Technologies. And tell us a little, just briefly what you did at BuildDirect and who they-

Hardeep Chaggar:
You know my resume better than I do Jeremy.

Jeremy Tiffin:
I had to get prepared for this conversation. Tell us just a little bit about that, the reader's digest version of your journey.

Hardeep Chaggar:
Yeah, I mean it starts further back than that. Because I mean, coming out of school I started working in aviation companies in manufacturing in Europe. We would make Eurofighter canopy seals for the Eurofighter aircraft. And then I took a break and actually went into banking and finance and I was with JP Morgan for a while. And then, coming back into industry, I saw a lot of similarities no matter whether I was in banking and finance, whether I was in plastic manufacturing, or aviation manufacturing. It was all supply chain and there were all numbers at the end of it. I was either working in financial planning analysis, I was working in supply chain and accounting. And so it doesn't really matter what industry you're working for.

There were some core principles that can be applied through it. Coming into healthcare, it's exactly the same thing. You have the economics to deal with, but you have throughput to deal with. It just happens to be that the throughput here are human lives and how we take care of the patients. In aviation we call it total quality management, and in healthcare, we talk about the quality of patient care. They're all the same pillars, which are the same no matter if you go to aviation, or you go to healthcare, or you go to banking and finance.

Jeremy Tiffin:
Does that change when you're at work and knowing that there's such a meaningful impact of what you do. It's a human life, it's a family. There are so many things that are interconnected with that. Is that something that lives with you while you're at work?

Hardeep Chaggar:
Totally. I mean, I've had so much opportunity to go back into aviation over the last decade, but every time I've landed and said, you know, I want to be connected to purpose. And the purpose for me really has been within healthcare, because behind those numbers is a human life, and so you really see the impact that you can have on human life. At the age that I'm at now, I'm less interested in profitability, but I'm more interested in how I can make a difference to a system approach to humans and it just happens to be healthcare.

Jeremy Tiffin:
That's awesome. With what we're trying to do here with this as the inaugural segment of this interview series is, I don't want to put us on an equal footing by any stretch, but in my business we have the opportunity to really impact people from a career perspective, it's how they pay their mortgages and their rent and put food on the table. If people can make better decisions and like we said at the beginning to get work, work for them and knowing how to navigate through their career. I'd love to get some lessons from you about how you've navigated through your career and made some choices to get to where you are. Before we get into some of those components, with what's going on right now with COVID-19? How is COVID-19 impacting supply chains? We've got a big supply chain audience here. How is it impacting supply chains inside of healthcare? And then from your perspective, how do you think it's going to be impacting supply chains outside of healthcare?

Hardeep Chaggar:
I mean it's very close to my heart right at the moment. What I've seen over the last month and six weeks, we have really had a huge panic across the globe on whether it's personal protective equipment, masks, gowns, gloves, without fully really understanding what we need. We don't have a lot of confidence in should we be wearing masks outside of hospital settings or shouldn't we not be? The public have this fear as well, so that puts pressure on the supply chains, on what product is available. I think the world has somewhat been reactive. What I’ve found is that the organizations that have really got ahead of the curve are the organizations that have applied some form of data science and analytics to their supply chains and really on what I call supply chain architecture.

Looking at where are we going to be and we know that we need gloves and masks and gowns today. Well where are we going to be in six weeks time? I have a group of data scientists that are working specifically to identify what are the short falls that are going to be coming in six weeks time and are looking at and scanning the globe around the supply chains. That's something that we're doing here at Fraser Health to make sure we stay ahead of the curb. That's meant that we've had to work closely with our provincial partners to get ahead of the curb on procurement activities, whether it's local or whether it's foreign procurement. That's what's happening within supply chain. We've definitely seen the consumption of things like hand sanitizer and masks being consumed at a exponential rate and which we can all understand.

It's how do we support those demands? A lot of it for me is supply chain is education of the people around us. Because not only have we seen our demands of supplies increase, but we've also seen supplies decrease. It's actually a multiplying factor because the distance between the two got greater over a very short period of time. That's a lot of education internally within our organization. Externally, what I'm seeing is, that the US definitely is not helping making decisions about what can and cannot cross the border. We see a lot of our imports come through the US and then freight forwarded to BC, so now we're having to divert shipments that come straight to Canada. We're also seeing a lot of fake products in the marketplace too. I'm getting phone calls and emails every day that I know someone that has a factory somewhere in the world that can produce these masks. And what we're finding is that the quality really isn't where it should be, so Fraser Health has done a really good job in making sure that products are quality approved before we buy them. We’re seeing these small companies starting to form to start push product and distribution. The thing that I find really fascinating is that our minister of innovation has done a really good job in inspiring local businesses to tool up, to tool out, to use locally. Yesterday in fact, that there's a company in Coquitlam that's tooled up to make N95 respirator masks.

One of my leaders said to me once that amidst every crisis is an opportunity, and I try to seek out those opportunities and never did I know that implementing Scrum and Agile at Fraser Health was really in training for where we are now. We've delivered more technology dashboards, products, real time data workspaces and predictive analytics. We've delivered more in the last three weeks than we have delivered over the past six months. How did we do that?

Jeremy Tiffin:
Why? Why has that been able to happen?

Hardeep Chaggar:
Well, I think firstly is because we trained our people on Scrum and Agile and the ability to be okay and failing, and incrementing, and adapting, and getting user feedback in close tight cycles. They've had the training so there wasn't a shock factor when the requests started to come through. Within healthcare we went from what was very agile to command and control. We have emergency operations centers that are demanding a lot of realtime data. We have squads of teams that are building products. So there is this huge urgency and out of necessity we're moving quicker and also not perfecting every product before we release it. We're allowing our end users to provide feedback on the fly and adapting as we go.

Jeremy Tiffin:
I want to expand on that idea a little bit. Out of necessity came this sense of urgency, this I've got to act now. And I wonder from a career management perspective, when you're thrust into a situation where you need to make a change, and I think this is human nature, how that can be a motivator to get something done. And one of the things that I would love to be a proponent for is to help inject some of that thinking into our philosophy about how we manage our career as opposed to being reactionary. What can we do to be more of an author of our own design by taking action as opposed to hoping to or thinking we might and laying the foundation to move you in that direction. It's just human nature, isn't it? Out of necessity comes great creativity and an action orientation that you might have not otherwise have.

Hardeep Chaggar:
Yeah. I mean, as humans we're survivors, right? We're going to do whatever it takes to survive. I think when you come into a workplace, when you're under normal working conditions, not everybody operates under that same vein. For me, you know me, Jeremy, I naturally am that person that's going to push the edges and take those risks and find new ways and innovate. But I'm seeing it now that even during times of necessity, some people struggle a little bit in so what do I do to take a risk? And I think that's where leadership's really important because not everybody is cut from the same cloth, but everybody has a talent and it's how do we turn that talent into performance, which is really, really important. For me, as a leader of system optimization, I have around a hundred people all with varying skill sets but also with varying risk tolerances and capabilities. But everybody has a talent that we need to apply. I mean a lot of people have stepped up, a lot of people have stepped up and not only here in Fraser Health at work, but out there in the community.

Jeremy Tiffin:
We talked about data, I wanted to ask you, how important is the use of data in solving problems in supply chain, in healthcare, and just in business in general? How do those things come together?

Hardeep Chaggar:
On The Economist a couple of years back it said "oil is no longer the most valuable commodity, data is". For me, data is everything. Everything that we do is data. We use data in our personal lives to make pretty much, also support every decision that we make, whether it's procurement buying on Amazon ratings and reviews or whether it's in business. Data is way more accessible than it's ever been. We're producing more data per day than we've ever seen in our lives. The challenge is how do you make that data meaningful. Data is everything and that we've seen that certainly within Fraser Health. After we start to demonstrate how data can be visualized, looked at in a different way, used on the fly versus a rear view mirror. Use data on the fly to make the next decision. Once we started putting those tools in place, what we found was people are approaching us more and more. There's some fundamentals around data though; you can't make decisions just based on data. You have to have some level of subject matter expertise, whether it's clinical expertise or supply chain expertise, or expertise in the area you work. Don't just use just the data, use data to augment your decisions.

Jeremy Tiffin:
The ability to contextualize data?

Hardeep Chaggar:
Totally. That's really important. And then we could have a podcast just on data and the quality of data and the risk of data if it's misread and when making decisions.

Jeremy Tiffin:
If someone is relatively new in that journey of picking up that, because data impacts every component of every business really. Where do you start to learn how to think about data and utilize data in whatever it is that you do? Whether it's finance, supply chain, general business, whatever the case is, recruiting.

Hardeep Chaggar:
Data visualization for me, is the starting point. When I have people come in to join system optimization, one of the first projects we give them is take any data set in your life and visualize it and tell us a story with the data. Storytelling with data through data visualization and pictures is the way forward. And I love products like Tableau, Power BI and so I always say to everybody, go and learn Tableau, go and learn Power BI and the art of telling stories through data visualization. That's a really good place, because if you can take data, turn into stories through pictures, now you have a fighting chance to actually go and support your customers in decision making.

Jeremy Tiffin:
For someone who doesn't know what Power BI is or Tableau is just briefly what are those different programs?

Hardeep Chaggar:
It's basically taking data and drawing graphs and charts with it, but it's more of an interactive tool where you have the ability to hover, drill down. I mean when we see graphs and charts like what you and I used to produce in Excel, they were very static. It didn't allow you to have insight. Whereas these modern tool sets allow you to have insights into your data that allow you to drill down into that data set and keep asking questions that are answered on the fly for you. That's what Tableau and Power BI really allow you to do.

Jeremy Tiffin:
You've used the term democratizing data. What does that mean?

Hardeep Chaggar:
Data democracy to me is an absolute fundamental. An example of data democracy is ratings and reviews on products that you buy. Allowing crowd and community to publicly score products. That is an example of data democracy. We now can buy products based upon what our crowd and community are rating that information on. Data democracy for example, in what are the lineups at hospitals or emergency rooms, how does data democracy be made available to the public, and how do we democratize that data so that we as a system can fix the system versus a few individuals trying to fix the system individually.

Jeremy Tiffin:
Yeah, absolutely. For the sake of time, one of the other things that I wanted to talk to you about is this pandemic that is occurring has had a huge impact on people's physical wellbeing potentially, right? It's had an impact on lives from that perspective. There's another impact, which is the emotional and mental component. I mean, the journey that I've gone through over the course of the last three weeks, getting used to working at home and the realizations that come with that. Some of the things that have been wonderful learning experiences that I love about it, but there's other impacts on your family and having kids at home that aren't in school. There's an emotional, mental component. You've been a huge proponent of mental health. Talk to us a little bit about what your viewpoint is on that, being able to navigate through your career and work and all the other people that might be listening to this to be able to maintain a positive or real mental health as we navigate through this thing.

Hardeep Chaggar:
I've often shared publicly I have lived experience myself, and having come through a mental health journey. When we entered into this COVID-19, it was the first thing that came to my mind which is right, what is the mental health impacts this is going to have on both the people within healthcare but also people that are isolated at home. The first thing is I actually don't know what it feels like to be in your shoes Jeremy, which is isolated at home, staying at home all day. In fact, my life got turned the other way around. We've been doing 20 hours a day for the last three weeks. That in itself is going to have a mental health impact. Every time my phone goes I have PTSD thinking, okay, what's the next problem I've got to solve? That's a challenge that we've got to think about and how do we create buddy systems in our workplace to make sure that we're really supporting each other's mental health. It's something that we need to talk about regularly. It's something that we talk about every day on our daily check-in with my leadership. How is everybody's mental health. On the other side, when people are at home we're seeing the government invest more and more into situations where there's abusive households where women and children are in places of danger, so we saw the government this week invest money into those areas. We know that even in social and domestic settings, there's going to be mental health challenges both for families and individuals.

I think my personal opinion is that COVID-19 we may find... we will find hopefully a vaccine for it, but the mental health scars that are going to be left from this are going to be decades to come. Our children are sitting at home and not socializing with their friends, going to school every day their lives have changed. And we have mothers and fathers sitting at home with their children cooped up inside the house and too scared to leave the house, and not knowing what to do. I think that the mental health challenges are really unknown at this point, but it's definitely something that we need to not wait until it's too late, but to start talking about it now, so thank you for raising that.

Jeremy Tiffin:
No, absolutely. Because it's not something you can immediately see. Everybody has something that they're working through. And I think that as we close this off, just to be mindful of that, that the person next to you, the person behind you and in front of you, they are part of the human condition. We're all managing through something, right? And how we do that is important. And they say times of crisis kind of reveal who you are in situations like this. Just be mindful and supportive of the people around. It's funny, it can bring the best out of people and it can bring the worst out of people. That's a choice, just make a conscious decision as you go to work and you go out in public that you keep those things in your mind.

Hardeep Chaggar:
I wake up in the morning and I say to my wife and my colleagues, I ask myself, who do I want to be through this journey? I can be an empathetic, compassionate leader or I can be a leader that just drives throughput regardless of the people. I know who I want to be, which is that empathetic and compassionate leader. And what that means is that we really need to take time and coach our type A staff who want to work around the clock to say... And I say this to yourself and everybody listening, which is there's three key components to manage your mental health. It is, you got to get sleep, you got to eat healthy and you got to exercise. I know it sounds really basic, but those are the three fundamentals and anybody that comes from lived experience in mental health, those are the first three things that you've got to put in place. Make sure you're sleeping, make sure you eating healthy, and make sure you're exercising, even if it's a little bit a day.

Jeremy Tiffin:
And I love the fact that it's basics. Get the basics, get the fundamentals down and I couldn't agree with you more. Just getting some sort of daily exercise, something going on. It doesn't matter what it is, just do something.

Hardeep Chaggar:
The fact that you are dressed as good as you've ever been, you've had a shave and you're sitting on the other side whilst you're sitting at home. I think that, that's a good sign, right?

Jeremy Tiffin:
This is true, you should have seen me yesterday. I had a pretty massive beard going on, so at least this got me to shave, my wife's happier for it, so Hardeep thank you. Thank you very much. I mean you guys were so busy and everyone thanks you for the efforts that you guys put in. Thank you for making time with us. I really, really appreciate it. And we'll have to do this again at some point, maybe on a different topic. But thank you so much.

Hardeep Chaggar:
Thank you, Jeremy.