AGP Ep 20: Chris Boyle and Tom O’Neill—The power of social entrepreneurs to change the world for the better

by | Feb 14, 2017

Chris Boyle and Tom O’Neill are social entrepreneurs. They are founders and directors at CommSync, a tech startup aimed at revolutionising child and community safety using the internet of things. Listen to hear how using passion and innovation you can make the world a better place.


Alpha Geek Podcast
AGP Ep 20: Chris Boyle and Tom O'Neill—The power of social entrepreneurs to change the world for the better
Alpha Geek Podcast AGP Ep 20: Chris Boyle and Tom O'Neill—The power of social entrepreneurs to change the world for the better

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“The biggest challenge in leadership is to first and foremost know who you are”—Chris Boyle
“It’s our duty to provide the right for a child to grow up safe”—Tom O’Neill
“The shadow you cast as a leader is observed by everybody. You have to be authentic”—Chris Boyle
“The best leaders enable their staff but they also surround themselves with the best”—Tom O’Neill
“The best people are the ones that fit the culture and can work with everyone around them”—Tom O’Neill
“in order to achieve change you must first seek to understand what maintains the status quo”—Chris Boyle

Show notes

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Andrew: Good day and welcome to the show Chris and Tom.
Tom: Thank you, very much.
Chris: Thank you, Andrew.
Tom: Thanks for having us.
Andrew: No worries at all. I know you’ve known each other a long time, you’ve been mates a good long time but you’re now working together on your Comp Sync initiative. Which I guess could be viewed as a tech start up but first a little context for our listeners. Tom, I’d say you’re our resident Alpha Geek. You have an IT in leadership background so it’ll be great to dig into that journey a little later.


Andrew: Chris, you’ve got more of a background in social work and leadership and consultancy. What are you passionate about and what do you geek out about?


I geek out about children and families. I geek out about supporting those people who find contexts of raising children and paying bills a lot more difficult than some other. I geek out about social justice and equality and making sure that we have a philosophy of family preservation and support. That’s my geek phase.
I’m happy to bring that geek phase through to the world of geek technology as well.



We’ll find out how those two skills sets really come together and compliment each other so beautifully in the Comp Sync initiative as we go through the chat. I guess you both have leadership backgrounds and experience but you’re currently entrepreneurs and you don’t have a large physical team at the moment but you do have virtual staff and vendors that you lead. How do you think about leadership now?



It doesn’t change. The [inaudible 00:01:38] still has to be the same, you’ve got to be accurate and you’ve got to be controlled but you’d also got to be honest. Have a focus on what your outcome is and my outcome whether I was in the public sector, private sector or now running my own organisation is what is the end dues as a requirement and ensuring that I actually encase that the vision of whether it’s my vendor or my staff or everybody here outside. We’ve all got the common goal of actually ensuring the right outcome.
It’s not about the technology, the technology is the enable of the process. For me personality it is finding out that requirement, that pain point, that issue that the customer has and we will solve that. Potentially through Chris’ methodology and process. Enabling the digital disruption and the digital technology to ensure automation and risk management of that outcome.

Leader as an enabler and leader as a conduit.

Tom: Yes, most definitely because where we are the voice to our customer to our vendors and to our partners because we are trying to, as small as you are right and we are a tech start up whether people want to believe it or not, we just have a different slander, a different customer base. Guess what? They’re needs do not change.
They have pain points that we need to deliver to otherwise we have to right to exist.

Absolutely. I’d love to hear some more about Comp Sync. If I can read a little bit from your website. It says, Comp Sync aims to achieve a paradigm shift that reconceptualizes the community support in Child Protection System. Into one that works with the child family and the community as a whole, creating communities of hope.

To me, that sounds really powerful and really exiting. What is it about in a practical sense?

We’re sort of those words came from was a report I did in 2012, a church or fellowship and I’d encourage your Alpha Geek’s who are listening to apply for one because it allows you to pursue your passion for knowledge and travel around the world. One of the learnings that I had was really to understand the status quo about how we do business in Child Protection. Often it is accumulating a mass history of reports that people are encouraged to report but then they get lost in the context of systems being crumbling and fractured and overwhelmed.

[00:04:00] Then, something tragic goes wrong and it hits the media and everyone can sort of point the finger of blame back at Child Protection Workers, Health Workers, Police, courts, who ever. The shift of paradigm that we’re speaking about is it’s time for the community to hold the mirror to themselves. Put the magnified glass down to say who is to blame and let’s look into that. Let’s take a long hard look into ourselves and what our role is.
[00:04:30] We all live in communities, we all have an investment in our communities for those to be healthy and strong. We all come from families and as dysfunctional as they are, mine included, they’re what we got. We have to work with what we’ve got. It’s amazing what you would do for your family that you wouldn’t do for anyone else.


This shifting of this paradigm of building hope within communities is to say there is no challenge to great for us to actually achieve or overcome. The greatest of challenges for us here is child abuse and neglect and vulnerable people in our society. Whether they be women, whether they be elderly, whether they be those with disabilities. We have an obligation to make sure that we leave no one behind.


Our traditional ways of often approaching child protection around the world has been very much a child rescue model where we go in, see whether you’ve hurt your child enough for us to remove. The rates of children, particularly in aboriginal communities, has grown scarily. Particularly over the past decade.



We’ve, roughly, got about 45,000 kids in out of home care at the moment. 40 odd percent of those are aboriginal and that’s growing at about 6% every year. We need to stop and we need to actually understand how we do this work and we need shift the paradigm and put it back to communities and away from government. That professionalism of it.
Andrew: Wow. Big aspirations and such important goals to have.
Chris: Absolutely. We think so. It’s fired us enough to quit what we were doing beforehand in our previous lives and making that the vision. Many people have heard or red the model of child protection is everybody’s responsibility. We’re about making that a reality, not an aspiration.


Chris: That’s how we bring this about.
Andrew: Which sound really practical. How can we … if it’s not too simple a question, how can we interact with Comp Sync? Who interacts with Comp Sync? Who buys Comp Sync or uses Comp Sync?


Multiple groups. We deal, mainly, we deal with the government. Actually we were actually in Kamber this week with the Assistant Minister of the Social Services. He’s got a massive title. The Senator met with us and went through the process, they’re assisting as ensuring that we can actually have avenues to make a change in the federal space. We are working with the state government here in Queensland but our major focus is the NGO space because more and more of the work being done in this space is being shipped out into the NGO space.


Which, have a … not a historical position to deliver such services but also how do they do it in a much more appropriate and proactive way to ensure family preservation and intensive family support. That’s where Chris’ white paper and the technology stack that we’ve actually combined together to form Comp Sync as a tool and a ICT enablement tool it actually adds the value. Where they know they got to get 2, they just don’t know how to get there.

I know from my research and my discussions with people around Comp Sync part of it is a technology solution. As you say, part of it is a device that you can clip on children or your children that can help them get help if they need it. It can sort of track their locations so if they’re in distress, you can find out where they are.

Tom: It has multiple positions on that.
Andrew: I know that’s not all of it.
But you are right. I don’t like the thought of tracking. I’m not a helicopter parent myself, I like my children to be partially independent but there are needs in a vulnerable society who actually need that assistance in position because they need a voice and they don’t have a voice in the current position. Our technologies, whether it’s the watch that we got at the moment or any other end dues of device because the watch is one of many that can come through.
For a 3 year old, you could have a teddy bear you could press a button on.
Andrew: Right.
The technology is there. We know it’s there. We know that our platform delivers it because we saw the platform we’re using on this that we have the rights for and that we’ve integrated and configured it to ensure the outcome is the same thing they’re using at Queensland Health right now. It’s the same thing they’re using at the UN right now and they’re using power stations and nucleolar power stations all over the world to ensure compliance for alert management. It’s not rocket science, what we’re doing but the way we’ve bolted it together and made it a seamless product set and our design around that with the methodology and the focus on intensive family services is our differentiation data.

Would you say it’s fair to say that Comp Sync is about the platform and really that’s an alert management platform?

Tom: Comp Sync itself is about getting the right result at the right time to ensure the right outcome. In our space, that’s community services. Communities in sync to deliver the outcome. The alert management platform on that is the base product set to ensure that those most vulnerable in society have a voice. They don’t have one at the moment.

Comp Sync is our abbreviated title for communities in sync. We tried to do a bit of gig stuff there with the synchronising of everything. We do it on our phones to make sure everything is in one place. Comp Sync is about making sure communities are synchronised for the outcomes for children and families and vulnerable people.






They don’t need to be there 24/7 but when you trigger an alert, that’s when you want everything synchronised to meet that outcome. What we do know and certainly in my space of social work and child protection, it’s giving a voice to children can be really hard to find. They either don’t have the words but they have the feelings and putting those words into action for them, it’s really important. What sits behind this as well is that digital technology aspect, it is a whole framework that engages children and families in understanding feelings and emotions.
I often ask people to consider, when was the last time you felt unsafe? We throw words around often. Violence. When was the last time you were actually in a violent episode? These things are the living reality for many of our children and women that are in that day in and day out. How do we activate support for them when you can’t actually know what people are feeling?
[00:11:30] If we can help young people understand that if you’re feeling this, you don’t have to find the words, you just have to activate a trigger and others will come and support you because you shouldn’t have to be alone in those times. Syncing communities and syncing families is what we’re really about for that outcome.
To sort of come across someone that says, that isn’t worth doing.
There’s technology there to help enable it but really what I’m hearing is a real focus on the problems and the outcomes that you’re looking to get.
Chris: Mhm (affirmative).
Tom: Yep.
Andrew: Obviously, there’s multiple angles that you’re coming at that from. There seems to be an awareness and training or educational component.



There’s also different outcomes. The outcomes requirement for government is vastly different for the outcome or [inaudible 00:12:17] of that job pressing that watch. They’re outcome is someone is coming to save me. The government want compliance and ordered, which our system delivers in real time, real positions, voice recordings, it’s a real life recording as it happens, GEO location, reporting structures underneath and escalation processes that are automated but also threaded and tracked.



The back end of it is a really good outcome for the government because we can actually get a … it’s like a black rocks recorder in the back here and going, this is what’s actually happening. At the front end where we want to really sit and yes, you need the compliance and order because you need to trial if someone did file you, where did they file? That’s irrelevant to us at this position. It’s a requirement.
The front end is who got there, what happened and how do we save this child from the abuse that they could have or a DV victim or whoever we give this to. It’s that removal of risk. That’s what we’re trying to do with this process.
Andrew: Better outcomes for the community on both sides of the equation.


The fiscal outcomes for the community can be massive. We know what it costs every time that child services has to go in and do an investigation. It is a phenomenally large amount of money. Every time a policeman has to go to your front door for a DV incident or whatever and they knock on the door, we notice it could be $100 – $200 bucks per car visit because that’s the time and position asset. Where, if the alarms hit the next door neighbour or the uncle or the auntie, they can deal with it and put the spot fire out.


We know, traditionally, the policeman comes to that front door, there’s nothing to see here. I hit a wall, I fell over, I did this. Unless it’s in a … that cat and mouse game is gone. You’re actually being held responsible by your own community first up. Which is a massive cost save to the government.
It’s not just about the cost saving for the tax payer. It’s actually the community doing what the community do. I remember being a kid growing up in my neighbourhood, if we did something wrong, the neighbours took care of it. That was back in those days, these days, I know my neighbours all live on a really nice street and I’d like to talk a lot. I know people who don’t even have a clue who their neighbours are.


We need to remove that process or the auntie, the uncle, I don’t see my either my aunt or my uncle that often or grandmas. No one knows what’s actually happening in each others lives anymore. That’s the sad indictment. As soon as something does go south, we blame, just like we have recently with the unfortunate disaster down it Panama, we blame the justice system rightly or wrongly. We’d blame the police but the police do everything in power to keep their guy in gaol because he was going to be harm to himself or someone else.
Then we all blame the government. The government should be the last responder not the first responder. That’s where we’re coming from.

As you say huge physical but also social value there. That’s even just in the short term. We know that these things are often multi-generational issues. Imagine the fallen impacts of breaking that cycle to generations that follow.

Tom: Exactly right.


It’s really important for us that we don’t define what feeling unsafe is. I feel, for my children, highly anxious with my dad in the echo or the 8 street markets, I might lose him in a crowd and I’ve got a 5 year old boy. You’re always looking to do things reactionary. I should have done this, I should have done that. When you feel in that moment that you can’t find them, you shackles are up the sweats are there and you’re starting do panic. That can feel unsafe for me can be that t-lock into the door for a young person whose father is just getting home from work or he’s been at the pub.
[00:16:00] We’re not about to define what is unsafe. It is really subjective for each family to decide themselves. What we do know is an aspiration for everyone is they want their children to be safe. How adults in communities come together to achieve that goal is no plan will work the same. This is totally at their disposal about what that would look like but we want that same outcome regardless.
[00:16:30] Whether you’re on this really well end socio economic area or the lower end. Childhood is really precious for us.
Andrew: Absolutely. I just think it’s fantastic and I really applaud you both for making this your passion, making this your life.
Chris: Thank you.
Andrew: I guess, it would be great to hear about how you got to this point and how you … I know there were a lot of transitions in your careers. I might dig into that for a little bit.
Tom: Sure.
Andrew: Tom, you’ve had an extensive IT leadership background over the years. How did you get started in IT?

Straight out of Uni I went and did a [inaudible 00:17:03] graduate programme. I actually did a Bachelor in Economics at University.

Andrew: Wow.
Tom: And realised I didn’t like numbers at the end of it.
Andrew: Okay.



I did a … That was the best management training I think I’ve ever had. That you did a very quick course and then you’re thrown in the deep end and you managed. Whether you liked it or not, you learned to manage. That was the [wor-worlds 00:17:20] way. You learnt to, every job I’ve gone to ever since, I look back and go I was on $26,000 a year and doing 90 hours a week and I was managing 22-23 staff as a 21 year old. The profit and loss … You had to run a business at the end of that because the profit and loss, the shrinkage, the HR, everything was yours for your area that was it.
Andrew: Leadership early on as well.


Massive [inaudible 00:17:48] before there. I actually went on and did new store developments is [inaudible 00:17:52] and did a couple of store renews and then got myself into IT. From there, they centralised everything into Sydney so I left and went to Telstra. I did some project management at Telstra. Got a brain haemorrhage.
Andrew: Wow.



Went in 2001, when I was about 26-27 and then my mum passed away on the operating table getting a liver transplant three months later. Decided, why am I doing this? Why am I killing myself or assets? I’m young, life is too short. That was my epiphany moment so my wife and I packed up our bags, took a one way ticket to Europe and stayed there for three years.
Lived in Leeds and that’s when I got involved in community safety was there because Leeds [inaudible 00:18:37], I did the … I was in the ICT for enables and housing so I did their relocation’s and positioning but then I got involved in, what we call now, big data. Where I was actually responsible for a programme to deliver a single database. Which was a single database back in those days with a oracle discover reporting tool on top of it.




Feeding information from BNHS, the Leed city counsel, the public safety network, the West shore police, the local primary health care facilities into one database so we could actually geo locate as GEO’s as hot spots and proactively manage that position. That’s still Nirvana here in Australia because they don’t talk. Over there we made it happen and that was in 2002 – 2003. I’ve come back here, in and out of government multiple times, smashing your head against a brick wall because people don’t understand that information exchanged is a right of the individual.



I believe that a requirement of government to ensure better government for the individual. If we understand what big data can do and understand it’s position and that’s where the passion came from. I understood what we could do there and with Chris being my best mate since we were 11 years old, I understand we’d sit and talk about how … share stories about him from the front end of the cold face with child safety. Me, executive with government going, at the whole of government in one stage in the city going what the hell are we doing? As a techs part. That fired me up and I said, I’ve got to get out. I’ve got to get my company out of mothballs because I had it from years ago when I came back from England would be HP.


We’re going to do this. When Chris was ready, he’s hopped out of government and we formed this to make it happen. That’s the passion has been there and it’s not anger it’s just, I feel it’s unjust because we know what it could be. I’ve seen what it could be. I’ve actually lived in it England. I know that if we had that process but it’s also about keeping people safe.



That’s what it’s all about. It’s about, it’s our right … it’s our duty to actually provide the right for a child to be safe and grow up as safe. The kids that Chris has had to deal with for the last 16 years, didn’t have a childhood. I find that horrendously bad when I look at my own kids who are seven and ten now, all they’re worried about is what’s on Disney or what’s for dessert tonight or dad, what time is soccer on? That’s the stress of their life.



My son, I beat him at FIFA last night, that’s the pressing stress of his life. Well, I don’t beat him at FIFA very often, by the way. That’s the process, where we need most kids to have a childhood. Not have to worry about dad coming home with a cane and hiding under the bed. As a father, as soon as I became a dad, the theory I had when I was in the UK became a reality because you don’t know what that is until you have that child there and you would die for that kid. It’s a lovely word to say but then you look at every other kid and you go, you need to protect as many as you can.
You know how vulnerable and how gentle their lives should be and they’re not. That’s my passion.

Absolute. It’s interesting to see how your journey transitioned out of that corporate space where you were clearly very much on top of your game in the leadership in the leadership and the IT leadership space. It sounds like some of those sort of traumatic events really helped shift things for yourself as well as becoming a dad.

Tom: Most definitely.
Andrew: What would you say would be your biggest leadership tip or lesson as a result of that?

Biggest one? I was fortunate enough I had some brilliant leaders in my life and I’ve had the most horrendous leaders in my life. I’ve seen the worst and I’ve seen the best. The best enable their staff but surround themselves with the best. I had an old boss, he was a great but he used to say, you don’t have a dog and bark yourself. That was his process in life.



I understand that now, that’s a very old school position but he’s right. If I want the best enterprise architect with me, I want the best but that best person doesn’t mean the guy who got sevens at University. That guy is the best that can actually fit your culture and fit the drive and strategy of your organisation and work with people around them.



The best people are the best ones we fit the solution and the outcome and they can actually work with everyone around them. That’s what I’ve strived to do my career is surround myself by … Not like minded people, I want to be challenged but I don’t want to be challenged by someone who believes because I’m a CCIE and I’m the greatest guy on the face of this earth that you will listen to every word I say.




No, they need to understand my customer requirement and build a solution that actually elevates the customer and serves and proves on a regular basis. That’s where my thoughts is. We can only mature our customer to the customers maturity requirement. My staff need to understand that and come on the journey with me. History, my biggest fight has been with my change managers. Ironic, the only people who wont’ change their process, traditional with me, are the change managers because they want to go on this route but you got to understand your customer is not mature enough to go to that.




You have to shrink it back to something that is obtainable. You don’t give your customer achievable goal, you fail because you don’t get the bind you required or actually succeed in delivering them an outcome because you’re hairy fairy … I don’t want to say it too much, but you don’t want to be a tier one consulting firm that gives you the best thing in the world but I can only get to 30% of that goal. That’s where I surround myself with people who are the best fit for my organisation for the best outcome for my customer.
Andrew: Lovely. I think that’s so much in there that we could unpack. It’d be great to focus in on that idea to finding the best people with the right expertise but who can also communicate and work with others. How do you go about doing that?
Personally? I ran for a major SI here in Queensland. I ran this strategic assurance alliances and they’ve been to management arms. I had the privilege of being the vendor contract management for Queensland house, so I ran the contracts for 350 million dollars. I had the luck of meeting a lot of people in Queensland and I knew who the good ones and bad ones were.


You can see that because they’re the ones that are actually responded but they’re proactive, they’re nimble. They know their stuff and they’re good at it but they’re also in tune with the customer requirement and they will do that to fix it. There are a lot who aren’t. I think I’m lucky that way that my career, I’ve learnt to read through people. Also, I challenge people as well.
If I want to know if I have a good someone is I’ll give them a challenge and see what they come back with. If they come back with, this is it, you’re the wrong person because you’ve actually got to the outcome without talking to the customer first. I do set people up that way and I think you learn to do that.
[00:26:00] You set them up into fail. I give everybody, I’ve always said this and people go that’s just the worst thing ever to say, but I give everyone the opportunity to fail. If you don’t fail, you’re in but everyone gets the opportunity to fail because that’s human nature. IT’s how you respond to that failure.
We will fail. I have failed multiple times in life but it’s how you actually learn from that and then surround yourself with the right people to ensure that that doesn’t happen again.
Andrew: Absolutely. It sounds like there’s sort of process attributes you’re looking for there but also a lot of mindset and attitude.




I shouldn’t say anyone because the majority [inaudible 00:26:34] but I used to manage a lot of CCOE’s. About 40 – 50 at a time and these guys are Gods of Cisco. They’re Gods in their own world. I don’t care what your number is. You can ask any Cisco CCOE in the world, what’s your number, they know it like that because they’ve studied that long and hard for it that that’s who they are. That’s great, you can do all that but how are you going to engage in this process. If you ‘re not a cultural fit to the organisation you’re not use to me because you’re not going to actually deliver the outcome for my customer and you’re going to hurt my brand.





My brand is delivering to all customer expectation. That goes across anything, anybody in my organisation. Project managers, BA’s, system analysis lot, you’ve got to have a cultural fit. The team will have to want to work together. You can’t have a splintered cell if you’re having and end to end solution delivery. Those people weed themselves out because they self select because they can’t handle the process. Which is fine. That’s an easier way than having to deal with the confrontation on a 24 hour basis.
Andrew: Very true. That can suck up a lot of time.
Tom: Oh, yeah.
Andrew: Thank you for that. I’ll have to talk to you Chris as well about your background. I know you’ve got a really strong background in social work and it’s clearly something you’re really passionate about. Where did that drive come from?
I could always go into the speil of one that I’ve recited many time over. I’m a second generation social worker. My mum was one before me and it’s how I was raised by her with my brother and sister in times when it was difficult for women to study and work and raise a family by yourself. She really role modelled for me. That sort of tenacity and robustness and resilience. Whist maintaining that looking out for others in social justice.
[00:28:30] I remember there was a kind in the play ground looking for those opportunities for social justice. To be thrown in the spot light.
Andrew: Wow. From a very young age.



Very young age. I often say with people that I go and do work with in this sector, it’s not a job, it’s a vocation. More than anything, this is an extension of who you are. You don’t stop your values when you switch off and go home. They are often, they are at every TV programme you watch, every phone call you’re on the receiving end of. Very much part of my DNA and I’m trying to instil that within my own children but my wife is a school teacher will insist that none of them will become social workers.
Can see the grey hairs on top that I’m carrying. I think sometimes living with a social worker can be harder than being one.
Andrew: You’re taking on the worries of the world.
You can. It can be a job that people have a lot of burn out in. It’s really part and parcel with the job, almost rights of passage. Then I said, Leland, through my career in this space from people that I’ve looked up to and been fortunate enough to be led by some tips to have or avoid that. I did go through that myself when I first came out as a graduate social worker into residential care facility out of Beaudesert after an inquiry into child protection.




Looking at systems reform at a very early age and being thrown into a management position at that stage leading a team of youth workers and carers. It’s really baptism of fire but I think one of the things or tips that I’ve certainly learned for leaders, it’s not to put that weight of expectation on yourself. It is as Tom was saying, it’s to surround yourself with people who share the load. It’s, I think, enticing at times, to think that everything rests on you and if it’s not you then it’s no one else but that’s a really quick way to burn out.



I certainly learnt that in my very early stages of the career. To which, I needed to take some time off to reflect about where was I going on my journey of social work in this system. Moved out of that non government role into, of course, that statutory child protection role, which as we know, out of the frying pan and into the fire. Once again, for 16 years in that space I was very fortunate enough to work with someone in a leadership role who I highly respected and valued and learned a lot of lessons and grew through that into leadership and management roles.




I think the biggest challenge certainly in that leadership space is first and foremost know who you are. I think the biggest sort of skill set or attribution that I not only want to be within myself but look for in others is authenticity. There is really the shadow we cast as leaders is observed by everybody. I think that really needs to be authentic between what you say, what you do, what you measure and that really becomes in terms of what you value through your behaviours. I’ve often said I cannot work for someone who I don’t respect and I can’t respect someone who is not authentic.



I should be able to have the same conversation in a room with parents and I’m talking about their children not coming home to them for the reasons that I’m saying, as I do with a room full or professionals or a pair of professionals. It needs to respectful. There needs to be an understanding of the dignity that these families have. It needs to be authentic that I’m not bullshitting anyone. I will always look for that in people that I admire and I’ll surround myself with people who are authentic.





Not just bobble heads who will just go with the tide. I think, for me, having surrounded myself with those people has instilled within me and my style of leadership that the confidence about to go out into a very uncertain world. Joining with Tom, I left government about 12 months ago to take this venture and being inspired by those who have gone before. Also, my own experience about 10 years ago having a near fatal boat accident where I almost drowned and to come out of that alive, there was certainly some trauma associated with that but the sort of realisation that I had is this is one shot of this life. The biggest regret would be to die wondering, that was sort of the self talk that that one would have in making this journey into the unknown.



Never been more excited than what I am right now. Never been more tired than what I am right now as well. When you can find something that you area passionate about that you are connected to and you get to meet such wonderful people day in, day out, yourself included, we would never have met if I didn’t make that change. I think those are the things that we often are concerned about the what if’s. We really need to take a lot more reflection about, what if we don’t. That for me is certainly a bit of a thread that I sort of live life by.
Andrew: Yeah. Such a traumatic like that like almost or a near drowning experience can really snap things into perspective.

Really quickly, really quick. They say that life goes before your very eyes and I can say, it does. In that moment that I can still recall as I’m speaking to you, it is the thing that’s most important to you will come to your mind and at that stage it was my wife and now eldest child. I’ve got another two and I’m sure they will be part of that picture in my head as well but that was what was most important for me at that stage.



In the wash of day to day stuff, how much do you really show that in your behaviours? We can get called away with so much noise around us that we really just need to stop and take some focus about what’s important for us. Particularly, in leadership positions, if you don’t have that time to stop and reflect and make sure that your behaviours are matching where your values are, you can take on other peoples problems pretty quickly.
Absolutely. I thought there was a fantastic lesson in there for all of us around authenticity and that idea that you could have the same conversation with clients that you’re then having with your colleagues and stakeholders back in the office.
Chris: Yep.
Andrew: I think that’s just such a beautiful illustration of integrity and authenticity and respect. I think if you’re saying things behind peoples back, even to your colleagues, your colleagues will see that that’s the way that you operate. That’s not at very respectful way to be and it certainly doesn’t agenda trust. You know when this doesn’t.
Chris: Absolutely.

Thank you for sharing that. You’ve obviously been, throughout your career, there’s been a point when you’ve identified the power of technology and technology can have that power in enabling the outcomes you’re looking to drive. Have you always had an affinity for technology? What was it that sparked that for you?


Not at all. I’m on a very steep learning curve with being exposed to something that’s called [inaudible 00:36:32] and getting the acronyms right. I’ve got child protection had plenty of acronyms. We can mix it with anyone.



There’s certainly a lot in the Alpha Geek world. No, I haven’t, my brother is a computer engineer. He took those genes from the pool. I remember him sitting with the old Titres 80, handy computer coding and tried to bring me on board to sort of show me. This is what you do and this is how you do it in those dick smith electronic packs that used to come in the magazine form and building doorbells and stuff. None of it interested me, whatsoever.


I still probably struggle with some of the IT sides of things and it’s good to have on tap. Having the chats and where our epiphany came with Tom and I, Tom was basically saying to me, what’s your biggest issue. Probably in that sort of customer client role and that stage as we’re driving back from a meeting together. As we explored that, the pair of technology to resolve these issues, it became crystallised in that moment. That is the journey with commenced on, I’m really excited to be on together.
Andrew: Wow. That would have been a really exciting moment. Having that realisation, we can make a difference here.

It was an epiphany. We went up to see a client up in Central Coast who was … I introduced Chris to and Chris was doing some work up there and on the way up we had the discussion and on the way back, we started to spit ball how that would work. I know technology, I know how to bring it all together, I’ve been doing it for years. It was how I actually address the issues and pains and concerns.



We’re both massive football nuts. We will watch any type of sport you can do. Our wives went out that Friday night, this is a Friday where driving back from Central Coast. We went straight back to Chris’ place and we started balling the ideas mid afternoon. The girls got back that night and realised that we hadn’t moved, we were still smashing ideas out. For games of sport had happened that night and we wouldn’t be able to tell you the score of any of them.





At the end of it, I rang my other business partner and at the time Chris wasn’t a business partner and said, I’m changing the way we’re actually going to do this. She goes, what do you mean? I said you’ve got to … we’ve got this. We came and white boarded in the room and put it all up there and she fell in love with it. I’m like, oh my god, these guys are … I said, this will make a difference I’m fed up with making corporates a lot of money, I’ve made a lot of money for a lot corporate organisations and tried to do our best insight of government to do the right things but this is something that we can put our hand on heart and say, we are actually going to save lives and help families. Help the community and break that intergenerational cycle you were talking about.
If we can do that, that will one give a very big cost benefit to government if the government sees the benefit coming through which is what we’re educational process more than now but on a bigger scale, the government can deal with the budgets. I’m sorry, that’s their job. That’s what we have elected them and the bureaucracy to do. Our job is ensure those children are safe.


That was just an epiphany moment. Well, what if I can do this? Chris had never seen the ITC side, what if we did this? He goes, that doesn’t exist. I said, yes it does. We’ve built it already, it’s there, here’s my other certs. Then we went and that’s when my team started to build out the back ends to ensure we had the full solution. That was 12 months ago.
Andrew: Wow.
Chris: Yep.



I notice in there there’s a recurring theme there around education. We talked about educating the community but we also talked about, just then, Tom had mentioned educating government. It sort of strikes me that your business involves some pretty cool and innovative technology but so much of what you’re doing seems to be really about leading change.
Tell us a bit more about what that change is and how you’re looking at influencing it.


The change itself … of course, Chris has living in government for that 16 – 17 years and I’ve lived at myself from an ICT executive point of view. There’s a thing I like to call, the permafrosted no. There’s always a ministerial and a political will in a time of change. There’s always a grand swell, inside the front lines services like Chris and any other government agency to change and make things better in position.


There is this permafrost of no, that sits across a layer of government that does not allow the change process. That’s where that influence had changed. That has to come, I’ve tried dynamite to break the permafrosted no but people enjoy the status quo because if I change the way they do things, I’m changing their environment. The hardest part for, especially in a bureaucracy in public service, is I don’t want to change. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot who do but there’s a partition there that just don’t want to change because that’s the way we’ve always done it.
Andrew: Change takes effort.


Effort and guess what, in a … when we go through things called machinery is a government, that we know about, we’ve changed. No, you’ve just changed the name, your email address and the title on top. By the way, instead of having one minister you’ve now got three. That’s just cycle so when you think, I was the one important in the department of corrective services into emergency services. That was my job when I left BHP was to smash it all together with the other directors in there and restructure the process and for what?
[00:42:30] You hear the position of this is a cost neutral law. There is a fiscal reduction of 2.5% or whatever it is at the time. It does not take that. We all know, the man hours that it’s taking off the front line services to actually go through the process but then you’ve got the fiscal position to just changing a DCS. The actual DNS for a government agency and changing email addresses, seriously?
Andrew: Huge amounts of effort that goes into that.
Massive but at what cost to the inductive because we’re doing all this stuff because someone decided we needed to change government departments because of these reasons, that’s irrelevant. The guys in the middle gate, [inaudible 00:43:06] because a lot has changed. I don’t need to change because nothing is going to change.
Andrew: Change also means uncertainty and change sometimes means loss or at least fear of potential loss.


Fear of potential loss where the idea, what if I can order my hit process and actually free up your time to actually do the job you were employed to do because I know inside of government, what’s your pay day and what are you doing? What best value, in the question I would ask anyone even in private or public sector in GEO spaces, what are you actually good at doing? What’s the issues and pains that are actually making you not being able to do the job you’re employed to do? That’s where we come in.
Andrew: Do you think it’s easier to influence that change even in the permafrost from the outside?
Tom: From the outside, definitely.
Andrew: Interesting. Why do you say that?
Tom: I’ve tried it from the inside.
Andrew: Okay. Impossible from the inside but you’re seeing some traction then.

Yes, we are. We’ve got more traction in the last three months or six months then I think I’ve seen of any industry. You don’t get a meeting with the minister because we don’t deal with lobbyist or anything else. We just deal with our pure position that we’re going to have a bit of guts here and we’re going to knock doors down until people talk to us.



We haven’t gotten a lobbyist, we got no people on the inside, we have just gone through what we believe is the right track, which is who we are and what we’re trying to achieve. We want to get the public will behind it. If you get public will, you get political will.
Andrew: Isn’t that amazing?


One of, I think at the heart of any change process is human beings. I think it’s really important to bring those people along on the journey, you can’t just sort of dump it on them. In my experience in, like he said, in government there’s always opportunities. There’s timing but the door closes really quickly because some other crisis or scandal or barrier comes in the way.



One of the things that I learnt from a CEO over in Casey Families Programme said to me, in order to first achieve change you must seek to understand what maintains the status quo. Having an understanding about there is value in being comfortable and not changing things a long and resisting that level of discomfort or I might lose something and I’m not thinking about what I might gain.



It’s the same at any level. We’ve gone talking to involuntary families about interventions from a statutory point of view. I need to somehow still connect to them about something we can agree on. When you find those and it is taking people on that journey within dealing with that resistance. What I’ve seen is this is really for me, a combination about 10 years of discussions.



My reflection on what you and Tom were talking about whether it’s easier to change within the department or without, outside, I would absolutely say outside. Within my time in the department, I really wanted to try and get a lot of lateral influence underground and have people in positions that could eyeball in a very powerful positions but at their respective levels. Directors are being patient units of health services, CEO’s of different organisations. If I can befriend them and become invaluable to them then we can make change happen, understanding how bureaucracy works. That’s not the people, that’s the system.


Coming outside of that is just having the shackles broken. I don’t need permission to ask anyone or say anything. I need to always be respectful and a need to understand their environment but I can still continue to agitate really overtly. That’s what I see as my role and finding like minded people and champions out there, wherever they may be.
You get the political will where our local member has been brilliant. Ross Vasta has been unbelievable in getting … that’s just us going to him and saying, we live in your electro. We’re doing this. Heres where we get and they get it. They go, wow. You can help the police, you can do … they get it straight off the bat and then they become the champions of you. Which is … they don’t have to do that but because they see a need the same way we see a need, the like minded and the will comes.


That’s the political will in position. That’s where we need to focus our energies on. The people who can actually ensure that we keep the momentum. The ones that we don’t want is those in [inaudible 00:48:03] change and that happens in government when you have the grand swell of support with the people around in government but the momentum gets lost. Chris is right, if a crisis hits or change in government or whatever because the policy changes, the DG changes, everything changes. You go, oh, back to square one. That’s the way the bureaucracy works.


Where from the outside, I don’t care who is in power because one I’m not a loan to a government policy of position but we’re a political as well. So, we don’t care who is in government because those children are still getting harmed. No matter who is ruling the school, those kids are still at harm and we need to get there. That’s why we play a very straight bat in that space.


Absolutely. That’s fantastic. I think you can really see how you’re trying to influence the different people there. It sounds like you’re finding some really great digital champions or some really great champions who are really keen on progressing the innovation in this space. Do you find that you’re able to actually influence and create champions as well from those that aren’t already thinking that way?


We’ve had many meetings over there. Particularly past six months. One of the things, different people from a whole range of backgrounds who are first and foremost shocked that something like this in terms of the right of child abuse and neglect or domestic and family violence is happening in the city that they live. In the suburbs that they live.



When they have that awareness, they follow up question is, what can we do about it? What can we do to help? They don’t want to go into those houses and start to do counselling or start to clean up or start to do therapy with children and they’re not being asked to. What we certainly leave them with a message of is, if we can get a whole of system response, people in their digital technologies based on being extremely invigorating but know that they can have a difference in the life of vulnerable children and young people through their expertise, through their knowledge.


Same with some of the people within the finance sectors. Some of the people within the insurance sector, some of them across in a different health or education background. This is a solution that we’re saying everyone is a part of. When we leave those meetings and have those discussions, there is certainly a passion that people sort of expressing to us about wanting to make a difference.
If we can sort of get that momentum built up and awareness is great. What do you do with awareness? It’s the action that we need and that’s the next step.
That comes back GEO customers as well. The customer is caught up in that financial cycle from the government but also the status quo of their own delivery where we’ve got partners who are early adopters and want to be innovators in this space but never knew how to do so. I was going in an educating them, they just turn around and go oh my god. That epiphany moment going, we can actually do something with this or can it do this?
Our system can do whatever you want it to do but you have to tell us and we’ll need to work with you to ensure it’s reaching the outcome you require. That’s the whole process we’re under.
[00:51:30] On the other side of it is, we’re very smart. We have one of my business partner Rachael has a very large network of successful people. We bounce the ideas off, we take it to them and get the idea and they mentor in that whole process but at the same time these people are like, well what do you need? I cannot believe that this isn’t happening already. What do you need?





No one wants to look at that little dark corner of the world but our whole focus is until … they only want to have to look at it when something disastrous happens and they have to look at it but then they want to turn away and get at something else. People want to see a horse getting rescued and not being saved or someone really good news story on the news. They don’t want to see what we have to deal with and our end customers have to deal with but I’m so glad that Chris has done that for 16 years and brought it to me and to the world so we can actually deal with that, address the situation and add value there.
That whole industry needs … they don’t get a pat on the back for anything they do. They don’t get the funding they require, they don’t get the main position because no one wants to actually address the situation because no one wants to acknowledge that the problem is as big as it is.
Andrew: I think we often just try not to think about it because it is so confronting. So horrific.
Tom: Exactly.
I often say to people as a measure of how we value this, in four corners a few years ago I did a show on the live cattle exports. What is burned into peoples minds is the look of fear on that cows face when it’s about to get slaughtered. That was enough to shut down an entire industry.
Andrew: Wow.



Bang, there it goes. When I say to people and this can be a bit challenging and confronting, I’ve seen that very same look on the faces of children in a service, in our interview rooms waiting. Day in, day out, unsure we’re they’ll be that night, whether they’ll their parents again, whether they’ll be with their siblings. We just close our eyes to it.



If we’re not prepared to look at this system and this industry in the same way that we were outraged within live cattle than our priorities our severely wrong. That is a message that will then say, whatever it takes. Whatever it takes means to get uncomfortable and that’s the space where we want to be in terms of change. Its converting that desire and giving them something that they can direct to that into action. We want to be that action with communities.



I guess I’ve been taking a bit of a mud map of how you’re influencing and creating these champions, sounded like it started with a connexion. Connecting with the person on about something, something that you can share and then moving very much into an awareness of the problem space. From there, it sounds like so many people are converted fairly easily and are asking the question back to you then of how can I help?
Then you’re looking to give them some practical, actionable steps.
Tom: That’s the only saving grace of this industry we’re in. As soon as people realise the extent that people are in need. It’s in humanity. The first thing they do is, what can I do? That’s a very good question, what can you do? It’s not what can you do, what are you willing to do?
[00:55:00] That’s that whole process where it may be advice and position and helping others grow, our mentorship programme internally to ensure that we’re actually ticking off the right boxes from a corporate point of view because we don’t actually … that’s not our core business but we’ve got the best of the best mentors in that process. Whereas any start up is, you need that coaching and mentorship.


Also, [inaudible 00:55:20], what social funding can we actually go and try to find for you? Finding the investment to ensure that we actually have the capital to deliver the outcome across the board.
Andrew: Obviously, different people can help out in different ways.
Tom: Exactly right.
Andrew: Here’s a good opportunity I think. We’ve already … I think there’s a fantastic connexion there. WE’ve had some awareness of the problem space, I’m asking and I’m sure many of the listeners are asking, how can we help their community of technology leaders and technology professionals. What are the practical, actionable steps that we can take to help with Comp Sync and with this social agenda?
Tom: That’s a good question.



Immediately, the first ticking of the box is what we were already talking about in awareness. What we want to do, nothing replaces human relationships. I think that the more we can free up people for efficiencies within that work group. What all had some of my journey on the technology side of things here is how that can actually break the shackles of workers who were chained to their desk. Who are mobile more now than ever, who are working longer days because they still got all this paper based stuff and all this file stuff there.




What I say that the great marriage between technology and the social services field is to get efficiencies that allow relationships, which is the biggest factor in terms of any change for those families. To be built and developed. The bringing of this technology into that space, allows, actually, relationships to flourish. It actually puts that flesh to flesh that human value. It is an alert management system but behind that, in the essence of that, is I bring in family. I bring in connexions, I bring in my support network when I need them. For me, the beauty of having this relationship with a technology side of things, it is that allows that to happen seamlessly.


Less the makers who have done that technology side of things there because for us in the social services field, I never knew the existence of any of this. From a professional aspect, I would say, continue to develop those things, which create efficiencies within that space from a personal reflection. Understand who you’re connected to, ask questions, become part of the solution in terms of know the children that you know.


One of the scary things that came out was, NAPCAN, which is a National Association for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect did a study about six years ago that asked people, would you respond to this child that you didn’t know if you knew that they were being abused or neglected. Less than 50% of people said yes, they would. My follow up question to that was, what if that child was someone that you knew? What if it was your own child? Without hesitation, you would do it.


We want every child to have someone who is looking out for them like that. From a personal point of view, scope your environment, know those people, be a support and it is scary this anxiety building like we don’t like to get involved in domestic affairs of others. This is no longer a domestic affair, this is a huge issue for society and lifting it out allows it to heal.
Andrew: Obviously, there’s line call decisions that need to made there around when and how you engage.
That comes back to the relationship side. The relationship with the individual but, also, if you mould that relationship with the adults and the children and around you as a community in it you’re then holding each other accountable. You’re holding a parent accountable, you’re also holding that community accountable for that response to that. They always say it takes a village to raise a child, it also take a village to abuse a child. That’s the point that we’re trying to make here.


If we allow that to happen and we turn a blind eye and then we can blame the government when a child gets abused and it’s in our local area and it’s the next, that’s the whole process. If we actually had the community positioned of accountability and as Chris said, get involved in your local community. Then many eyes and ears will appreciate and flag when a child is in danger. That’s where the process comes.



Chris is right, from a personal point of view. That’s where the listeners can actually assist in a professional point of view, I would love to hear from anyone who actually would think that they can actually potentially collaborate. We’re not a closed shop. We are always looking, I’m in charge of the technology roadmap with our vendors and [inaudible 01:00:03] but we’re always looking. This is a growing delivery model.
My customer requirements are going to change. We’re always looking for new and innovative ways that we can actually improve the service to the end dues are. If you’re … if the viewers and the listeners are interested in actually interested in actually getting in touch, I’m more than happy to hear from them.
Andrew: Great. How should they do that?

They can contact myself at I’m more than happy to have that chat because I want as many people involved in this base as humanly possible because the more people in our industry, in my industry at ICT, focus on delivering a better social outcome the better it is for society. That’s where I’m coming from.

[01:01:00] This is the first of many solutions. The watch is one of many end user devices because we’re in the internet of things, which I hate that terminology but it is here to say. This device here is one of a thousand things that we could be using. It’s irrelevant. This bit here, it’s about how we actually ensure the safety of that children and we will be looking at multiple technologies moving forward.
From the personal perspective, are there any resources or educational programmes you would recommend so that we can get more comfortable with those really difficult situations and those line call decisions as to when we step in and how we engage, if that makes sense.



I do a lot of work with partnering for safety and they’re on Facebook and on the webpage, Sonja Parker. Sonja with a j. It is a bit of a leader in this field and she’s just recently made all of our resources publicly available as well. There are websites that are run through government, which have cheat sheets and things like that there as well and any Google search will give you a wealth of resources. It begins with asking questions that maybe you’re not comfortable necessarily asking but, are you okay? Is there anything I can do to help and really coming from a perspective of understanding not blame.


When we allow that and we can give permission for people to speak about things that are challenging for them, they’re more likely to open up if it’s opposed to if it’s a accusation, report and then you wait for the blue and red lights to flash. There’s opportunities all the time. Everything has it’s time and just be ready for that moment. That’s what we try to live by and that’s where we’ve come along on our journey but that’s what families need as well.
[01:03:00] A lot of campaigns about reporting. Mandatory reporting, we want mandatory support and that’s what is going to actually shift that paradigm. For the Alpha Geeks out there, as Tom was saying, keep pushing that innovation. Keep pushing the change that’s necessary because without that technology that someone spent time and energy and resources in developing, we wouldn’t have the solution to what it is that we’re seeking. We’d still just be running on the same old bad carousal going around and around. It’s time to get off.

The other thing. The one thing I talk when I first started this programme. Delivering to this service model was, I had a good look myself and had a good look and my people around me. We’re all so busy. You have to take stock. We have never been busier than we are right now and I am trying to make a conscious decision to reach out to the ones who I care about.

[01:04:00] It doesn’t have to be a 20 minutes phone call every day but schedule. A quick call to your brother, your sister, your aunt or your uncle. Whoever you are close to, maybe it’s your mates. There’s seven of us that we went through school together.



I can’t say that I’ve talked to a lot of them enough as I should and we’re trying to make conscious decisions to actually catch up on a more regular basis and be in each others lives because you need that support network. Everyone needs that support network because life is so busy these days and with technology, it just gets faster and faster and faster. Yet, we’re getting more remote from each other.




We’ve never been more connected in a digital age, we’ve never been more separated on a personal age. That’s the killer. Where it’s okay to get on Facebook because people only put stuff on Facebook and social media when they want you to see they’re doing all right. It’s very rare the world comes running when you see someone going, I’ve had the worlds worst time. You get the, are you okay or this that or the other. Most of it is, cats playing pianos or someone getting hit in the nuts with a football.
Andrew: Very superficial.
Tom: Exactly. We, as humans, throw forward what we want people to perceive us to be. That’s that whole process. The amount of people that you see who commit suicide, who’s Facebook pages, you would never know about it. Their friends going, they’re all right. Nothing is more powerful then human communication, not social communication.
I think what you’re doing is a great example. Using technology to create a deeper and a more meaningful and valuable connexion. I guess that sounds like that’s the message for the audience is really focus on those. How can we do that?
Chris: Yeah.
Tom: Don’t let Facebook or Instagram be your current activity to the people you love.
Andrew: I think that’s a fantastic message and given the time we should probably wrap our conversation up as well but thank you both so much for sharing so openly of your insights and your experience and telling us all about the fantastic work that you’re doing.
Tom: It is our pleasure.

Thanks for the opportunity Andrew. Thank you.

Andrew: No worries at all. Thank so much.
Chris: Appreciate it.

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