The translator: Barry Rivelis

BC CTO Award winner helped create Telus Health and is integrating automation and AI into one of B.C.’s biggest insurers

Barry Rivelis: senior vice-president, chief strategy and information officer, Pacific Blue Cross | Photo: Chung Chow

There are two things a chief information officer does, according to the CIO of Pacific Blue Cross (PBC).

“Change things and run things,” said Barry Rivelis, who also serves as PBC’s senior vice-president and chief strategy officer. “You can’t just talk about technology. Technology is an enabler – but what are you enabling? At the end of the day it has to link back to the business.”

Rivelis believes he spent a large part of his career training to be a CIO. It’s an education that spans multiple industries – consulting, telecommunications, health – and a range of roles in sales, marketing, technology and operations.

He’s curious. He’s a broker of information. He’s a translator.

“It puts you in a position, I think, to be able to balance all of those requirements. And in this role, you’re a juggler. You’re a juggler and a translator. You’re doing that on a regular basis.”

Rivelis’ journey to becoming what he calls a strategic CIO begins with an important piece of technology. It was 1988 and Rivelis was in his third year of post-secondary studies in math and economics. He was considering medical school after York University.

“I got a Macintosh for my 21st birthday,” he said. It was a gift from his mom and – it being 1988 – had a 20-megabyte hard drive. “This was the coolest thing ever,” Rivelis said. “It just sort of unleashed this interest in technology.”

Medical school fell by the wayside (though it’s worth noting Rivelis eventually charted his own course into health). Instead, this year’s CIO of the Year award recipient pursued an MBA at York University’s Schulich School of Business.

In 1994, he landed at EY (then Ernst & Young). Three or four weeks into his job, Netscape was released. 

“I was fascinated with the fact that you could sit in your office or at your desk and reach the world,” Rivelis recalled. “I remember sitting there downloading Netscape and these audit partners walk by and go, ‘What are you doing?’ And I said, ‘I’m downloading Netscape,’ and they look at me like, ‘What’s Netscape?’” He told them that the software was about to change the world. “Of course everybody looks at you at the time like, ‘What are you talking about, kid?’ And it changed the world.”

Years later, Netscape would revolutionize EY’s auditing practice. Rivelis would go on to serve as the firm’s national leader of web development and design, and customer relationship management. He also became one of the youngest partners in EY Canada’s history at the age of 31.

During his decade at EY, Rivelis moved from Toronto to Vancouver. In 2004, he took a marketing position at Telus Corp. (TSX:T), which was a new area for him. Not long after, Telus Business Solutions president Joe Natale – now president and CEO of Rogers Communications (TSX:RCI.B) – asked Rivelis to establish a health-care strategy for Telus. 

“The health-care strategy we started resulted in the creation of Telus Health,” he said.

“We called it innovation at the edge. Where we needed innovation was at the edge of the network.”

Earlier this year, Telus launched Babylon by Telus Health, an app that provides virtual health-care services to Canadian consumers. More than 26,000 health-care professionals use electronic medical records with software developed by Telus. The company now owns health clinics across the country.

Rivelis led a team that helped establish that vision, and helped facilitate the company’s $763 million acquisition of Emergis. He designed and launched products and expanded the Telus Health division by 400% over a three-year period to $400 million in annual revenues.

“I led the team that created Telus Health,” he said.

Before joining the team at PBC in 2015, Rivelis spent six years as CIO of the Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA), Vancouver Coastal Health and Providence Health Care, where he was responsible for overall technology strategy.

He calls his move from Telus to PHSA as a “career evolution.” He had spent years translating the language of technology and innovation to corner-office executives, and business goals and strategy to technical teams. It was his first time as a CIO after decades of training for the role.

It’s an exciting time, Rivelis said, and one with “pretty much endless” opportunities thanks to technology.

“My greatest success is being able to translate what we’re trying to do as a business into technology,” he said.

“I’m putting the pieces together and the picture together between our business and the technology, and acting as a translator between those two. And that’s really my big strength.” 

Join us to celebrate standout technology leadership and breakthrough innovation when Business in Vancouver hosts the inaugural BC CTO Awards gala awards luncheon on September 18th, 2019, at the Fairmont Waterfront hotel. For tickets and info, check out biv.com/bc-cto-awards.