Business is a tricky road to walk on. And one of the crucial aspects that drive any business to its desired success is an innovative idea that not only enhances the fundamentals but also enacts the business to stand out and get the global spotlight amidst the cutthroat competition in an ever-evolving modern industry. And, at the helm of such a transformative wheel of the business clock stands its innovative leadership.
Along with a mindset of such inclusive developments, business leaders are also found to solve mindboggling problems with the help of technological solutions, and Information Technology has proved to be the harbor to many such socio-economic issues. Solving the challenges with a unique approach and a staunch leadership acumen in correctional facilities and rehabilitation centers while spearheading Telio Group—a prominent name in inmate communication, technology, and infrastructure, is Simon Bonk—Chief Research Officer and Director of Business Development.
As a leader, Simon has been inculcating an inclusive culture in the organization and infusing technology leadership to outgrow Telio’s own record. Appreciated and acknowledged globally, he has been focused on reinventing the lives of employees, the market, the end client, and society more broadly.
Let’s look at the journey of Simon that made him a huge success!
On a Trail to Success
Reminiscing on his career graph and how he climbed up his success ladder, he says, “I spent close to 30 years in the Canadian Public Service holding a variety of roles from an executive being responsible for Functional and Operational programs to Deputy Chief Financial Officer to CIO.”
This took place in three large operational departments—Tax Administration, Border Services and Corrections. “For the last six years, I was the CIO for the Correctional Service of Canada. In February of this year, I Joined Telio as their Chief Research Officer and Director of Business Development,” says Simon.
Weathering the Storms
The first challenge Simon needed to overcome was the move from the public sector to the private sector. He says, “When in government, your bottom line is defined by outcomes for society. Obviously, in the private sector, the bottom line is the defining consideration. I am lucky to be working with Telio, they recognize that these are not mutually exclusive ideas. We can/must contribute to greater societal outcomes in order to truly be successful, and if we achieve this our bottom line will be more than healthy.”
Another challenge was to overcome some of the biases relating to what people believe a CIO should be or what experiences they must possess. The Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) was open-minded and understood that to be a CIO does not necessarily mean you need to have come through the technical ranks. By becoming the CIO at CSC, Simon had the platform to contribute to thought leadership in the sector and enhance the delivery of modern corrections, and this experience is serving him well at Telio.
He puts, “In fact, if you look at the skill sets CIOs require, technical attributes are much less critical than strategic thinking, leadership, and building relationships, to name but a few. My experience is diverse and I did not come up through the technology ranks, this made me somewhat unique, I appreciate CSC making me their CIO. My time as CIO at CSC has positioned me well for my new role with Telio.”
Transforming Tech with Standout Leadership
Being an active participant within the correctional space, Simon has worked to cultivate a global network of fellow CIOs and thought leaders in the correctional space. “I chair the Technology Solutions Network for the International Corrections and Prisons Association (ICPA). This group aims to promote the advancement of corrections through technology-enabled business transformation, based on available research, supported by proven solutions and methodologies,” quotes Simon.
At the same time, he is on the board of the Corrections Technology Association (CTA). Largely focused on North America, since 1999, CTA provides a forum to promote the exchange of information, experience, and knowledge among correctional agencies. Through the years, the association has actively led the development of standards and promoted collaboration and sharing of data and systems across states. CTA’s annual meeting offers its members an unsurpassed opportunity to learn about new technologies and, above all else, affords corrections technologists the opportunity to network with their peers.
Emphasizing his community contribution to the technology world, Simon puts, “Finally, I participate on the sub-committee on digital tools for the American Probation and Parole Association. The focus of this subcommittee is to examine Digital Tools designed to facilitate evidence-based and promising community supervision practices and/or promote justice reform within the community supervision industry, including probation, parole, pre-trial release, reentry, and the courts.”
Simon Bonk has been an active personality in developing thought leadership in the space of corrections, and he has been sharing this intellectual property through various publications and related articles.
Sharing his happy times across his professional career, Simon mentions that he also had the good fortune to present his ideas at a number of different conferences. Earlier this year, as an example, Simon shared the stage with two colleagues, Hakan Klarin, the current CIO for the Swedish Prison Service and Arun Vanapalli, Corrections Lead, Accenture Global Public Safety Team at CTA where they discussed that the COVID-19 pandemic forced a realization: modernization is no longer an option, it is imperative to ensure that correctional organizations can continue to deliver critical services. Technology is one of the vehicles that can begin to enable the benefits of modernization.
Further, he adds, “The presentation discussed the various areas within Canada and Sweden where technologies (such as AI, API layers, and Cloud-based applications) and innovation will enable the business of corrections. We explored shared commonalities, differences, challenges and successes from a technology perspective.
Further, we delved into the notion of needing to elevate the benefit narrative from the traditional correctional outputs, such as rehabilitation and recidivism to one of potential societal or economic benefits. In addition, we explored the question of how to take lessons learned garnered from the pandemic experience and leverage those to shape future modernization efforts in our sector.
With his tenure at Telio just underway, he is deeply grateful to the company, and expressing his viewpoint on the same, Simon expresses, “As their Chief Research Officer, Telio is giving me the opportunity to build on the thought leadership foundation that I have cemented over the past six years. Telio understands that to advance good corrections there is a requirement to propel the concept of modernization beyond the provision of services and provoke discussion through research and engagement.
Just recently, I engaged Victoria Knight, an Associate Professor of Research in the field of Community and Criminal Justice at De Montfort University in Leicester, England. We further observed opportunities in the sector particularly around risk-taking, adapting to change and the ability to form partnerships (even within organizations). We agreed to circle back and plot a way forward where we can collaborate to delve into these concepts and others.”
Adding to it, he marks, “Telio has encouraged me to explore the possibility of further collaboration with academia in areas such as, the need for the industry of corrections to tell the modernization story differently. That is, making empirical links between correctional outputs and concepts such as social outcomes or the impacts on GDP.
Telio understands that if we can aid in creating a stronger business case, in partnership with jurisdictions, there will be greater investment realized benefiting the sector writ large.
Inside Telio’s system
Telio is a company out of Germany and works primarily with Correctional jurisdictions in Europe, UAE, Africa, and Australia. Simon shares, “I am, in fact, their first North American employee. I chose to join Telio because I felt I could make a greater contribution to bettering corrections than as the CIO of CSC. Simply put, I thought working with many jurisdictions around the world would extend my ability to make a difference. At the same time, I believe I can help Telio extend their global reach and elevate the services we deliver.”
Telio develops, installs, and operates communications and media systems that include but are not limited to video interaction platforms, digital phone services for correctional facilities, digital services for inmates and staff, and mobile phone detection. Telio has become a global market leader in inmate communication, technology, and infrastructure. Sharing insights on how Telio positioned itself as a global leader in the corrections sector, Simon iterates,
“We did that by listening. From the very beginning, we paid attention to what facilities, their inmates, and staff really need. The result is a highly advanced product portfolio in the areas of telephony, communications, digital services for inmates as well as staff and mobile detection and jamming. We operate in over 20 countries and in approximately 700 correctional facilities.”
Communication and information are basic human needs that should no longer be regarded as a privilege in correctional facilities. But instead as an important contribution to institutional peace and social rehabilitation. Every Telio system adheres to the highest security standards, simplifies work processes significantly and has a rehabilitating effect. With Telio as a partner, the client benefits from its extensive expertise. Since 1998, Telio has specialized exclusively in this field and is today arguably the most competent partners in this segment.
“I must also highlight the Connecting Hearts Foundation that our CEO Oliver Drews has established. The vision that Telio wants to support is a better future for the children of prisoners. We want to make sure that they are entitled to exactly the same rights and possibilities other children have. The future world and society in which those children will grow up needs to stand up for them and support them in every possible way. This attracted me to Telio when I was looking at my next career options. The fact that they want to give back and contribute to the global community really resonated with my dedication to Public Service and making a difference,” shares Simon.
Values that Empower Culture
At Telio, Simon has a deep passion for what he works on. Emphasizing this, Simon marks, “This is a great area to focus on. The public sector talks a lot about values and culture, but at the end of the day, I was left to consider whether the language equated to action. At Telio, it feels like a family, and I believe the CEO truly wants to cultivate a positive culture. A simple example, this summer, there was an all-staff summer BBQ in Hamburg, Germany. Telio is a global company, and the invitation was extended to everyone no matter where they resided. I am in Canada and was encouraged to attend. Maybe coming from the Public Sector, where this kind of spending cannot take place because of the need to have probity of taxpayer dollars, this had a bigger impact than it should have. The point being, Telio invests in its people; it backs up its words with tangible action.”
Leveraging Technological Marvels
Spearheading technology leadership, Simon believes that there are parallels between the private and public reality and his ability to bring his experience into each provides real benefits for those he works and partners with. He notes, “At CSC, we were in the midst of maximizing the utility of cloud and taking a more modern approach to application development. We were assessing our 160-plus applications and determining their future when I departed. Now at Telio, I am being asked to engage on the future of our technology stack. I was invited to engage the Telio C Suite at the end of August to start to map out how we will ensure future success from a technology perspective.
I am experiencing that there are many similar considerations to work through in the private sector as in the public domain, and it will be interesting to see where we land in our technology reality.” He further remarks, “Generally speaking, the corrections sector is ripe for modernization. Technology can both inspire this modernization and, at the same time, facilitate it. In my view it all starts with the business vision and looking at the associated business processes. In my role as CIO at CSC, we had a major legislative change driving a business transformation. To make this happen, we had a number of technological firsts at CSC. We used MEAN stack to facilitate the new application coupled with an agile execution; we put in WIFI for the first time in an prison (a little more challenging in older buildings with thick walls and rebar, a different environment than what you would see in a typical office environment), we implemented RFID solutions (this approach also inspired another jurisdiction to embark on a similar path) and we put handheld devices into the officers’ hands. It was a game changer in terms of demonstrating what is in the art of the possible.”
Sharing his personal views on what Telio is focused on, he mentions, “Telio is exploring how to make optimal use of AI and Machine Learning. There are many use cases, whether it be linked to risk assessments of offenders, bed placement or even from an investigative view. The opportunity to become more efficient and effective in leveraging these technologies is immense.
At the same time, Telio needs to be cognizant of the risk of using these tools; for example, bias must be protected against.”
Simon says, “There is work being conducted by different organizations to protect against the risk bias linked to AI; I have colleagues working with the Council of Europe to do just that. I am confident that we can minimize the risk and optimize the utility of new technologies in the space with guidelines and standards.”
Envisioning the Future
Envisioning the future of Telio and their impact on global corrections, Simon remarks, “We want to continue to be a world leader, and beyond growing our bottom line, we will make a difference by enabling good corrections that will drive societal gains. We will work with our colleagues in academia to develop empirical links that will strengthen business cases for jurisdictions to enable modernization.
The political masters will be much more convinced to invest in racial equality, economic gains, and indigenous reconciliation than simply good correctional outputs. I believe we can demonstrate the link between good correctional outputs such as reduced recidivism and enhanced rehabilitation and these societal outcomes.”
“The impact of good corrections goes beyond the inmate but touches their entire ecosystem – family, friends, and their community. We can break the cycle of incarceration with approaches that include strong educational programs, and the impact will touch those close to the incarcerated person. We will demonstrate this and promote this, and Telio will make this happen,” adds Simon.
Nurturing the Future Corporates!
When asked about his expert advice for those who wish to venture into the industry, Simon puts, “The first point I would promote, what is the problem you are trying solve or the opportunity you are trying to capitalize on.”
I have used this quote many times, Henry Ford stated something along the lines of, if I gave people what they wanted I would have invented a faster horse. I interpret that to mean, we must explore the real opportunity as wants and needs are not necessarily the same thing. Get to the root cause, identify that. Spend the time to understand what it is you are truly trying to resolve/solve.”
Emphasizing upon his thumb rule of technology-led businesses, Simon says, “Set yourself up for success and start the change management process at the outset.” “Too often we overlook what are conditions for success and addressing this early in the process of change. Embrace the opportunity and have the courage to seek out guidance and advice. Outside in thinking can complement the domain expertise you have. We all know the stats on how change management can make a difference in benefit realization. Whatever you decide to invest in change, double it, concludes Simon Bonk.