More than 35 years of experience in the healthcare industry, I would have to say that we are in the most turbulent time that I have seen during my career. From a technology viewpoint, this rapidly changing landscape requires a very nimble and flexible technology staff that can move quickly as the industry adjusts and the business tries to respond or even be proactive in addressing the challenges that we have. Finding the kinds of individuals who possessed those qualities is a big change from the traditional technology worker.
We also have the continuing challenge of being in an industry that has historically been 5 to 7 years behind other verticals in adopting technologies that can benefit us as well as identifying emerging technologies that can be both disruptive and transformational to the way that we do business. As CIOs, we need to connect more broadly with our colleagues in other vertical industries to see how they are using technology to drive improvements in their business, especially as it concerns improving the customer experience, which in our case is the patient.
I believe that the biggest area of improvement that is needed from our vendors is the ability to capture data from disparate sources, including new high volume data sets, and present that data in a truly meaningful way. Today, most of the data that we collect is only analyzed on a retrospective basis. That makes it almost impossible to get ahead of the curve and make a real change in the way that we deliver services. In this regard, we also need to begin to ‘think outside the box’ in identifying non-clinical data sets, e.g. consumer data, to combine with clinical data based on some standard methodology to truly understand our customer population beyond their interactions in our brick-and-mortar environments.
Strategic Assessment of Technology
More and more, technology is seen as a strategic asset within the healthcare industry. That means you have to have the ability to identify personnel that possess both technical skills as well as the soft skills of critical thinking, customer service, and communication. For the CIO, this means being much less technically competent and much more focused on understanding your business. Even today, most healthcare CIOs are much more focused on the technical aspects of their job and they are the executive and strategic relationships that are being required of us. We have to be more and more comfortable in interacting with our boards of directors as well as maintaining touch and relevance with our line staff. This clearly takes an individual with a great deal of emotional intelligence, which is a commodity that few of us have had to develop in our careers. The CIO clearly needs to be a thought leader in how to help the organization tackle the barriers and challenges, both internal and external, which must be overcome to move the organization forward.
“Today, most of the data that we collect is only analyzed on a retrospective basis”
As an executive leader, the CIO must put the needs of the organization first. This means focusing on core functions that drive value for the business and potentially letting go of staff and power by outsourcing nonessential functions. There are many potential areas of technology that are commodities and can be handed off to third parties for management and operation. Data centers, service desks and even application support are some areas that we need to take a new look at in terms of where to spend our time and effort. Certainly, finding a good outsourcing partner is a challenge, and the success of these arrangements require a great deal of upfront effort to structure the relationship and responsibilities, but it is a potential source of cost control and value creation that cannot and should not be overlooked.
Factor for Success
First and foremost, spend as much time as you can speak with your non-IT colleagues and understanding all aspects of your organization. There is no more important factor for success than understanding your business and your organization in depth. And this can only be accomplished by getting out side of the IT walls and spending time in every location within your business that could potentially impact your customer’s experience.
Secondly, seek out your colleagues in other industries. Figure out a way to broaden the scope of your knowledge by looking to other industries and figuring out what technologies they might be using that could be supportive of the efforts of your organization to succeed. I remember being at a general IT conference and being amazed at the analytic capabilities that currently reside in the transportation industry, especially as it concerns 18 wheeler drivers. Those companies knew more about their drivers and their activities and their work life balance than I knew about my workers or my customers. It was darn impressive.
Finally, be a lifelong learner. If you have a technology degree, consider a graduate business degree or other non-technology education. Create a reading list of books that your colleagues in your industry might recommend or that other IT colleagues of found helpful. There are a couple of books that I would suggest you consider for your list. The first would be The New CIO Leader by Marianne Broadbent and Ellen Kitzis. The second would be Get Out of IT While You Can by Craig Schiefelbein. And finally, I would suggest Managing IT as a Business by Mark Lutchen. All of those books have been very valuable to me as I have considered my own career as a CIO over the last 10 years.
It’s time for CIO leaders to help shape the impression of technology as both a strategic asset and a game changer. No longer are the old jokes about CIO meaning ‘career is over’ or ‘cost is outrageous’. We are truly business leaders and in a unique position to help drive innovation and improvements in the business. We have the opportunity to help our industries build new and better platforms on which to serve our customers. These are exciting times for technology leaders. Let us take advantage of what we have to help improve the lives of those around us and those we serve.
Courtney Fisher-Lewis, Associate CIO, Saint Luke’s Health System & Ex-Sr. Director, IS Program Management, Children’s Mercy Hospital David Chou, SVP & CIO, Harris Health System & Ex-Chief Information & Digital Officer, Children’s Mercy Hospital