On Jan. 13, the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based College of Healthcare Information Executives (CHIME) named William Spooner, senior vice president and CIO of the San Diego-based Sharp HealthCare, the recipient of the 2009 John E. Gall Jr. CIO of the Year Award. Spooner, who has been CIO at the five-campus, 2,000-bed Sharp HealthCare, oversees over 400 IT professionals at the integrated health system. Spooner spoke recently to HCI Editor-in-Chief Mark Hagland regarding the CHIME honor and his perspectives on the evolution of the CIO role.
Healthcare Informatics: What was your reaction to receiving the honor of being named CIO of the Year? What do you think it means for you?
Bill Spooner: Even though I'd had the opportunity to present the CIO of the Year award a few years ago, when I was CHIME board chair, I hadn't really been all that familiar with the nomination and selection process. So I was excited when I learned I'd been nominated; and once I realized I had won the award, I was totally overwhelmed. To be mentioned on the same list as the past recipients and to have been chosen for the award, was rather humbling. I think it's a recognition for my team; because my team has done a lot of great work. I take the credit for leading my team, but my team has done a lot of great work. And Sharp has been an innovator for a long time, in various niche areas, whether it be information technology or medicine. We were the first hospital to do open-heart surgery in San Diego County, in 1958.
HCI: So Sharp has long had a culture of innovation?
Spooner: Yes, Sharp has had a culture of innovation. And my boss came to recognize through all of our conversations that we have to look at it in a global sense. So he, our CEO, has been very supportive, and the board has been very supportive, in the last several years. And that's really been the key to fostering success in enabling us to do what we've been able to do. So the award is as much a reflection on the organization as on me. And because I've got a really good team, I've been afforded the time to do some things outside, at CHIME and in other venues.
HCI: We seem to be at a very pivotal point in the evolution of the CIO role within the healthcare field. More and more CIOs are becoming senior leaders in their organizations. While retaining some technical knowledge will be important, for most CIOs, being a part of the executive management team and helping to steer their organizations forward on a far broader level than in the past seems to be what's called for. Your thoughts?
Spooner: That's right, and the other piece of it is the role of the CIO on the executive team. The question is still being asked. I remember five years ago at CHIME, everyone was asking, how do we get the CIO in the c-suite, at the executive table? And I don't think there are many CIOs who aren't there at this point; there may be some. But certainly, there's the recognition that they need to be there at the table. So I think you've got the transition of the title from director of IT to CIO. You've got the participation at the executive level, and you've got the reporting relationship upward in the organization. And there are more CIOs reporting to the CEO and COO than before.
HCI: And what the CIO does is more strategic than it was a few years ago?
Spooner: I couldn't configure a server if my life depended on it. And I really don't very often get down into the technical details. I get into the high-level architecture discussion and into the hot-topic issues. I rely more and more on a team with diverse skills while at the same time try to understand what the direction of the organization needs to be, and try to prod it forward in the right ways, including into the community. In the position, I've been taking on more of a community role. In fact, more of us are taking on advocacy roles. I testified at a hearing of the California state Senate Health Committee a few weeks ago, regarding California's position and progress regarding health information exchange. That wouldn't have been common a few years ago.
HCI: What do you see as the biggest challenges facing hospital and health system CIOs in the US right now? What are the biggest opportunities?