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One-on-One with Cooper University Hospital VP/CIO Mike Sinno, Part I

August 25, 2009
by root
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CTOs can form valuable strategic partnerships with CIOs by demonstrating both technical and business expertise, says Sinno.

Cooper University Hospital is a 542-bed teaching hospital located in Camden, N.J. It is Southern New Jersey’s major tertiary-care referral hospital for specialized services, and includes the Level I Southern New Jersey Regional Trauma Center; the Cooper Cancer Institute, the Cooper Heart Institute, the Cooper Bone & Joint Institute, the Cooper Neurosciences Institute and critical care medicine. In June, Cooper University Hospital announced it was partnering with Rowan University to form a new, four-year allopathic medical school in Camden (it will be known as Cooper Medical School of Rowan University). Recently, HCI Associate Editor Kate Gamble spoke with Mike Sinno about his rise from network manager to CIO, the importance of the CIO-CTO relationship, and his plans for the organization.

KG: Let’s talk about your background. Where are you from originally?

MS: I grew up in Philadelphia and went to high school in Washington Township. I went into the Air Force after high school, and had 10 years military between active duty and Pennsylvania Air National Guard.


KG: And before you started at Cooper in 2002, you were on the vendor side?

MS: Yes. In between the Air National Guard and coming to Cooper, I worked as a consultant in an infrastructure consulting group called Digicon out of Rockville, Md., doing primarily systems replacements.


KG: What made you decide to go to the hospital side? Was it something you always wanted to do?

MS: No, actually. When I moved down to Maryland, my fiancé and I got married and decided to start a family. Once my wife became pregnant, we started looking to move back to South Jersey — both of our families are from this area. So I worked out of the house for about nine months for Digicom, still in a project manager-principle network engineer capacity, and eventually wound up at Cooper.


KG: And what was the position you were hired for?

MS: Manager of networking. It wasn’t anything really specific to healthcare; it was just close to the house and it looked like a good career opportunity. And seven and a half years later, I’m still here. It turned out to be a really good decision.


KG: How were you able to rise to the CIO post in that amount of time? Did it coincide with a time period in which the organization was rapidly expanding its IT systems, or was it a matter of you just being able to quickly build your skills and move up?

MS: It was a combination of both. I was hired as somewhat of a transitional manager to turn IT around, and I was able to demonstrate the ability to do so in a quick amount of time. Within the first nine months, I went from six direct reports to 25. So I took on a much broader role than what I was originally hired to do. And from there, I progressed from the manager capacity to director, and eventually senior director and chief technology officer (CTO), which did not have an incumbent.


KG: It was a position that was created for you?

MS: Yes. I was able to demonstrate the value of what a CTO could provide to an organization, outside of the CIO function. That was a year ago, and then in the last year, it was a matter of circumstance with the previous CIO leaving for a COO opportunity, and me just basically putting my hat in the ring to lead all of IT, as opposed to just the technical function.


KG: So how do you think having that CTO experience will shape your role as CIO?

MS: Well, one of the things I had to overcome was being perceived as the technical expert, and that’s traditionally what a CTO provides. It took some time to demonstrate that yes, I do have the technical background, but the real value that I brought to the organization was the business acumen, and not so much the technical skill set. So that translates more into a CIO capacity than the CTO.

However, it allows me to see things from both perspectives — the technical as well as the business. And I think it demonstrates to the organization the value of the CTO position; that someone can make a successful transition from one position to the other. So the potential for my eventual replacement as CIO could come from the CTO rank.


KG: That’s very interesting. As hospitals become more wired, it seems like the relationship between the CIO and CTO will become more important.

MS: Absolutely. I look at it as a strategic partnership between the two. What I need to learn to do is let go of the technical side of things and trust the CTO to take that on, in order for me to be successful in fulfilling the function of the CIO. I look at them as equals as opposed to a CTO reporting to the CIO, even though on paper that’s how it is logically laid out. I think one provides just as much value as the other.