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How Is Your CIO Job Changing?

January 15, 2014
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Are you spending more time as convener and mediator than technician?

When I am not writing for Healthcare Informatics, I spend my time researching stories about information technology for publications in other vertical markets, such as higher education and state and local government. I am always a little surprised when the work I am doing in one field intersects with a trend in another. That happened this week. I just put the finishing touches on a story that involved Q&As with five different university CIOs for Campus Technology magazine.

These IT execs were describing the changing nature of the CIO position on campus as higher education deals with technological disruptions the same way that other sectors such as journalism, music and book publishing have. The people I interviewed agreed that their CIO jobs were quite different than they were a few years ago. They talked about the switch from “keeping the trains running” to being seen as a change management expert. Many have delegated a lot of responsibility for day-to-day operations to a chief operating officer or deputy CIO within IT, while they worked on collaboration and strategic planning. Others are getting more involved in how technology impacts teaching and learning in the classroom and online or with using data to help with student retention.

As I talked to these CIOs, I thought it would be interesting to hear from healthcare CIOs about whether they perceive their roles as changing as much. That same day I happened to read Dr. John Halamka’s popular “Life as a Healthcare CIO” blog, in which he touched on the same topic: how much his job as CIO has changed:

Gone are the days when my role was to serve as technical expert, configuring web servers, optimizing data bases, or simplifying code.  Gone are the days when product decision-making depended on software architecture expertise to ensure scalability, reliability and security. Gone are the early wins of the "bold moves" like replacing Lotus Notes with Exchange, Novell with NT, Sybase with Microsoft SQL, and client/server with web applications.

Halamka, CIO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) in Boston, then lists a few examples of the roles he plays today:

1.  Rethinking a challenging project by ensuring all stakeholders understand the key roles/responsibilities assigned during project formation.

2.   Convening local government and provider stakeholders to agree on a single approach for public health reporting that aligns meaningful use stage 2 requirements, healthcare information exchange timelines, and affordable care act planning.  We needed consensus on scope, timing, and technical details so that local government efforts are complementary rather than competitive to the regulatory "must dos" of 2014.

3.  Presenting the BIDMC Enterprise IT strategy to senior leaders of the hospital and professional groups, so that all stakeholders understand the options, the decisions make thus far, and linkage between business requirements/IT tactics.

After listing a few other examples, he notes that in 2014, “my work role has evolved to convener, communicator, mediator, navigator, and load balancer instead of technician, architect, programmer, informatician, and clinical expert.”

That tracks very closely with what the higher ed CIOs told me. I am curious if other readers have felt this shift in the skill set required to do their jobs. If so, I would be interested in hearing a few examples in the comments section.