IN THE LAST FIVE years healthcare CIOs have only to turn around and their job’s changed. Forget taking the enterprise from mainframes to network computing, now they’re in there with the CEO evaluating strategic plans for proposed mergers.
What’s happened? Simply put, the strategic value of information technology in the business of healthcare has been discovered. And willingly or not, CIOs are moving out of the computer room and into the board room and executive suites.
In the aftermath of managed care with its emphasis on cost/benefit analyses of healthcare services, IT is the last frontier for healthcare organizations to wring more efficiencies from their business. And IT may be the single most important tool they have to advance their organizations, through innovations like the Web, telemedicine, telephony, etc. Smart CEOs have gotten closer to their CIOs in the last five years; some of the most advanced and successful healthcare organizations in America are the ones whose CEOs and CIOs are joined at the hip.
And the trend continues. In a survey of healthcare IS executives conducted last fall by the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME), more than 70 percent of the respondents with CIO in their job titles said they’re now members of the executive cabinet. More than half attend board meetings, and 80 percent consider their role to be strategic as well as operational. They declared strategic planning, following only leadership ability, as the top skills CIOs should possess.
Because of this increasing strategic importance for IT, the pressure’s on the systems people more than ever before to work miracles. They’re expected to fix what was wrong with previous systems (which they may have had nothing to do with) and get new ones in place that don’t cost much; get up and running fast, glitchlessly and without disruption; and that everyone who uses them will love. When this doesn’t happen (it never does), they can find themselves in flames--sacrificed to criminally delusional expectations of what IT can do.
So CIOs mustget and keep a seat at the executive table. To secure the budgets for IT they must be considered part of the enterprise’s solution--and be understood. This requires skills and attributes that managers who’ve risen through the technology ranks didn’t necessarily need--and may not have. But unless they develop these executive communication skills, they will either be passed over for promotion or will fail to raise information technology to the institutional significance it requires. No one knows better the consequences of such failure than Oxford Health Plans. As Oxford so recently demonstrated, as IT goes, so goes the enterprise.
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