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Live from the CHIME Fall Forum: CIOs as Change Agents Going into the Future

October 15, 2015
by Mark Hagland
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Presenting the results of a unique survey of CIOs and their non-CIO fellow executives, two healthcare IT leaders urged healthcare CIOs to embrace change
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Today’s CIOs and their fellow executives in the c-suites of hospital organizations do not always see eye to eye; but they are agreed that healthcare CIOs will need to be profound agents of change in their organizations in the next decade. That commonality was among the findings of a survey conducted by leaders at the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME), as presented on Oct. 15 by two healthcare IT leaders at the CHIME Fall Forum, currently taking place at the JW Marriott Grande Lakes Resort in Orlando, Florida.

Tim Zoph and Donna Roach, well-known healthcare IT leaders, presented the findings of a survey that began with CHIME’s board of directors a year ago, and was then deployed to 123 CIOs across the U.S., and ultimately also to some of the CEO and other c-suite-executive colleagues of those CIOs, in their same organizations. And the findings hold numerous implications for healthcare CIOs nationwide.

Zoph, who served as senior vice president and CIO at Northwestern Medicine in Chicago from 1993 through 2012, and who is now consulting in healthcare IT, and Roach, the CIO at Via Christi Health in Wichita, Kan., presented those findings during a session entitled “The Evolving Role of the CIO: Aligning CIO Perspectives with the Executive Team.”

In his opening remarks before presenting with Roach the results of the survey, Zoph said, “One of the most important learnings of this enterprise was that achieving alignment with the senior team is fundamental. If you don’t have alignment, you’re going to have problems developing strategy. Technology is a team sport.” As he and Roach explained it, the survey, which looked at the top leadership attributes that will be required of CIOs going forward in U.S. healthcare at a time of intense change, was given first to the CHIME board’s members to complete, then to the 123 CIOs, and then to a few dozen CEOs and other c-suite leaders, by their organizations’ CIOs.

Among the two most important overall findings: both CIOs and other c-suite executives agreed that one of CIOs’ core responsibilities in the next several years will be as change agents within their organizations; and, c-suite executives especially perceived—more than CIOs themselves did—that CIOs will need to be emerging technology innovators, moving their organizations forward proactively to push healthcare forward via technology, and not simply fulfilling the required operational tasks that have been theirs throughout the history of healthcare IT in patient care organizations.

After the session, Zoph told Healthcare Informatics that “It was really interesting to compare and contrast those two results. On the one hand, both CIOs and other c-suite executives agreed that CIOs need to be change agents; on the other hand, the non-CIOs had a heightened awareness of the need for CIOs to be real technology innovators, to really proactively lead through technology.”

In his introductory remarks in the session, Zoph laid out the top leadership attributes included in the survey. They were: change management (the ability to manage, lead and achieve results in a scontantly shifting healthcare environment); talent management (the capability to acquire and mentor the requisite talent needed to make patient care organizations successful going into the future); senior management leadership (CIOs becoming true partners with other c-suite executives as leaders of their overall organizations); knowledge management and analytics (deploying technologies to continuously improve clinical and operational performance); emerging technology and innovation (as stated above, the capability of CIOs to become true leaders in proactively pushing their organizations to adopt technologies that will transform healthcare); and operational management (achieving ongoing high levels of reliability in day-to-day operations).

Commenting on the survey results, in which change management topped the list of most important attributes, among both CIOs and non-CIOs, Roach noted that “When you talk about change management, it’s not the change management we typically engage in, in IT: [non-CIO] leaders are really looking for the CIO to be a change agent, creating strong personal networks, and making sure those networks are used effectively, including knowing if someone is a resister or fence-sitter in an organization. But also, how you might be bridging the gap between the clinical folks and others in the organization? This was clearly, in all the dialogue, the one thing where leaders felt the CIO really needs to step up to the plate.”

With regard to the concept of senior management leadership, she said, “This is the one that got tied for second. There’s alignment” between CIOs and non-CIOs on the importance of senior management leadership attributes among CIOs, she said. “But here’s what they [the non-CIO executives] said: they want a strong collaborator with others, and they’re looking for somebody who has the skill set of the CEO, including being able to attract diverse ideas and model collaboration. And collaboration is great, but if all it does is create debate, that’s not good enough. They want someone with a strong hand in making people accountable. They also felt it was very important fo the CIO to have this ability to reach across the table with other members of the executive team and create that collaboration. They expect that out of us.”

Zoph noted that “The healthcare industry is accelerating its pace of change. It feels very frenetic today, but it’s going to be even more frenetic. There are a lot of forces for change, including organizational consolidation, consumerism, precision medicine, regulatory developments, and payment model changes.” Meanwhile, he said, “The new digital economy is fundamentally affecting all industries. Technology now has gone from this adoption-of-infrastructure phase to one of value, integration, and connectedness. Healthcare is not alone: every industrialized industry is going through the same thing. Technology will be not just an enabler, but also a disrupter.”

What will be required, Zoph added, will be “CIOs 3.0.” “The leadership attributes of CIOs will need to continue to evolve. And we have to accept the fact that the way we’ve all been trained and mentored may well have been fine for the time, but that [those ideas] may not take us into the future.”

Finally, he said, the growing realization on the part both of non-CIOs and CIOs that CIOs will need fundamentally to become major change agents in their organizations, will present CIOs with major challenges as professionals and leaders in the healthcare industry. But there’s no going back. Speaking of the assets that leaders have at their disposal in times of great change, he said, “In times of discontinuity, you have a few things that protect you: one is strategy; the others are resources and talent. Making sure you have the right talent, and that talent has a clear understanding of their roles going into the future,” will be absolutely essential for organizational—and professional—survival, he said. “We don’t know exactly what things will look like in 2020, but we can tell you that the pace of change will only accelerate.”





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