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A Time to Shine

January 31, 2011
by Jennifer Prestigiacomo
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With CIOs Focused on Broad Strategies, CTOs are Emerging as Day-To-Day Nexus Executives in It

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

In many larger organizations, the day-to-day challenges of information technology have fallen increasingly on the chief technology officer, as the CIO's role becomes almost entirely about broader strategic development. What is it that CTOs are adding to these health systems as they begin their march toward meaningful use? And how have successful organizations learned to optimize the CTO role?

Parkland Hospital & Health System CTO Alan Greenslade reviews drawings for wireless coverage for a real-time locating system with Bob Saine, senior IT project manager
Parkland Hospital & Health System

Parkland Hospital & Health System CTO Alan Greenslade reviews drawings for wireless coverage for a real-time locating system with Bob Saine, senior IT project manager

As health systems increase in size and strides toward meaningful use are being taken, the landscape is primed for the chief technology officer (CTO) to step in and take the reins of day-to-day IT operations. The emergence of the CTO role in healthcare is a rather new development, but those in the industry say that CTOs will be integral to coordinating an enterprise-wide approach to technology infrastructure in today's complex healthcare delivery environment.

ENTERPRISE TECHNOLOGISTS

Linda Hodges
Linda Hodges

As a formal role, the CTO title is relatively young, and the CTO him- or herself represents a rather new breed of strategic animal, only coming into existence in the past decade and a half. His native environment has most often been other sectors, such as high-tech, computer, and research organizations; production companies; service providers; and government agencies. The healthcare CTO is now generally found in larger multi-campus health organizations, and has the important role of unifying all technology across the enterprise and creating strategies with regard to data storage, disaster recovery, data sustainability, and infrastructure scalability.

WE WILL STEP BACK AND LOOK AT THAT REQUEST AND SEE HOW IT FITS ACROSS THE ENTERPRISE; AND IF WE DON'T LOOK AT THAT NOW, THEN I AM GOING TO END UP RE-ARCHITECTING THAT SIX MONTHS FROM NOW OR GET A WHOLE NEW SOLUTION.-ALAN GREENSLADE

Chris Wierz
Chris Wierz

Most importantly, as the CIO in most larger organizations has seen his or her role shift almost entirely to broad strategic planning, the CTO in many patient care organizations is now the person in charge of day-to-day operational management. Over time, the CTO has made his way up the food chain to become an executive member of the CIO cabinet, along with other informatics executives, including the chief medical information officer (CMIO), the chief nursing informatics officer (CNIO), and the chief pharmacy informaticist. “I think that [the CTO] role is also someone who is, if it's the right fit, a good advisor to the CIO,” according to Chris Wierz, R.N., a consultant at the Oak Brook, Ill.-based healthcare executive search firm Witt Kieffer. “CIOs rely on CTOs to catch them if they make a mistake, and keep them updated with the latest technology.”

While the CIO sets the strategy for information systems in the organization, the CTO's focus is on the nuts and bolts of the IT closet-the hardware and software-and on developing a strategy to link all the technological infrastructure, says Linda Hodges, senior vice president, information technology practice leader at Witt Kieffer.

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