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Hi Mr. CIO, do you have some time to talk about your IT disaster?

September 22, 2009
by kate
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Speaking to a CIO whose organization recently made headlines with an unplanned downtime is like a box of chocolates — you never know what you’re going to get.

A few weeks ago, while researching for an article on the importance of server reliability, I received a very interesting (and timely) e-mail from my editor, Anthony Guerra. Fletcher Allen Health Care, an organization based in Burlington, Vt., had experienced a power outage that rendered its EMR unavailable for several hours. I thought it would tie in perfectly with the story, so I reached out to Senior VP and CIO Chuck Podesta.

My expectations were pretty low; I’d never spoken with him before, and this was the type of situation where it certainly would have been beneficial to already have an established rapport with him. And I was a bit gun-shy, seeing as I’ve experienced some hospitals with media/PR departments who guard executives like pit bulls, not even allowing participation in articles that portray the organization in a positive light.

So you can imagine my surprise when Chuck e-mailed me back saying he would be happy to speak with me. Not only that, but he did it without asking to see questions beforehand, and without having “silent participants” waiting to pounce on any topics they deemed off-limits.

I still wasn’t sure what to expect, but when it came time for the interview, he was honest, genuine and really pleasant to speak with. It was one of the most candid interviews I’ve ever had. But what really impressed me is that Chuck could have easily ignored my request and maybe issued a press release about the outage, but instead, he took the time to explain what happened and how the organization is working to prevent it from occurring again. Mostly, he wanted other CIOs to learn from Fletcher Allen’s experience (look for the article in the October 2009 issue).

It reminded me of when I worked as a sports reporter in Pennsylvania. It was easy to solicit a few post-game quotes from the winning coach, but getting a sound bite from the losing team’s coach was often like pulling teeth — if not a lost cause altogether.

And while maybe it’s not fair to compare a high school coach to the CIO of a 562-bed hospital, the point is that to me, being a great leader isn’t just about guiding a team through successful endeavors. It’s also about steering the ship through rough waters and being willing to talk about what went wrong.

That’s the type of person I want in charge.

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