The Best Defense: How CIOs Can Help Protect Each Other From Landmines

Keith Perry, SVP & CIO, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital

Keith Perry, SVP & CIO, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital

Chris Belmont, VP & CIO, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

Chris Belmont, VP & CIO, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

Make no mistake. The title of the presentation may be “Avoiding CIO Minefields,” but it’s going to focus on much more than the pitfalls of being a chief information officer in today’s complex health IT environment.

“We can dwell on the challenges — there’s enough of those to fill the time slot. But we can also talk about recommendations,” says Keith Perry, one of the session’s leaders, who promises a “raw, honest conversation.” Perry, who is currently SVP and CIO at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, will be speaking with three other leaders, including his former colleague Chris Belmont, now VP and CIO at University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

The two worked together for two years at MD Anderson, where Perry held a number of roles during his 13-year tenure, most recently as deputy CIO under Belmont. It was during that time that they developed a close professional relationship; and although Perry considers Belmont to be a mentor, it was the more seasoned CIO who learned just as much from the experience.

When Belmont arrived at MD Anderson in the fall of 2013, the organization had been without a permanent CIO for several years, and had just started on the road to implementing Epic. It was a time of transition, to say the least, and he relied on Perry to help avoid landmines, and recover from the ones he stepped on. “It’s still fresh in my mind, and I think it will be valuable for others to hear about it,” he said.

A key takeaway he can share from that tumultuous time period? Reserve judgement when you’re the new leader.

“It’s natural to jump to conclusions about people, and that’s the worst thing you can do,” Belmont said. “When it comes to assessing your team, don’t make too many assumptions early on, and don’t move too quickly. Let things play out.” In doing so, he found that Perry and the other team members offered a fresh perspective — one that he was able to tap into when developing a go-forward strategy.

He also found that by not making any drastic moves right away, he was able to establish trust among his team, which comes in handy when CIOs inevitably confront obstacles like downtimes and troubled projects. During the presentation, Belmont and Perry will talk about how they’ve been able to overcome some of their most pressing challenges.

Of course, it won’t just be about righting the ship — it’ll also be about how to steer it, and how to create relationships that can help weather the storms. To Perry, that means being willing to tear down the walls and address personal issues. During a conversation about their children, Belmont told him, “There are no do-overs with family,” and urged him to make the time to attend school and sports events. “It was something I never forgot,” Perry said.

What’s just as important, according to Belmont and Perry, is being willing to reach out to colleagues across the industry when they’re in need of advice, reassurance, or just a listening ear.

“That’s one of the benefits of this fraternity we’re in. Once you build that network, we’re always there for each other,” said Belmont. “We all face the same issues every day, and so being there for each other is so valuable.”

That network also includes leaders from the vendor and consulting communities. To that end, the panel will also include Dana Sellers, CEO of Encore, A Quintiles Organization, who Perry considers to be one of the brightest minds in health IT, and Chris Wierz, RN, Principal at Witt/Kieffer, who will offer the recruiter’s perspective.

The presentation will be held Wednesday, Nov. 2 at 10 a.m.


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