Most would agree that in order to be successful, CIOs need to have true partnerships with their vendors — where there is some dissent is what that actually entails. To Joey Sudomir, it means being providing constructive feedback while also being honest about what the organization can commit to. In this interview, he talks about his team’s strategy in rolling out Epic across the system, the population health partnership that could be a game-changer, and the principles that guide him in his role. Sudomir also discusses the challenge in knowing when to accelerate and when to brake — particularly when leading a large organization, and what qualities he values most in staff members.
- Vendor management — “I’m very honest and open.”
- Removing the “emotional connection”
- Pros & cons of being promoted from within
- THR’s “strong culture”
- His “incredible opportunity” with Tenet & Perot
- Value of a “broad exposure” to healthcare
- Keeping pace during “high energy” times — “If you keep asking people to sprint, they burn out.”
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The deeper the relationship you form with somebody, the harder it can be to have difficult conversations. And so we try to keep a fine line of making sure we’re producing a win-win for both organizations and being upfront and honest, but at the same time, making sure they understand that the primary organization we serve is Texas Health.
All of the executive leaders I work with really made that transition mentally for me. It was almost as if we just kept moving along, and I credit that to our organizational culture, our leadership philosophy from the top down.
My exposure was broad, and it helped me to be comfortable discussing everything from the risk and execution associated with the data center migration, to consumerism and how getting onto one system can help our digital capability and help meet consumer needs. Without that broad range of experience, I’m not sure I would be as ready to handle that wide-sweeping set of conversations.
We have to be smart about where we’re asking people to expend their efforts, because you can’t keep a sprinter’s pace for a marathon, that’s for sure. But you have to understand that there are certain portions of the race where you have to kick it into high gear, and more importantly, portions of the race that require energy conservation.
Gamble: I wanted to talk about your strategy for building and maintaining a strong relationship with vendors and making sure the organization is getting what you need out of the contract.
Sudomir: Yes. And not to sound like a broken record, but my approach to vendors is based on those same foundations. I’m very honest and open with vendors. There is a fine line that has to be formed to where you recognize this can’t be for the long term a one-sided relationship, either way. It’s going to sound cliché, but it has to be win-win for both parties.
At the same time, I think it’s important that we have to remove emotional connection from any of those discussions. Mine and my team’s first responsibility is to Texas Health Resources. We form close relationships with vendors, and as you know, the deeper the relationship you form with somebody, the harder it can be to have difficult conversations. And so we try to keep a fine line of making sure we’re producing a win-win for both organizations and being upfront and honest, but at the same time, making sure that they understand that the primary organization we serve is Texas Health Resources and not whatever goods or services the vendor is selling.
Gamble: Right. It’s a tricky balance, I’m sure.
Sudomir: True, but we’ve got great long-term partners. I’ve found that they appreciate that honesty and transparency. My team tries really hard not to put our immediate vendor contact in situations where their credibility is ruined. I’ve been in situations before — and created them — where we tell the vendor all along, ‘yes, we’re going to do this, and then pull the rug out, so to speak. We don’t want that to be the situation. We want to be very honest with our vendors about where we’re thinking about committing our financial resources, what our roadmap is, and from the early onset, the likelihood that we are to invest in any given technology or system.
Gamble: That makes sense. I’m sure the vendors appreciate that honesty and it helps them to create a better product.
Sudomir: I believe so. We try to give open and honest feedback about where things are working for us and where they’re not working, and at the same time, going back to that win-win mantra. You can’t just constantly be on vendors, because then it becomes a drum that just gets pounded out, and so we try to be very strategic in our conversations about what’s working and what’s not. Obviously, there are situations where an immediate escalation is appropriate in a downtime-type scenario or whatever it may be. But for the most part, if we can plan out those conversations about what things are working and what things aren’t, it really builds a much more spirited and collaborative discussion about how the relationship can be strengthened.
Gamble: You mentioned before you’ve been with the organization for nine years in different roles. I would guess having some of those different roles and working with different people has helped shape how you approach your role now. Is that the case?
Sudomir: I think so. There are pluses and minuses to being an internal candidate. The obvious is that your ramp-up time is much quicker — and the expectations are that it would be much quicker, as they should be. The relationships in many cases are formed, although you have to remold some those relationships from the perspective of your new role.
Gamble: Was that a difficult thing to adjust to, knowing the same people but having a different relationship?
Sudomir: In my situation it wasn’t, and I don’t think that’s because I did anything special. I think we are incredibly blessed at Texas Health to have a very strong culture. All of the executive leaders I work with really made that transition mentally for me. It was almost as if we just kept moving along, and I credit that to our organizational culture, our leadership philosophy from the top down. I report to CEO Barclay Berdan, who has long-established himself as somebody who’s very big on growing and promoting internally, which obviously is something I’m grateful for. When you create that kind of culture in an organization, people learn to adjust to internal individuals in new roles very quickly, which is very helpful.
Gamble: Prior to Texas Health, you were working with Perot doing interim roles. How did that work?
Sudomir: Yes, most of my career was spent with Perot Systems in the healthcare outsourcing group. As part of that, my client was Tenet Healthcare, and so I spent the better part of my career working with Tenet. Because of the nature of the relationship with Perot and Tenet, I was very fortunate to have served in a variety of different capacities which, quite candidly, gave me a large volume of exposure in a very compressed time frame that in most careers would’ve taken more time, just because in a traditional role, you don’t tend to float to different areas so much. It was an incredible opportunity for me to work with both organizations, and I’m very grateful for the variety of opportunities that I was given.
Gamble: Does having that experience under your belt impact the way you approach some situations?
Sudomir: Absolutely. The broader any of our individual perspectives are as we face a given situation or decision, the more we have to pull from the experience bank as to what worked and didn’t work. Having that rapid-fire exposure to different areas really helped to round out my perspective.
Traditionally, people in my role come up through one track. They may have had a deep technology background. They may have had a deep applications background. They may have been a business leader who gets technology. But I feel very grateful that my exposure was broad, and so it helped me to be comfortable discussing everything from the risk and execution associated with the data center migration, to consumerism and how getting onto one system can help our digital capability and help meet consumer needs. Without that broad range of experience, I’m not sure I would be as ready to handle that wide-sweeping set of conversations.
Gamble: Now, we talked a little bit before about some of the challenges of being part of a large organization, but what do you feel are the biggest benefits?
Sudomir: First and foremost, it’s just the opportunity to impact more lives. Although we don’t directly touch patients, there’s a different purpose we all have being part of health care, and so just knowing how broad of a community impact we can have is a fantastic built-in advantage.
From a more tactical level, obviously the larger you grow, the more your economies of scale grow, and so some of the challenges that are faced by a rural hospital or even a smaller health system when you think about large scale initiatives like an Epic or like a data center cost, your economies of scale are whittled. It becomes a little more difficult of a value proposition to manage, and so as we execute at that tactical level, we try really hard to take advantage of those economies of scale.
Gamble: The last thing I wanted to touch on was work-life balance, something that’s also mentioned a lot as a challenge for CIOs, and just wanted to get your take on how you can try to maintain some balance and how maybe being a parent affects that.
Sudomir: It’s a challenge, for sure, that we all face. In our industry we’re always busy, but there are certainly peaks and valleys of high energy. For example, right now our organization is definitely at a peak of high energy. What I’m trying to do is ensure that we keep people focused on those priorities and some of the operational improvements for the view we take on the data we get back on how we’re performing. We have to be smart about where we’re asking people to expend their efforts, because you can’t keep a sprinter’s pace for a marathon, that’s for sure. But you have to understand that there are certain portions of the race where you have to kick it into high gear, and more importantly, you have to recognize the portions of the race that require some energy conservation. I feel it’s my leaders’ responsibility to help meter that pacing for our group so that they can achieve the greatest balance at home and work when you take the long term view of things.
Gamble: Certainly not an easy one. It’s become more of a focus with CHIME, which I’m really glad to see, because I think people need those bits of wisdom, but they also need to be given permission to not check the phone sometimes or to be part of their children’s activities and things like that.
Sudomir: Absolutely. In any organization that starts with leadership, because if you have leaders who aren’t figuring out how to use those pacing moments in the race to allow everybody to collect their breath and recharge and refuel and devote time to their family, it makes it difficult. Eventually, if you keep asking people to sprint, they burn out, which is not good for anybody involved. Family is of utmost importance to me, and so I try to respect that with everybody in the organization.
The other key component, at least for us, is we have tremendous leadership in our IT department. We work really hard to make sure everybody understands what they’re responsible for and accountable for so that the lifting, so to speak, is spread evenly and we don’t have anybody who is lifting more than they should in the vein of getting things done, but instead, growing others to help everybody lift to their accountability. That’s really important too.
Gamble: Right. Well, I know we’ve covered a lot. I want to thank you so much for your time. I think it’s going to be really interesting for our readers and listeners to hear about what you guys have going on and also about the philosophy that guides your organization. Thank you so much.
Sudomir: You’re welcome, Kate. Anytime.
Gamble: Sure, and I hope to talk with you again down the road.
Sudomir: Okay, sounds good.