When it comes to partnering with vendors, there’s one thing a CIO needs to keep in mind: if it isn’t working, you must be willing to walk away. Skip Rollins has done just that, but he’s also been involved with co-development projects that have been very successful for both parties. The key, he says, is putting trust in each other. In this interview, the CIO of Freeman Health System talks about the pros and cons of partnerships, along with the major decision his team faces in selecting a core EHR vendor, one that he believes can’t be made in a vacuum, and can’t be rushed.
Rollins also opens up about his past experience in consulting and why he decided to return to the CIO world, how his organization is dealing with recruiting challenges, and why he believes continuous learning is a critical component of the health IT leader’s role.
- Working with Avante on a “fully-integrated” project management tool
- 15 years in consulting
- Coming to Freeman in 2014 — “I really liked the culture.”
- Focusing on the “bigger picture” as CISO
- Partnering with local schools to recruit talent
- “It’s all about the person and their personality.”
- Continuous learning: “If you snooze, you lose.”
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It gives us a fully-integrated task management and project management tool that allows us to do a lot of things around understanding our productivity that we could have never got in place without spending a ton of money and without forcing integration between systems.
It allows me to not have to get into the nuts and bolts of what’s going on, but instead to really look at it on a big picture scale and work with the executive leadership team around security, and it’s been good. It really folds into my CIO job pretty seamlessly.
It’s all about the person and their personality. We can teach them what we need them to know when it comes to technology, but are they a fit for the culture in this organization? And even more so, are they a fit with our culture in IT? Do they communicate well? Can they adapt to change?
We all continue to evolve ourselves, and honestly sometimes struggle to keep abreast of the technology that’s out there, the trends in the industry, and the legislative challenges. Those are all things where if you snooze, you lose, because it changes very quickly.
Gamble: What were some of the other areas where you’re doing co-development work with vendors?
Rollins: We’re doing a pilot for a new product with Philips around patient monitoring. I wouldn’t say co-development; it’s more of an early adopter pilot. So we’re doing some things with them, and we’re also doing an early adopter pilot with Mobile Heartbeat on a physician-nurse communication platform. That one is certainly a co-development effort. We’re doing a lot of work with them to try to get through that product as well.
Gamble: All right. As far as some of the other initiatives on your plate, obviously you have the big EHR decision, but is there anything else that’s a big priority for you and your team right now?
Rollins: Like everyone, we always have to put regulatory things first. We were relieved to see them back off a little bit on Meaningful Use 3. We’re also doing things with telemedicine and broadening those efforts. We’re also doing some pretty innovative things where our physicians are going out to nursing homes in our community and rounding, and a lot of technology has been applied to that problem.
One of the other co-development partners I didn’t mention before that we’ve done a ton of work with is Avante. We’re working with them to develop their project management module that will be delivered as part of their standard package in the not too distant future. That one is a true co-development where we’re partnering with them to define the pieces and parts and working with them on functionality and certain modules and things like that. It’s a very traditional co-development, where we’re helping them build a product and we’re the first adopter; the alpha testing site.
Gamble: And would you say that getting involved in these types of projects is helping to broaden your own scope as well?
Rollins: Absolutely. We were looking for a tool, and in the case of Avante, we saw the potential there and we talked to them about it. They had been talking about it as a company, and when we approached them about it, they were super receptive, and so we’ve continued to do that. What it gives us is a fully-integrated task management and project management tool that allows us to do a lot of things around understanding our productivity that we could have never got in place without spending a ton of money and without forcing integration between systems. And so we’re taking advantage of the fact that they want to get into that space and they’re taking advantage of the fact that we want to be in that space. It’s a partnership that’s worked out well for both of us.
Rollins: And that tool is going live probably in the October or November time frame this calendar year.
Gamble: Okay, so it sounds like definitely have a lot going on.
Gamble: And you’ve been with Freeman for about three years?
Rollins: Yes, I just had my three-year anniversary.
Gamble: That’s great, congratulations. Now, did you come in as the interim CIO, or how did that work?
Rollins: No, I was hired as the CIO. The previous CIO had been here for many years, and when she retired, and I came in behind her.
Gamble: And where were you previously?
Rollins: I was previously in the consulting business. I owned a small consulting firm and we did hospital and healthcare work. We did interim CIO work, strategic planning, and long term planning. I was in that business for about 15 years and got to a point where I didn’t want to travel anymore, and so I got back into the CIO business.
Gamble: What was it about that this particular organization that interested you?
Rollins: They are a family-oriented organization. When I was doing consulting, I really liked the culture in community health systems I had worked in. I was fortunate to work with several large community systems, and I always thought I would like to be in that environment when I stopped carrying a suitcase around. And when I decided I was bringing the consulting to an end, I was actually approached by a mutual acquaintance about the Freeman job. I contacted Freeman, we talked, and it seemed like a really good fit for both of us. So we made the move, and don’t regret it one bit.
Gamble: Right, and you hold the CISO role as well there?
Rollins: I do.
Gamble: I’m sure that’s not uncommon with community health systems, but how are you able to juggle both of those roles?
Rollins: I’m very fortunate to have a really strong person that works with me on the security side. So from my perspective, it’s more about strategies and bigger picture security issues. I have someone who works with me that is excellent at what he does; he’s the one who really operationalizes what we talk about. For us it’s a good marriage, because it allows me to not have to get into the nuts and bolts of what’s going on, but instead to really look at it on a big picture scale and work with the executive leadership team around security, and it’s been good. It really folds into my CIO job pretty seamlessly, and I’m able to do both things because they’re so tightly related.
Gamble: Right. One of the challenges that we hear pretty often is in building and keeping a strong team together. Has that been a challenge for you? How have you dealt with it?
Rollins: Like most community health systems, we are geographically isolated. We grow a large percentage of our folks. We hire them in lower level positions, we educate them, and we make them professionals in their respective skill area areas. Joplin, honestly, is not a destination that people want to move to. So we do attract to good talent from the outside, but it’s always someone that’s looking for a change, like I was.
We tend to partner with the schools around us and take a lot of students in as interns. We have a large percentage of our new hires come in from one of the schools that we’re working with. We let them intern here, and we have the luxury of deciding if we want to keep them. More often than not, we end up with really good employees.
Gamble: What are the qualities that matter most to you in people who you want to see advance to leadership roles?
Rollins: From my perspective, it’s all about the person and their personality. We can teach them what we need them to know when it comes to technology, but are they a fit for the culture in this organization? And even more so, are they a fit with our culture in IT? Do they communicate well? Can they adapt to change? Can they accept more responsibilities or duties as the organization shifts from one way to another? If they can do that, then they usually work out well, because from an IT perspective, it’s more about the fact that technology changes and evolves so much that you have to keep learning and evolving.
I’ve been in the business for a long time and I continue to go to seminars and attend webinars and do things like that, and that’s the thing that makes this job fun for me — it is constantly changing. And so we bring in new people, and if they fit the culture and if they fit the attitude of what we try to do here, then they usually always work out.
Gamble: Right. And I imagine all of this translates when you’re talking about higher-level positions like the CIO as well, as far as that willingness to keep learning and evolving.
Rollins: Absolutely. As a CIO, when I meet with my peers at some of the conferences, we find that we all continue to evolve ourselves, and honestly sometimes struggle to keep abreast of the technology that’s out there, the trends in the industry, and the legislative challenges. Those are all things where if you snooze, you lose, because it changes very quickly. And the last thing you want to do is get caught off-guard by something like that and get a big surprise, whether that be from a regulatory perspective or around storage technology or virtualization or whatever it is. You have to stay up to speed, or you’ll get behind really quickly.
Gamble: Right. That’s good advice, good things to keep in mind. I think that covers what I wanted to talk about for now, so I want to thank you. I appreciate your time, and I definitely would like to follow up a little bit down the road. I think we’ll have much more to talk about.
Rollins: Sure, I would love to do that.
Gamble: Thank you so much, and I look forward to speaking with you again in the future.
Rollins: All right, have a great day.
Gamble: You too.