Many times, it’s one key insight that allows all our future plans to be crafted with confidence. For Greg Kall, the insight was that no matter how many of his systems were based on the same platform, there would always be a foreign one to connect with. Based on that assumption, Kall rejected the rip and replace road many of his colleagues are going down, opting instead for connectivity and a march toward as much “sameness” as possible. To learn more about Kall’s health system and the challenges that come with connecting up community docs, healthsystemCIO.com recently caught up with the Ohio-based executive.
- On leadership
- Governance challenges
- Work/life balance and personal interests
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I have to kind of reinvent my organization every couple of years as our business model in the community changes …
I can get out in the middle of the park on a trail somewhere and forget about the press of day-to-day activities. A CIO is always on call, and so it’s really nice to be able to get away and decompress.
Guerra: I’d like to talk a little bit about leadership. Maybe you could just give us an overview of your IT department. How many people you have, and then how many people directly report to you?
Kall: I have about 160 people who work in our IT shop. We’re organized pretty traditionally in the sense that I have my core departments of integration and project management, I have an infrastructure department, customer support, information security and application support. I break application support into two different domains, administrative systems and clinical systems.
But another thing that I do here – and it’s really to be sensitive to Summa Health System’s overall business model – we have wholly owned facilities that, again, can adapt to that corporate model pretty well, but we also have a number of joint ventures. I have a med/surg hospital that’s a 60/40 joint venture with a group of physicians. I mentioned earlier our orthopedic hospital that is a 50/50 joint venture with a group of physicians. We have affiliations and we have some smaller joint ventures for things like rehab hospitals and the like. So my organization has to be sensitive to the business model that comprise the entities of Summa Health System.
For example, the Crystal Clinic Orthopedic Center, we’re a 50/50 joint venture partner with that orthopedic group. They have their own IT shop, but the CIO for the joint venture is part of my office of the CIO, so he’s part of my senior IT leadership group. He doesn’t report to me and yet we work very closely together. I’ve built an organization that has your traditional corporate type functions from an IT perspective, but I’ve also have created an office of a CIO that engages the members of the bigger community of Summa Health System from a leadership perspective, and we set policy, we set direction, strategic plan. We work together, particularly on issues such as the connected community. How can we make sure that our systems can continue to communicate with one another? We try to leverage, as much as we can, vendor relationships, we try to standardize our security policies and our security measures across the wider subset because we’re close to one another, and we want to ensure that we have commonality for some core infrastructure things. So it’s an interesting model, and I have to kind of reinvent my organization every couple of years as our business model in the community changes, and it’s pretty engaging. It’s a lot of fun from that perspective.
Guerra: When you have that kind of a model you referenced, where you have an individual, the CIO of that group who is in your leadership team but doesn’t report to you, it sounds like it’s very important that the two of you get along on a professional, but also a personal/professional basis because, if you didn’t, you don’t have much sway over that individual.
Kall: Yes and you know, that’s when the skills of communication and creating personal relationships with people become very important. We have an objective to improve the health status of the community, and we have objectives within IT that will help us get there, and we all need to work together to achieve that goal and, yet, you don’t have your typical command and control structure from a management perspective, and you still have to get stuff done. You run into problems when you’re trying to deploy a standard across the health system, right, whether it’s a network standard or even what kind of email systems you use, or what kind of security infrastructure you’re going to put in place. You’ve got to negotiate your way through it. You’ve got to figure it out, you’ve got to put the facts on the table, you have to have open, honest discussions with people and reach a conclusion.
Guerra: It really is the same, even if there is a direct line instead of some sort of dotted line or no line, because every CIO I speak with talks about the fact that getting things done is a negotiation, even if they’re employees. You don’t steamroll a clinical department, you steamroll a physician, even if they’re employed.
Kall: Correct. Yes, you’re right. You’re right.
Guerra: Very interesting. A few more minutes here; we like to have some personal conversation, talk about some of your interests and, man, did I find some good stuff about you. (laughing)
Kall: Oh boy. (laughing)
Guerra: Sometimes I don’t find anything but boy you… (laughing)
Kall: I have too much of an internet presence, huh? (laughing)
Guerra: I tell you. Let’s start with the easy stuff first before I really embarrass you. You are a board member at the Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park?
Guerra: Now, it’s critical in a position such as a CIO in healthcare, where it can be extremely stressful and all encompassing, and it could eat up every minute of every day of your life, to have these outside interests and to embrace them and engage with them as a means of relaxing and then being reenergized. With that in mind, tell me about your work at the Conservancy.
Kall: We are blessed here in Northeast Ohio to have the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. It is kind of a jewel here in this area, and I’m fortunate enough to serve as a board member for the Conservancy. Our role is really to promote the use of the park and educate people about the natural resources that exist within the park, and we actually have an education center where we bring grade school and high school kids through a week-long residency program to teach them about their natural surroundings. My wife and I are avid hikers and runners. I live within running distance of the park, so we love participating in the park and using that natural resource. So it was a natural connection for me to get involved with the Conservancy, and it really does fill that gap — I can get out in the middle of the park on a trail somewhere and forget about the press of day-to-day activities. A CIO is always on call, and so it’s really nice to be able to get away and decompress.
Guerra: Seems like many CIOs are into nature — I guess it’s important to get away from the computer.
Kall: Absolutely. I think you need a balance in your life. I’ve always been a guy who’s enjoyed nature and loved to be outside and, if I wasn’t a CIO, I might be a landscaper you know because I just enjoy being outside so much and being a part of nature. I love doing yard work and taking care of my garden and things like that at home. I grew up as a Boy Scout and really got a deep connection to nature as I was growing up, and it’s always been a place where I can kind of retreat and can get back to basics, because you can get all wrapped up in the complexity of technology.
Guerra: I’m glad you mentioned the Boy Scout thing because I see that you were an Eagle Scout in 1974?
Kall: Yes, sir.
Guerra: Was that an award? I know that’s an attaining a position or a level but is that an award of some sort that you won?
Kall: It is the highest rank that you can make in Boy Scouts and very few kids who start in Boy Scouts actually get to the rank of Eagle Scout. I was fortunate enough to have a great troop and a father who helped me along, and I subsequently became an adult leader myself and I was an adult leader for my kids’ Boy Scout troop for about seven years. Both of my boys made Eagle Scout as well, so it’s a great honor to make it through that program and to get the highest rank. It just teaches you a lot about how to take care of yourself, how to appreciate nature and it does teach you a little bit about structure and responsibility. It’s been a good experience for my family.
Guerra: We’re not finished here, you also run a website devoted, and I’m sure I’m going to mispronounce it here, to the Cavachon dog breed?
Kall: Yes. Actually, it’s Cavachon. There’s a story behind it. We actually run two websites, Outer Space Universe and Cavachon Cove. My younger son is a website developer, search engine optimization guy and, over the years, he and I talk about the internet and how things work on the web and, as a fad experiment, as a way of trying to understand how things work, we launched two websites. We happen to have a Cavachon, a four-year-old Cavachon, which is a mixed breed. It’s half Bichon Frise and half Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. They’re fantastic dogs and the star of the site is Kasey, our dog. It’s interesting because my wife started blogging about Kasey’s activities, and we have reached a very focused audience around the world of people who are interested in this breed, and they send us pictures of their dogs and we post them. Of course, my son and I try to optimize search hits for Cavachon and it’s just been fun to see how it’s grown. It maybe does 5,000 hits a month, but it’s been a lot of fun to see how you can create an online community of likeminded people.
Guerra: I may have gotten you one more reader because I sent the link to my mother who’s a dog enthusiast. (laughing)
Kall: Thank you. I appreciate that, Anthony. We can use all the readers we can get. (laughing)
Guerra: You’re very welcome. You’re very welcome. I was going to touch on Outerspaceuniverse.org. Do you do much with that? Do you post on there often?
Kall: Yes. I’ve always had a love of the solar system, the universe, and just maybe it’s one of those nerdy things, I don’t know, but we wanted to create a place where we could just talk about current events in astronomy, as well as kind of some of our own musings, both my son and I, around the cosmos. Plus, I do some astrophotography and I’ve always been involved in photography, and so I wanted an outlet to post some of my own pictures. We created that site.
It’s been interesting watching that one grow as well. We see about 250,000 visits a year on that site and that again has some crazy worldwide reach, and we’ll just see where it goes. It’s fun because I get to write about stuff that interests me, and I put my own spin on it, things that are happening in astronomy and sometimes it resonates with people, sometimes it doesn’t, but at least it’s a chance for me to learn something new and write about it a little bit, so that’s another outlet for me. It gets me away from this technology stuff.
Guerra: I’ve got a project for your son – Find out how many people read both sites. (laughing)
Kall: That would be interesting. Probably not too many I’m guessing. (laughing)
Guerra: I bet those would be folks you’d want to stand next to a party. (laughing)
Kall: Yes, exactly. That would be a lot of fun. You can have some good conversations.
Guerra: That’s right. I want to thank you for letting me go into those personal areas because we really enjoy it. It helps make these interviews enjoyable, and we’re all people first before we get into the office, right?
Kall: So true.
Guerra: So why not include some of it? Is there anything else you want to touch on before I let you go?
Kall: I don’t think so, Anthony. I’ve enjoyed our conversation, and I appreciate the opportunity to talk about the things that we’re doing here at Summa.
Guerra: Very good, Greg. I hope to talk to you soon and you have a wonderful day.
Kall: You take care. Thank you very much.