As the industry grows at a rapid pace, the demand for IT talent is increasing, creating a competitive market in which CIOs are scrambling to recruit top staff members — and prevent them from being poached. But in Nashville, Tenn., one of the many markets affected by the shortage, a group of leaders came up with a different solution: a multifaceted program focused on identifying untapped resources and working with universities to develop HIT curricula and create internships. In this interview, Mark Gilliam talks about the framework being developed by Tennessee HIMSS Workforce Initiative to help enhance the IT talent pool. He also discusses Ardent’s unique operating model, the massive effort to standardize IT, and how he leverages his past experience as both a consultant and small business owner.
- HIT workforce shortage — “It’s a problem everyone’s trying to solve”
- Lessons learned from consulting and owning a small business
- “When you buy a car, you own it.”
- No task is too small
- Advice for new CIOs
- Disconnecting from the office
- “IT really can make a difference if done correctly”
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You have to look at it both short-term and long-term, because I don’t believe it’s going away. I don’t think any of us believes this is just a temporary bump. I think this is something that’s going to be sustained for many years to come.
I look at IT as a business. We have customers. Their satisfaction and the solutions and the creativity that we come up with drive satisfaction. We have to be conscious of the money we spend and how we spend it.
When we engage organizations and our vendor partners, there’s a responsibility they have and there’s a benefit we’re going to receive through whatever we pay them for — the product or the services we get — that we internally have to own it at the end of the day.
It’s always good to see how someone else has done it. I’d rather take a good idea and get permission and copy it than to create it from scratch, because it’s a lot of wasted energy.
Regardless of how important you think you are, the company and the department will still run without you. That’s probably the biggest lesson I’ve learned over my 10 years; that you have to take time to recharge your batteries and reflect and think long-term. If not, you’ll get burned out.
Gamble: That’s what I really like about it; instead of just doing what’s being done in a lot of places and poaching people, you’re looking to expand the talent pool.
Gilliam: Right. You have to look at it both short-term and long-term, because I don’t believe it’s going away. I don’t think any of us believes this is just a temporary bump. I think this is something that’s going to be sustained for many years to come.
Gamble: I think it’s interesting too that you’re not just focusing on college students but, like you said people, in other industries who are realizing that health IT is a really dynamic field to be in and maybe they want to make the change. I think that that’s smart thinking too.
Gamble: Do you think that this is something that other HIMSS chapters might want to adopt? Depending on the success it has, this might be something you could present and help other states learn from it.
Gilliam: I think if we could get it off the ground, it would be. And there are different components of this. This isn’t necessarily something that we just created on our own, whether it’s talking to other HIMSS organizations or talking to other communities about some of the things they’re doing. So there are pieces and parts of this that we pulled together. The University of Texas has a very successful program that was developed down there, and we’ve looked at how they’ve done the accelerator program. Theirs is a little more intense — full-time, three months — and we think that’s a great model, but we felt like maybe just to get it off the ground like that it was too ambitious for us. We felt like we could solve the need by doing something a little bit more accelerated and less intense. But yeah, I think if we could get this our objective is looking at how we can deal with it statewide. We don’t have any pride and ownership here; it’s a problem everybody is trying to solve.
Gamble: All right, I’d like to switch gears a little bit and talk about your background. You came on board at Ardent in 2002. Before that, from what I’m seeing in LinkedIn, it looks like you worked in consulting and for a technology solutions provider. I wonder if you could just speak a little bit about how those experiences shaped the CIO role that you have today.
Gilliam: Yeah, that’s a good question. Prior to this for a couple of years, I ran a division of an international consulting firm; at the time it was known as IT Factory. And then prior to that for quite a few years — without going back too far — I actually had my own business and ran my own business which was a consulting integration company. We were locally based here and were primarily regional, but we had some customers that had a national presence.
Where I’ve applied that is I have a very business-focused strategy, from running my own company and growing it from a sales perspective, to operationalizing the services we provide. That’s something I bring in to how I run the IT organization; I look at IT as a business. We have customers. Their satisfaction and the solutions and the creativity that we come up with drive satisfaction. We have to be conscious of the money we spend and how we spend it appropriately. I always try to apply a business background. I think it’s because of that — running my own business and knowing how hard it is to earn a dollar and spend it wisely. So that’s one aspect of it.
The sales aspect of it is just recognizing that if you’re trying to grow a business or you’re trying to create commitments, sometimes selling big solutions requires getting a lot of people with different needs and different agendas together and getting them all aligned. So I think that background has allowed me, when we’re trying to work with a number of people that are coming up with competing initiatives and we know organizationally where we need to go, to get commitment behind that and drive accountability and ownership.
Being on the consulting side of it or on the other side of the business, it was always important to me, regardless of what type of engagement we had with some of our customers, that there had to be ownership there, and accountability on both sides. I think it’s helped me to drive the fact that when we engage organizations and our vendor partners, there’s a responsibility they have and there’s a benefit we’re going to receive through whatever we pay them for — the product or the services we get — that we internally have to own it at the end of the day. The analogy we always use is, when you go buy a car, you own it. You don’t take it back to the auto store and have them fill it up with gas for you or change the oil. You own the service and repair. So everything we do, we have to own it. I think the sales side has brought that knowledge. And then just staffing wise, when you have employees and you’re responsible for them and you have to pay for them and you pay them, I’m very conscious of just always trying to take care of our employees and set a culture for creating excellence here.
Gamble: I’m sure that heading up your own company there are a lot of lessons to be learned there, especially if it’s a smaller company. With a smaller company, I find that you really have more responsibilities and roles and it can be a really valuable experience.
Gilliam: Yeah, even though you might have the title of CEO and president on your card, behind it’s everything from sales officer to chief financial officer to operating officer to janitor and housekeeper and supply officer. There’s no sense of pride that any activity is too small for you. You have to sometimes roll your sleeves up and do what you need to do to get the job done.
Gamble: Well said. Okay, the last thing I wanted to ask you is if you have any advice for those who are either new to the CIO role or are looking to step into the role, on how to stay afloat right now when there are so many responsibilities and priorities.
Gilliam: There are probably two or three points I would give them. One, make sure you expand and build your network. I found one of the most valuable things I get is through just the network of peers I have — being able to call them or contact them or see them and get their perspective. It’s always good to see how someone else has done it. I’d rather take a good idea and get permission and copy it than to create it from scratch, because it’s a lot of wasted energy. I spend a lot of time talking to my peers about how they’re solving the same problems, and likewise, there might be problems I’ve solved that they’re looking to solve. Don’t be shy about asking for help and reaching out to your network to develop that.
So one key thing I think is picking and choosing appropriate partners and developing strong relationships with your strategic partners. There is a relationship and sometime the word ‘partners’ is misused, but I think you have to manage those relationships effectively. They can be a valuable resource for you. You’ve got to make sure it’s as level of a playing field as you can and that you understand the roles there, but have those relationships so you know what’s going on and where they’re going.
And then the third thing is that I think there’s just tremendous opportunity for continued growth. Get involved in the community that you live in and take what I call quiet time. Regardless of how important you think you are, the company and the department will still run without you. That’s probably the biggest lesson I’ve learned over my 10 years; that you have to take time to recharge your batteries and reflect and think long-term. If not, you’ll get burned out and you’ll be so short-term focused. That would be my three pearls of wisdom.
Gamble: I think that’s a great point, especially the last one. You can’t say that enough. The show is going to keep going without you, especially if it’s for a day or a week.
Gilliam: It will, regardless of what we think. The best thing I ever did was to leave the country a few years ago. My family had a bet that I wouldn’t be able to disconnect from my cell phone at that time — whatever device I was using. The fortunate thing about it was I didn’t have anything that would reach in that country and I was like an addict. They had a little Internet café, and after traveling for 24 hours, I thought, ‘I’ll go there every day and check my email.’ And I walked to the door and actually forced myself not to go in.
The interesting thing was that I spent eight days in which my family probably I feel like enjoyed me more than they ever had. And when I got back there was email to catch up on, but everything had run just as it was supposed to run, and I was just more relaxed, and I think, a better CIO than if I had stayed plugged in. So sometimes you just have to do that.
Gamble: Sure. I have heard before that the mark of a good leader is somebody who can make it so that when he or she does leave, things do keep moving. And maybe that also means that you’ve chosen good people under you and you’ve delegated enough.
Gilliam: I’ve got a lot of good people under me so yeah, this thing runs very well, because there are a lot of good, strong people I’ve been fortunate to have come on board and stay with us. I don’t know if that’s luck or good leadership.
Gamble: A little of both, right?
Gilliam: Yeah, I’ll take it as a little bit of both.
Gamble: All right, I know we’ve touched on a lot here, so I wanted to just give you the opportunity if there was anything else you wanted to talk about, either in terms of projects you’re working on or your thoughts on what’s going on in the industry. But otherwise, this has really been great.
Gilliam: I appreciate it. I think you’ve asked great questions. I think there is a lot going on in the industry and it’s a great time to be in the industry right now. It really is. It’s very stressful, but it’s a time where I think IT really can make a difference to our healthcare organizations if done correctly, and so it’s fun to be here right now.
Gamble: All right, great. Thank you so much for your time. I appreciate it.
Gilliam: Thank you. It was good to talk to you.