As Vi Shaffer of Gartner said in her Fall 2012 CHIME keynote, “The ‘I’ in CIOs of the future stands for analytics.”
All of us quietly yearn to be heroes, and CIOs are no exception. We want to harness the power of information technology to dramatically improve healthcare quality and costs. Despite their privileged position atop the IT food chain, though, only a handful of healthcare CIOs ever get to realize this dream.
Why? Simply put, CIOs never own both the data content and application layers of any meaningful technology at the business transformation level. With rare exceptions, the CIO’s role in any enterprise-wide technology implementation is second chair to leaders in other verticals. The CEO, along with HR, owns the enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. Clinicians ultimately own the EHR. CFOs own revenue cycle and general ledger. CIOs own email. In every case, the institutional power of the vertical most affected by the technology tends to lead its implementation.
Which is why the Enterprise Data Warehouse (EDW) represents a CIO’s last chance to be a transformational hero in healthcare. I’ve been a CIO for 22 years of my 30-year career, with a good track record in a variety of areas in that role. But the one area that is consistently recognized as the most valuable to the organizations that I served is my leadership of the EDW and analytics strategy.
Unlike other enterprise-wide applications, the EDW crosses all verticals but fits comfortably within none. It draws data from multiple source applications serving multiple verticals, including the EHR, ERP, revenue cycle, performance management and patient satisfaction applications. It empowers leaders in virtually every vertical, from clinical to quality to finance. And due to its highly technical nature, the EDW is one application that few outside of IT will have skills or interest in understanding. It fits the data-driven, nuts-and-bolts details personality of a CIO like a (sensor-laden, wearable computing) glove.
For a CIO who is up to the challenge, the EDW is a good thing to own. It’s that rare opportunity to be involved at both the application and data content layers in a transformative way. Through the EDW, a CIO can truly manage the data needs of everyone in an organization rather than one vertical at a time. Drawing financial, clinical, operational and patient experience data from isolated silos across the network, the EDW integrates and combines data, making it, ultimately actionable by the organization. No one is better suited to this task than the CIO — the technology specialist and the business generalist in the organization.
The Three Types of CIO
A CIO’s odds of becoming an analytic hero are deeply affected by his or her capabilities, leadership style, affinity for technology, and the culture of the organization. There are three basic types of CIOs that I’ve witnessed, both in others and in myself: the Technologist, the MBA, and the Integrator.
The Technologist: This first mode of CIO leadership describes someone whose primary interest is infrastructure technology. In the IT stack, they are naturally attracted to the layers below the application and data content layers, focusing on data centers, networks, operating systems, storage, servers, security, desktops, and smartphones. Although CIOs who are skilled in this area can bring great value to their organization, they are not often included in the circle of strategic decision-making with the rest of the C-suite.
The MBA: These CIOs see themselves more as business leaders than technologists, and they typically lack a deep IT background. They are attracted more to the upper layers of the technology stack, where the software and data meet the vertical business and clinical users. They play a more significant role as a member of the C-level suite. The downside of this type of CIO is that they are challenged when working their way down into the technology stack, just as Technologists are challenged working their way up in the stack. The MBA can get into trouble by under-managing the importance of a solid and affordable technology infrastructure. They often spend too much or too little on infrastructure, either of which can have dangerous consequences. More often than not, I see CIOs in this category overspend on the infrastructure layers and throw money at misplaced risk management, because they know no better.
The Integrator: The third type of CIO can move up and down the layers of the IT stack with ease. These are the rare veterans that many of us aspire to be. They can talk to the CMO, CMIO, or CNO and understand the organization’s needs at the application and data content levels, both in the near- and long-term. The Integrator also understands the capabilities and possibilities of technology, and can work with vendors to help bridge any gaps. Because of their mastery of both the data content and application layers, Integrator CIOs can make a huge contribution to the leadership of a healthcare organization. They sit at the executive table and are highly respected in the C-level suite.
Probably fewer than 5 percent of CIOs fall into this last category — largely because the culture of healthcare doesn’t yet recognize that ours is fundamentally an information-enabled industry. As a result, many CIOs who are capable of becoming Integrators never get the chance because their executive teams simply can’t envision a CIO contributing to the strategic decisions and value of the company. There’s no seat at the executive table — even if the CIO is capable of sitting in it.
For CIOs who have the skills, attraction, and aspiration to join this elite group, leading the strategy behind analytics and the EDW can be the winning ticket to becoming an Integrator, and thus, an Analytic Hero for your organization. Not only does the EDW supersede verticals in its potential ROI, but when properly deployed in tandem with cross-functional teams from clinical, quality, analytics and finance, it can relieve the IT department from its “report factory” mode. In turn, the CIO is freed to become a strategic contributor to the larger organization.
Do these three models accurately represent your experience as CIO? If so, which of the three modes best describe your role in the organization? Are you already an analytic hero in your organization? If not, leading the charge on the deployment of an EDW offers that chance.