For Fernando Martinez, the key to getting the most out of the interim CIO role is simple: “I never approach any job as interim.” The philosophy has served him well, as he now holds the permanent position at Parkland Hospital & Health System, an organization that has earned a solid reputation for its innovation. In this interview, Martinez talks about the groundbreaking analytics work being done in-house, the construction project that will double the size of the hospital, and how he deals with audits. He also discusses why he wanted to come to Dallas — even though it meant leaving Florida, what today’s CIOs need to be successful, and what he gains from teaching.
- All-interim executive team
- His strategy — “I never approach any job as interim.”
- Adapting to Texas – “Dallas has a way of drawing you in.”
- Business & IT acumen
- Evolution of the CIO from supportive role to leadership position
- Background as CTO & CSO
- Teaching classes “to stay current.”
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I never approach any job as interim, even when it is interim. From the day I walked in the door, I treated this as if it was my permanent long-term job. I think that’s the only way to conscientiously do that.
I already have the bumper sticker that says, “I wasn’t born here, but I got here as quick as I could.” I think Texas in general, but certainly Dallas in particular, has a way of really drawing you in.
I do believe that it’s really important to have, first and foremost, the healthcare business acumen. Without it, a CIO simply cannot be effective.
A lot of technical people are very choosy about where they go to work. If they’re going to work for someone that has no clue about technology, they know that it may be an uphill battle to be able to grow themselves if they don’t have leadership that believes and understands the value of technology.
As I teach the next generation of leaders, it forces me to be very current and very up to date in order to keep up with them, because students are very challenging these days.
Gamble: Let’s talk a little bit about your career path. You came to Parkland as an intern CIO a couple of years ago, correct?
Martinez: That’s right.
Gamble: As far as that situation, was it something where it was interim with possibility to become the permanent CIO, or how did you enter the position?
Martinez: The way I was approached, I was working with Ralph Fargnoli at Beacon Partners at the time. The individual who was the interim CFO here at the time — in fact, all of the members of the executive office were interim at that point — actually contacted me, because he and I had worked together at another large public academic health system, the Jackson Health System in Miami. He and I had worked there together, and some of the challenges, and quite honestly, some of the successes that we had at Jackson were very relevant to the challenges that were going on here.
The CIO position was open in part because they were recruiting and trying to find candidates to convince them to apply for the position. He contacted me and said, we’d like to hire Beacon Partners to come in and provide some consulting around the IT organization. And so even though I wasn’t working as a consultant at the time — I was really working for Ralph Fargnoli as an extension of his office as a goodwill ambassador, industry spokesperson, thought leader, whatever you want to call it — I did agree, and Ralph consented to have me come here.
Initially, honestly, it was not very attractive. I really wasn’t looking for a CIO job and to be very honest with you, having lived in South Florida on the edge of the ocean and cut my teeth fishing and spearfishing and all of these things related to the ocean and outdoors, the idea of being in a city landlocked in the middle of a state wasn’t really an appealing thing to me. But once I arrived here, genuinely with good will intending to help this former colleague of mine and the organization evolve, I wanted to try and help them in terms of recruiting an appropriate person, and it eventually turned into an opportunity that I wanted to pursue.
All of the things that you’ve already discussed with me and others, including the quality of the workforce, the wonderful community that Dallas is, and the wonderful individuals that comprise our community, this just became something that I thought would be an amazing career opportunity. So I went ahead and went through the process and competed for the position, and ultimately was selected. I was thrilled to be selected and I’m thrilled to be here to this day.
Gamble: Did you find it challenging to be the interim CIO, just as far as getting to know the staff and establishing yourself, or was it not that much of a challenge because, as you said, there were several other interim leaders?
Martinez: I never approach any job as interim, even when it is interim. From the day I walked in the door, I treated this as if it was my permanent long-term job. I think that’s the only way to conscientiously do that. There were a lot of challenges, more than I care to itemize or enumerate at this point, but I was very happy to be involved in it.
I’ve prided myself on being an individual who really understands healthcare. I spent the first 20-some odd years of my career working on the business side of healthcare, not in IT — running clinics and admitting offices and patient accounts and physician practices. So I worked on the business end of healthcare for many years, and as a result, I really understand and I’m very comfortable in the healthcare space, even as an IT leader understanding the business processes and having had the experience. I worked for a medical school environment for 17 years of my career, so medical schools and teaching hospitals are something that I know as well.
There are a lot of things that positioned me very uniquely to address some of the challenges that the organization had without a big learning curve. It was very challenging in that it is a complex and large health system with many, many dynamics. Having a completely interim executive office is, in it of itself, a very challenging thing, but nevertheless very satisfying. It was tough work and it’s still tough work, but I’m very happy to be here.
Gamble: And you’ve adjusted to living in the area? I know what you mean when you say landlocked. I’m from New Jersey, so I would have that same reaction.
Martinez: Yeah. I think I have adjusted. The truth is that I already have the bumper sticker that says, “I wasn’t born here, but I got here as quick as I could.” I think Texas in general, but certainly Dallas in particular, has a way of really drawing you in. This is an amazing community, very rich in the quality of the people and the lifestyle. It’s incredibly progressive in many regards, and it’s very quaint and old-fashioned in many regards. You see everything from the old world cowboy culture with the stockyards in Fort Worth where they used and still do buy and sell cattle in the rodeos and things like that, and then on the other end of the spectrum, you have really sophisticated opera and symphonies and all of these artists. It’s a great center for music and, just overall, the culture and arts scene is fantastic. Downtown Dallas is really amazing. You get to see it all.
I’ve adapted. I love it here. I still, of course, routinely go to South Florida. The majority of my family is still in South Florida. My wife lives here with me, but our kids and grandkids are in Miami. We go back and forth. I still get enough of the ocean so I don’t feel like I’m completely removed from it, but I’ve adapted. It’s wonderful here.
Gamble: One of the last things I wanted to talk was just about leadership and the type of philosophy you have. I wanted to also talk about the importance of having that business acumen as well as the IT competence, and why a CIO needs to have both in the industry right now.
Martinez: In my experience, I think CIOs are kind of polarized in this regard. CIOs that came up through the ranks as administrators without technical acumen tend to regard the technical acumen as a minor or trivial thing. I think that CIOs of really large organizations, which by definition have very structured organizations that have very capable number two individuals that are chief technology officers or that are providing technology strategy, are right in saying that. They’re right in saying that technical acumen is not really all that important, because they certainly have the people in place to help them achieve that. I think as you go to smaller organizations, CIOs certainly need to have the technical acumen in order to make good technical decisions.
So much of our spend in healthcare is directed at technology. My personal opinion is that the better technically aware the CIO is, the higher the quality of the technical decisions.There are organizations like MIT, for example, that have a very well-built think-tank, and I’m sure that I’m probably going to misrepresent their position, but I’ve always read and interpreted their work as the fact that organizations that are really high technology adopters will tend to outperform organizations that are not, and I’m inclined to believe that that’s true.
I do believe that it’s really important to have, first and foremost, the healthcare business acumen. Without it, a CIO simply cannot be effective. There was a time when CIOs really didn’t need to know much about revenue cycle or didn’t need to know much about clinical systems because the role of IT was more of a support role. But organizations like Gartner and Forrester that they’ve all published many documents that support the notion that CIOs went from being very isolated, independent positions to being positions that in many organizations are elevated to the executive office level and they are very active participants in the overall strategic management of the organization.
Given that technology is such a critical component and enabler of how healthcare works today, I don’t see that trend abating. I see that trend growing, and in fact, I think CIOs that don’t have the business acumen will slowly get basically shoved out of the business in favor of individuals that do, because it’s so important to be able to support the business and to be the thought leader and the business enabler through technology for the organization.
The well-worn clichés about how important it is to align IT strategy with organizational strategy, it’s incredibly important to be able to do that. But I’ll tell you, I think that having the technical acumen can be a real differentiator between organizations and the ability to recruit talented technical people. A lot of technical people are very choosy about where they go to work. If they’re going to work for someone that has no clue about technology, then they know that it may be an uphill battle to be able to grow themselves as technical people if they don’t have leadership that believes and understands the value of technology. I think that there are a lot of reasons why the CIO of the future has to be well-versed in technology, but certainly paramount is that they have the right business acumen.
Gamble: It’s interesting. There are a lot of different paths that various CIOs have taken to get to the position. For you, having the experience as a CTO and CSO, I can imagine that’s something that’s really benefited you.
Martinez: It has benefited me, and I’ll say somewhat comically that it’s been a real pain in the neck to some of the people that ended up having to work for me, because it is unusual to have a CIO that can talk about security and be involved in security and has the background on security that I do, or that has worked as CTO and been responsible for developing technical strategy. It does create an interesting situation.
Honestly, I also have the additional benefit that part of my personal passion is built around education. I have been an educator for the bulk of my career, but over the last 10 or 12 years, I’ve been exclusively teaching in graduate school programs whether they be executive MBA programs or healthcare MBA programs or Master’s programs in health services administration. Being a teacher forces you to stay current, and so, it’s been a great benefit to me. Once or twice a year I’ll teach classes, and as I teach the next generation of leaders, it forces me to be very current and very up to date in order to keep up with them, because students are very challenging these days. A lot of healthcare executives and professionals are going back to school pursuing advanced degrees, and so that’s been another wonderful thing for me. I think having that combination of experiences and personal interests certainly has made it interesting and unique for me.
Gamble: That’s a great point. I’m sure that definitely does give you an interesting perspective being involved in education and, like you said, the pressure is on you. You have to know your stuff and you have to stay current.
Martinez: Absolutely, because you sure do get challenged. I get challenged every time.
Gamble: I’m sure. Well, we’ve covered a lot. I think we covered the main points I wanted to touch on. I don’t know if there’s anything I’m leaving out, but I definitely do want to check back with you soon to talk about the replacement hospital. That’s a very exciting thing, and I’m sure that you’ll have other projects to talk about as well.
Martinez: Absolutely. I would look forward to that and would enjoy it, Kate.
Gamble: All right, great. Thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it. I know you have a lot going on. So we definitely appreciate you taking the time.
Martinez: It’s my great pleasure.
Gamble: All right, best of luck to you and I look forward to talking to you again soon.
Martinez: Thanks. Have a great afternoon.
Gamble: Thanks, you too.