Sometimes the smallest detail can result in major downtime. It was a lesson Michael Martz learned nine months into his tenure as CIO at Meadville, and one his team will never make again. Because as frustrating as it was when the hospital lost its main data center because of a battery that failed during a generator test, the experience strengthened the organization’s disaster preparation strategy. It’s that philosophy of always learning that has helped Martz lead the organization through major changes during the past three years. In this interview, he talks about being an early adopter of Meditech 6.1 and a beta site for the a new web-based ambulatory product, why he opted to use consultants , what it’s like being a standalone in a large IDN world, and his honest take on Meaningful Use.
- From Seattle to PA
- First healthcare CIO role — “I’m constantly on a learning curve”
- Meadville’s “strong focus on virtualization”
- Downtime for “the most absurd reason”
- His leadership philosophy — “It’s figuring out how to serve them.”
- Being beta tester #1
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You really need to constantly remind yourself that you’re a student and be quiet and listen to everybody else, because you will learn so much more about how things really work and what’s different from your past experience.
There’s a lot of streamlining of our systems and redundancy that we’re building into our systems to try and make them as bulletproof as possible.
It’s allowed me to leverage my normal leadership style, which is not at all directing people. It’s figuring out how to serve them, frankly; figuring out what it is they need to be successful and making sure that they have it.
I’m not sure why, but it seems common for people not to challenge authority, and I really want our staff to feel comfortable to bring up new ideas and to openly discuss and challenge and debate ideas of others.
Gamble: You’ve been CIO there since 2011, correct?
Martz: Correct. I’ve been here for three years.
Gamble: How did you go from Seattle to Pennsylvania?
Martz: I’m originally a native of the Ohio area, and my wife and I had decided to try the West Coast after being born and raised Midwesterners. We thoroughly loved the two years that we’re out in that area; it’s just a spectacular area to live in. But we also quickly realized we were too far away from our parents and our college-aged kids who were still back in the Ohio area, and so about a year into it we realized we need to start planning our way back east, and that was what brought us back to the area.
Gamble: So it was probably more of a transition, I would imagine, going to Seattle than it was coming back to the Ohio area.
Martz: Very much so. We loved it out there, but it definitely was different.
Gamble: Now as far as taking on the CIO role, is that something where you had any hesitations, or was it that something that you definitely wanted to do?
Martz: It was definitely something I wanted to do. This is not my first CIO role. Before I got into healthcare, I was CIO for a couple of different organizations. This is my first healthcare CIO position, however, and not being a long-termer in healthcare — I’ve only been in healthcare for five years — I’m constantly on a learning curve.
One thing that I’ve learned is, compared to every other industry that I’ve worked in, healthcare is so much more complex and more diverse that you really need to constantly remind yourself that you’re a student and be quiet and listen to everybody else, because you will learn so much more about how things really work and what’s different from your past experience. It has helped me become a lot more effective, I think.
Gamble: Having that background in manufacturing and government, I’m sure that there are definitely some things you were able to take from that experience and apply in this role.
Martz: Sure. I think I can say pretty confidently that healthcare tends to be maybe 10 years behind the technology curve in a lot of ways, and so there are a lot of things that are new for us now that feels somewhat old. The entire effort that we’re going through right now to get everybody linked up through health information exchanges and start to share standardized data are things that other industries like automotive and grocery and a lot of manufacturing did 10, 20, even 30 years ago in some cases. So some of this feels very familiar to me, and I’m enjoying watching the maturing of our industry as we work through it.
We’ve had a very strong focus on virtualization. For example, our data centers are probably 95 percent virtualized and we are eagerly getting Citrix out and moving to VMware virtual desktops to get a more comprehensive, more capable platform for our desktops. We’re looking forward to getting most of the PCs out of the organization and having most of the organization just work in through the VMware virtual desktops instead. There’s a lot of streamlining of our systems and redundancy that we’re building into our systems to try and make them as bulletproof as possible.
We’re very blessed here in Meadville to actually have two campuses in town that are about a mile apart with dual data centers in each and dark fiber between them. So we are aggressively setting up most of our systems to run fully redundant, and where we can, actually running active/active across both data centers so that if we have an outage in one — even lose an entire data center — we can get as close as possible to people not noticing. We’re working very hard on that, and we still have a couple of major applications to go.
Meditech is one of them, and Meditech actually is working very aggressively with us to put out a whole new platform. They still have a couple of things like full support of Windows clustering to deliver that will make it so that we truly could lose a data center and all of our operations would instantaneously be running off the other data center with no loss of data and no user even noticing except things might be going a little bit slower.
Gamble: Right. Have you ever been involved in any kind of major outage or downtime?
Martz: Yes. In fact, that was part of what drove that mission for us. Probably nine months after I got here, it was the stupidest of things — we lost our main data center. We lost all power to it, and the reason we lost power is because we were doing a generator test which is a great thing to do, and our UPS, which had just been checked out and given a clean bill of health the month before, failed. And it failed because one battery went bad. That should never happen.
So it taught us to do a number of things. Actually, one thing I should point out is that most of our systems besides Meditech were already running across both data centers. We have a LeftHand SAN from Hewlett-Packard that’s fully virtualized across the data centers, and most of our systems, other than Meditech, run on Microsoft servers that are virtualized and clustered across the two. So just about all of our systems either never went down, or if they did go down, they restarted themselves on the other data center in a minute or two and in many cases people will never even notice that it happened.
The one exception was Meditech because it couldn’t do that for multiple reasons, and it was not Meditech’s fault. It was down for eight hours. In the past, when the EMRs were really more about the backend of hospitals, and the clinical floors were still running on paper records, they could survive an outage like that because they had their papers. They had their data. They could continue to care for the patients pretty adequately. But as we move to fully electronic records and get the paper folders out, which will be happening this fall, we can’t afford those types of outages anymore. That instantly becomes critical clinical care major problems.
So we have to have systems that don’t go down, and if they do go down, can be restarted extremely quickly. We spent a lot of time talking with Meditech about how can we make our new system that were putting in capable of doing that, and they’ve worked very eagerly with us and our hardware integration partner to come up with a design that would allow that. We’re working through the implementation of that now; there are still some things to be delivered like the full support of clustering, but we are very close now. In fact, we’ll be doing the failover test of the new systems in a couple of weeks, and I’m expecting to see us be able to failover to the second data center, hopefully in less than an hour, with zero loss of data. Once we get a couple more pieces of technology delivered, we should be able to make that happen in minutes or even seconds — or perhaps the systems never go down.
Gamble: Yeah, there’s nothing can teach quite as much sometimes as going through what you did.
Martz: And for the most absurd reasons, like one bad battery during a generator test.
Gamble: Just the smallest thing. Amazing. But obviously you learned from it so that’s good.
Martz: We do. We added a second string of batteries to our UPS, so one battery can’t take us down again.
Gamble: The last thing I wanted to just talk a little bit about is your leadership style. You talked before about learning by listening. Is that something that’s one of your drivers — just always keeping your ear open?
Martz: Yes. I’m extraordinarily lucky to have inherited a really strong team here. It’s allowed me to leverage my normal leadership style, which is not at all directing people. It’s figuring out how to serve them, frankly; figuring out what it is they need to be successful and making sure that they have it, and making sure you’ve got their backs and not letting them get unfairly abused, which can happen when something goes wrong and clinicians start to threaten that we’re going to kill babies if we don’t get the system back up. It’s being credible, it’s important that you eat your own dog food.
For example, with the virtual desktop system, a lot of people are wary about giving up the real PC for a virtual one. So I’m beta-tester number 1 for it. I’ve been running on our virtual desktop now for about four months. Two months ago, I had our team come remove my PC, and I have not had a PC here for the last two months, and I couldn’t be happier. I wouldn’t want the PC back because the system has refined and developed to the point that I think it’s better. But it’s important that we do that — not just for our own staff, but for our users as well. We need to be able to deliver that kind of credibility.
I’m a very coaching type of manager. I like to empower people to make their own decisions, and I want them to come talk me through their decision-making process so I can test it and give them other things to think about. I really like to empower people to be confident to try new things and to take risks. I expect failure now and then. If we have instances where we’re never failing, I believe we’re not trying hard enough, and so we need to have the kind of environment that allows that and encourages it safely, but we need to be willing to take those risks.
Encouraging ideas is probably the other thing. It’s very common and it almost seems more so in healthcare than other industries. I’m not sure why, but it seems common for people not to challenge authority, and I really want our staff to feel comfortable to bring up new ideas and to openly discuss and challenge and debate ideas of others. Some people are more comfortable with that than others. Sometimes I even have to bait them and throw out a totally stupid idea and wait until they finally get the gumption to tell me it’s dumb, just to get them comfortable with doing that. But they need to feel comfortable that they can do that, because I know absolutely that I am not the smartest guy around. In fact, I’ve told our infrastructure team that if they ever let me touch any of the boxes, they should be fired because, they know I’m not competent. So they need to feel comfortable that I’m not trying to out-tech them or show them up; that I’m there to encourage them and have them shine for us.
Gamble: Right. When you’re surrounded by yes people, you’re not going to get things done. You’re not going to get new ideas.
Martz: No, not at all. And I think our organization has really seen the value of that. We’ve really got our IT team to the point here that our organization has a lot of credibility and trust in us. There have been a number of instances where people have come to us with emergency needs — this always happens to IT — and we’ve been able to respond instantly, and there have been other times that they’ve come to us with urgent needs and we’ve had to say ‘I’m sorry, that’s going to have to wait.’ But because they’ve seen us being responsive in the past, we have the credibility that when we say no, they understand that it’s not because we like to say no; it’s because we’ve really thought about it and we just can’t get there yet.
Gamble: Right, that’s important. Very important. Okay, well, I think that covers everything I wanted to ask. So unless there’s anything you wanted to add, I really appreciate your time.
Martz: Absolutely. I appreciate being asked, thank you.
Gamble: Sure, and I would definitely like to check back with you down the road and see how everything’s going on. Maybe after the whole beta site thing.
Gamble: Okay, thanks so much, and best of luck to you.
Martz: Thank you. Good bye.