For Chad Brisendine, there were a few selling points during the interview process with St. Luke’s six years ago, but by far the most compelling was the organization’s readiness for change. And it’s a good thing; when he took over as CIO, there was a lengthy list of tasks to attend to — including an ‘aging’ data center and an infrastructure that needed revamping. But although the challenge was a daunting one, Brisendine was up for it, and the hard work he and his team put in has paid off. In this interview, he talks about the virtualization project that turned out to be a game changer, what he’s learned about change management, and the prioritization challenges facing CIO. He also discusses the Epic transformation he’s currently leading, and the career path that brought him to the Lehigh Valley.
- ‘Laser focus’ on innovation
- Prioritization — “I haven’t been in a place that doesn’t struggle with it.”
- 200 IT projects
- Growing through the ranks at Christus — “It was a great learning ground.”
- Being part of a “major EHR consolidation”
- Choosing St. Luke’s — “I knew they were ready for a change within IT.”
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My assessment is, are we delivering on what they think is important, and if we are, then we’re hitting the mark.
I had the fortune to be part of a lot of that change process and grow within that organization through all of that.
When I was doing my interview process, I knew that they were ready for a change within IT, and while they weren’t saying it, they wanted to see change and they wanted to support the change.
I’m probably picking the area that can provide the most transformation, the most change within the organization, and the most ability for the organization to grow and do things differently. It’s pretty exciting to be a part of.
Gamble: I know we’ve touched on a lot of things, but are there any other projects or initiatives that are on your plate that you wanted to talk about?
Brisendine: We’re constantly looking at things which we can innovate. I could give you a long list, but it’s basically some of our goals that we have around IT and innovation and work that we’re doing. Without getting into any specifics, we’re constantly looking at technology and things that can increase brand loyalty and improved care, improve the bottom line, create operational efficiencies, improve access to care, and basically get market share with cheaper turnaround investments. We have a group that’s laser focused on that and we’re going to be investing some additional funding. It hasn’t been quite approved, but hopefully we will get additional funding to continue to innovate with technologies and other people and partners in ways that we can continue to grow St. Luke’s and use technology, so a lot of initiatives around that.
There are probably not many things that other people have in their mind related to analytics that we aren’t focused on. We’re looking at pretty much every new technology that’s come down the Gartner Hype Cycle or in some other form of fashion to decide where we want to invest in. We have over 200 IT projects and programs all focused on all different kinds of things, but again, our goal within IT is to validate, prioritize, and determine how they’re linked to the goals and then try to execute on them for the business. So we have tons of different initiatives. Epic is not our only project that we have going on. We are continuing to grow and expand in what we’re utilizing technology for.
Gamble: That word, ‘prioritization,’ is something that comes up a lot, because there’s absolutely no shortage of things that organizations like yours want to do. It’s just a matter of just deciding what’s on the front burner and what could possibly wait has to be one of the big challenges.
Brisendine: Yeah. I haven’t been in a place that doesn’t struggle with it, even if they have a great governance process around it. At least in my case, there’s always been more demand for IT than there is ability to execute on it. As long as the business feels like we’re executing on what we need to be executing on for them, then we’re winning from my perspective. That’s their judge of IT, not ours, and we do that through some metrics and stuff like that. But my assessment is, are we delivering on what they think is important, and if we are, then we’re hitting the mark.
Gamble: Right. Okay, so the last thing I wanted to touch on was your background. I know you spent a lot of time at Christus, which is a very large health system. I can imagine that that was a pretty beneficial experience just having been at an organization of that size.
Brisendine: Yeah, a lot of good experience. In terms of my background or training, I started out as a developer and had a lot of different jobs in IT, desktop, got Cisco certified and Microsoft certified, and did all the different admin work. And so I kind of grew my way all in and around IT, and worked actually in the retail business for a couple of years and then oil and gas business for a couple of years.
I’ve been in healthcare since 1999. I started with Christus and I was fortunate enough to be in an organization that was basically joined between two different parent Catholic nonprofit organizations to form Christus. That’s when they brought in George Conklin, the CIO, who’s been there since 1999. He’s brought a lot of major changes to Christus over that period of time. I had the fortune to be part of a lot of that change process and grow within that organization through all of that. I worked my way up the ranks from being a manger to a regional CIO or what they call a regional information officer. And then also worked my way into a corporate position overseeing new technology and development and a variety of things, and did that for a few years. So I got a chance to see kind of the depth and breadth of a major organization — they’re maybe 600 IT FTEs, fairly advanced — through a major consolidation of EMRs across the entire environment and led a portion of that. There was a lot of good change in those skill sets, both from a leadership perspective as well as from just general IT. They helped tremendously with my transition to St. Luke’s, so it was a great learning ground for me.
Gamble: You had touched on a little bit about the opportunity that was presented at St. Luke’s. Was that what drew you to the organization — was it the chance to take on the CIO role and be able to lead the transformation there?
Brisendine: Yeah. I have a lot of technical certification and I’m very technical, but I went and got my business degree, and I was trying to debate between whether I wanted to go more towards operations or I wanted to go more towards IT. Over the course of about three or four years while I was getting my Masters and finished my Bachelors, I decided that I was going to stick the course and be in IT. So at that point I knew if I was going to do that, the next logical step was for me to be a number two in an organization or be a CIO.
I was fortunate enough to get something fairly quickly in a large growing network. We’ve probably grown from about $700 million in revenue to $1.4 billion in five years since I’ve been here. Being able to be a part of that tremendous growth and a part of the culture we’ve had that’s been led by our CEO, who’s been here for approximately 30 years, and being part of a really good senior team and being part of a really good organization from a culture perspective and growing all aligned with what I wanted to do. When I was doing my interview process, I knew that they were ready for a change within IT, and while they weren’t saying it, they wanted to see change and they wanted to support the change. And so I felt like that was very aligned culturally — the people, and then also the willingness and the wanting to invest in IT and change.
Gamble: So it seems like it worked out pretty well and you’re glad that you stayed on the IT route.
Brisendine: Some days maybe I don’t feel that way, but at least our senior leadership came here feels like IT is the most important, if not one of the most important things. Our CEO talks about three to five priorities that we have and IT is one of the major ones. I’m probably picking the area that can provide the most transformation, the most change within the organization, and the most ability for the organization to grow and do things differently. It’s pretty exciting to be a part of, and so I really enjoy the IT piece of it, but the leadership part of the IT piece.
Gamble: Okay, well, that covers what I wanted to talk about. I really appreciate you taking the time to tell your story. You’re doing a lot of great things there and I definitely want to follow up down the road especially as you look toward the Epic go-live to see how everything’s going there.
Brisendine: Right. I appreciate it, Kate. It was great talking to you.
Gamble: Thanks, you too. I hope to talk to you soon.
Brisendine: Talk to you soon. Thanks, Kate.