When you’re being offered a spot on a C-suite that has seen significant turnover, there are really two choices: run, or do some investigating. Rick Allen chose the latter, having a long conversation with the outgoing CIO that enabled him to accept the role with eyes wide open. And even though may have questioned the decision when the CEO stepped down just a few weeks into his tenure, Allen has stayed the course, thanks largely to an IT staff that has remained in place and has bought into the organization’s philosophy. In this interview, he discusses the challenges of moving forward while keeping costs low, how he plans to bring more relevance to IT, and the mentors who showed him “how to be a CIO the right way.”
- His approach as the new CIO
- Taking cues from Ed Marx & Ed Brown
- Value of rounding — “You have to have that interpersonal relationship to be able to ask them to do things.”
- Dealing with the CEO’s sudden retirement
- CIO = air traffic controller
- Bringing more relevance to IT
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I’d never ask them to do anything that I’m not willing to get out and do myself. So when it comes down to writing a report or a dashboard, if I have to sit and bang through it myself, I have to sit and bang through it myself just to show that I’m willing to and I can.
When they went through the whole Ebola crisis last year, I reached out just to let him know that there was support amongst his peers, that if there was anything that we could do or anything that I could, I was there for him. Because what I got from him meant that much to me.
There are a lot of things that we didn’t have on our radar that I now have to not only have on our radar, but have it done by October 1 so that we can attest this year.
I’ve got a team I truly can lean on to help get things done. They’ve bought in on the vision; they’ve bought in on where I think I want to try to take the place and what we want to do with IT and how we want to try to bring more relevance to IT within the organization.
We’re adding new functionality, we’re adding new tools for them, and while we’re doing that, we’re making sure that the training’s in place and we’re making sure the communication’s out there, and then we’ll start building on that base frame.
Gamble: That speaks highly too of the former CIO to be able to really open up to you and talk about the things that went wrong. I don’t imagine that that’s an easy thing to do.
Allen: No. And I think part of it is you’re not necessarily admitting weakness, just ‘here’s what happened. Here’s what I wasn’t able to do and here’s why I wasn’t able to do it,’ that kind of thing.
Gamble: So when you did step in, was there more turnover as far as the staff that worked for you?
Allen: No. The staff that’s here has been are fairly long-tenured. There was an opening that we hired a security analyst right after I started. Other than that, we haven’t had an opening in IT at all.
Gamble: Can you walk through how you approached the staff when you did take over, just as far as how you built relationships and things like that?
Allen: There’s somebody that I actually look up to very much that’s a CIO of a major organization — or, up until recently was a CIO of a major organization — who really talked about interpersonal relationships, and it’s Ed Marx from Texas Health Resources. He’s a very interpersonal person. He cares about the people that work for him. And then the CIO that I worked for, for the 12 years that I was at the other organization [Wallace Ed Brown], is very much in that same mold. He’s much more caring about people that he is about technology. The technology is there and he has to be there as being a CIO and being an IT person.
So I really have patterned myself after them. I’ve reached out and I’ve got regular staff meetings with my direct reports and I meet regularly with all the people in the department. I tend to walk around quite a bit and just get out and talk to them. You get to that point where you have to have that interpersonal relationship there to be able to ask them to do things. The other side of it is I’d never ask them to do anything that I’m not willing to get out and do myself. So when it comes down to writing a report or a dashboard, if I have to sit and bang through it myself, I have to sit and bang through it myself just to show that I’m willing to and I can.
Gamble: Yeah, that’s a good person to learn from. Ed Marx is so highly respected and I think that one of the reasons is the ability to build relationships and be genuine about it.
Allen: We were on a few customer advisory boards together, so I won’t say it was a great relationship with him, but we had interacted some. So it wasn’t that it was just somebody that I happened to read online. It’s somebody that I actually had some part of a relationship with, so it was a great person to build on. When they went through the whole Ebola crisis that they went through last year, I reached out just to let him know that there was support amongst his peers, that if there was anything that we could do or anything that I could, I was there for him. Because what I got from him meant that much to me, it made me feel as though I should reach out and provide that same level of support.
Gamble: And now you said the current CEO started about a month or two after you did?
Allen: A month after I did, well actually three weeks.
Gamble: Now that was something that you did know ahead of time?
Allen: No, I didn’t know that one until I got the call to come to the current CEO’s office and he told me that he had just announced his retirement.
Gamble: Okay, that will throw a curveball into things.
Allen: Yeah, now you start talking about wanting to second-guess a decision, well that’s when you start second-guessing a decision.
Gamble: Sure, that’s definitely a tough one. But I guess you have to just kind of move forward and feel out the new person and then kind of go from there.
Allen: And the upside is — and I’ll go ahead and use the names — the hospital I worked at before was Gwinnett Medical, which is on the northeast side of Atlanta and it covers Gwinnett County, Georgia which is on the Northeast Atlanta Metro. There’s one other hospital in the county, and that’s Eastside Medical Center, and it’s an old HCA-Emory partnership. The CEO that was there is the one that’s here now, so she actually was the direct competitor. So I actually knew of her. I really hadn’t interacted with her, but I knew of her and had heard enough because she was in the very same community — it’s the closest hospital to my house where she was the CEO. So it made it a little easier because it was somebody that I actually had a fairly decent knowledge of; while we hadn’t met, I did know a lot about her.
Gamble: And I guess having somebody who at least knows the area or has experience with the area is helpful.
Allen: Yeah. You know the community and you know the physicians and you know the mindset in the area. There’s a lot that you bring to the table by being local.
Gamble: All right. So as far as some of the other initiatives on your plate, what are the really big priorities? I know there are many, but what’s the biggest thing for you?
Allen: Truly the two big ones for us is the changes that I’m expecting any day to be finalized for Meaningful Use because we’re stage 1, year 2. They were very late attesting, so we’re still in stage 1. With the modified stage 2 being what’s expected, there are a lot of things that we didn’t have on our radar that I now have to not only have on our radar, but have it done by October 1 so that we can attest this year.
To make it even better, that happens to be another one of those drop-dead dates for the other nightmare that I’m living, ICD-10.We did a system upgrade last week for our ambulatory surgery center that brought it to ICD-10 compliant. We’re three months away and I’m still doing upgrades to systems to get them compliant, and I have one still outstanding that we have to get scheduled and get done.
We’ve done most of the work to ensure that everything else is working. We’ve checked all of our reports, we’ve checked all of our interfaces, we’ve done all that work. All the system work is done, then it becomes really a medical records project at that point to get training done and get the culture change that needs to be in place for documentation. But there are system settings that are going to go in to help cement the culture change that’s needed. So I’m very involved in ICD-10, and then with Meaningful Use, there are pieces of Meaningful Use both at the technical level, like database encryption for Meditech — at that level, through getting e-prescribing rolled out. So we’ve got some fairly big things that we have to accomplish between now and October 1.
Gamble: With that confluence of these two huge things, how do you manage that, whether it’s with delegating or prioritizing — how do you manage all of that when you have this huge October coming up?
Allen: I’m kind of managing it as a program manager where I’m delegating some of the project management pieces and some of project work to the directors. I’ve got two directors in the department and I’ve got a director application services, director tech services, so I’m handing them the things that are appropriate for each, and then I’m kind of air traffic controlling to make sure that everything stays moving the way that it should.
The upside is, the person that was here before — like I said, we really haven’t had turnover — left a very good team. So I’ve got a team that I truly can lean on to help get things done. They’ve bought in on the vision; they’ve bought in on where I think I want to try to take the place and what we want to do with IT and how we want to try to bring more relevance to IT within the organization. And they’re right there with me, so we’re all aligned and moving in the same way, which helps the staff come along.
Gamble: Right. And what are some ways you’re looking to do that, just as far as bringing more relevance to IT?
Allen: Well, it goes back to just the things we were talking about. It’s getting data out of the system and get it back in front of people. It’s rolling out new functionalities. When I started, another major accomplishment that we’ve worked through in the months that I’ve been here is we did a conversion from GroupWise, our old email system. We migrated everything to Office 365, so we’ve rolled everybody over to a new email system with new functionality and provided training. We’ve had someone build training videos that are very tailored to how we do business and have those posted to an intranet site. So it’s those things where we’re adding new functionality, we’re adding new tools for them, and while we’re doing that, we’re making sure that the training’s in place and we’re making sure the communication’s out there, and then we’ll start building on that base frame.
Gamble: And now when you look at your strategy for meeting the Meaningful Use requirements, is that something where you had to bring different functions under IT like you talked about before? What has been your strategy with that?
Allen: That’s the one piece that hasn’t been able to be consolidated yet. I do think it’s well under way, but it’s just not done yet, and that’s all the nursing informatics and the clinical informatics teams. So I work very closely with the director of clinical informatics to make sure that we’re both aligned and we’re measuring to where we are and where we need to be. We worked together to pull this big presentation together on here’s what the old Meaningful Use requirements were, here’s what the new ones are, and here’s where we stand on each and here’s what it’s going to take for us to meet them. We did this whole document, this whole roadmap document, to give to leadership so that everybody understands the work effort that’s going to be required for us to get there.