“Are you out of your mind?” It was the reaction Mike Martz received when he left Meadville Medical Center, the community hospital that was one of the first in the country to implement Meditech 6.1, only to do it all over again at a two-hospital system with a lean budget. But to Martz, it was a chance to drive positive change; not just by migrating to a new platform, but by forging a new path at an organization that didn’t have a CIO. In this interview, he talks about how he’s applying lessons learned from the previous Meditech migration to the current initiative, why he believes big bang is the only way to go, and his approach to being the new CIO. Martz also shares his thoughts on how to build credibility with senior leaders, and why it’s essential to be recognized first as a executive.
- From Meadville to OVHS
- “You’re going to need a CIO.”
- The appeal of a “larger, more complex organization.”
- “I was pleased with the leadership team here and their drive for change”
- The “rich opportunity” to implement Meditech 6.1 (again)
- Strategy as the new CIO: “Watch, learn and observe”
- From “data plumbers” to true executives
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I advised the CFO that to make this project successful, one thing they’re going to need is a CIO — not to manage the technology, but to manage the politics of the organization and all of the process change and the culture change that’s involved with making this successful.
I really like helping an organization change and improve for the better, be it through better data, better processes, better support for customers — whatever it is, that ability to make change and make improvements is something that really excites me.
I’ve intentionally taken the first six months just to learn what this group does well and where our real challenges are — to not make changes just because I like my way better, but really learn to adapt the best of what I know to the best of what they already know and already do.
There’s nothing more important for any executive, especially for a CIO, than to be transparent and credible with their peers at the executive table. We need to accept blame where we should and apologize when it’s appropriate, but we also need to feel fully comfortable holding others accountable.
A lot of the organization has wound up referring to IT for advice and guidance, and that’s exactly the kind of organization I want to see us be, where we’re looked up to as people who can help the organization — not just as data plumbers.
Gamble: You’ve been there about six months, and I’m sure that it probably seems like longer.
Martz: At times.
Gamble: Can you talk about your decision to take on this role and what drew you to this particular organization?
Martz: That actually wound up being an interesting story. I was talking with this organization while I was at Meadville purely on an advisory basis for a year, because we had just moved to Meditech 6.1 there, and this organization was choosing where they wanted to go in the future. They were looking at Meditech 6.1 or at Epic hosted through another organization, and were going through the evaluation comparing the two. They eventually decided that Meditech was the better platform to go to, which I was interested to see, but happy to see. And I had started communicating with them about how do you organize the project, how do you choose the consulting companies, those sorts of things.
The organization at that point didn’t have a CIO. The CFO was doubling as a CIO with two managers within IT that were running the day-to-day. And while I was working in Meadville, my home is actually Columbus, Ohio, and Wheeling is kind of halfway between the two so I offered to stop by one day and talk rather than having all these conversations over the phone. As I was doing that, I advised the CFO that to make this project successful, one thing they’re going to need is a chief information officer — not to manage the technology, but to manage the politics of the organization and all of the process change and the culture change that’s involved with making this successful. By the end of that she said, ‘You know you’re right about the CIO. Why don’t you be it?’ And I had no intention of that. That wasn’t why I was here, so I pretty much blew her off. But she called back a month later and said ‘Mike, seriously, let’s talk about this.’ And so we got to talking, and eventually I decided it was the right move.
There were a number of things that drew me here. Meadville is an excellent organization. There’s a lot about that hospital that I miss, and there are a number of areas where it is truly among the leaders in the nation and has been ranked that way.
Ohio Valley did bring a larger more complex organization, which was an appeal to me. I like a challenge, and this definitely brought that in terms of size and scale with two hospitals — and more silos to deal with, so more opportunities to drive some change. The leaner organization here I thought would be an interesting challenge. It’s one that I didn’t necessarily relish, but at the same time, I could see that they were being successful with a smaller IT organization supporting a larger hospital system, and so I wanted to see how that would work. The responsibility they offered me here was a little bit broader than Meadville because I also have medical records, coding, and clinical informatics reporting up to me, which I did not have at Meadville, so that gives me a broader business role to be involved with the rest of the organization.
I was pleased with the leadership team here and their drive for change, and especially the importance that they saw in making this project work well. After I met them, they really placed a lot of importance in the CIO position. I have frankly much more access and better access to physicians and driving decisions of the medical leadership here, than I had at Meadville. And in many ways, I think that they make us more successful, because sometimes I couldn’t get decisions to happen, especially on things like mandating physician training. It’s much easier to make those decisions happen here because I have much more direct access and control of those discussions and the decision processes here than I had there.
So those were all things that drove me, and I have to admit, this is partly personal too. When I originally took the job in Meadville we expected that our kids, who were all entering college or leaving college would scatter to the winds, and that after our youngest was out of high school and off to college, we would my wife to Meadville. As it turns out, they’ve all stayed in Columbus and we have our first grandchild coming in September and our son is getting married in July. With all of that happening in Columbus, there’s no way I was going to get my wife to move. So I started looking for something closer to home, and this actually works very, very well because this gets me home most nights of the week.
Gamble: Oh that’s great and congratulations. It’s exciting.
Martz: Thank you.
Gamble: So it feels like there were certainly a lot of pros and a lot of things that you were able to see as challenges. Did you have that hesitation, though, about going through the Meditech 6.1 all over again, not having that much time lapse between the first one?
Martz: Oh yes. In fact, when I told my team at Meadville what I was doing, they looked at me and said, ‘Are you out of your mind, going through this again?’ But it actually is a very exciting process to go through. I feel like we were very successful at Meadville in making it work well, especially since that was one of the first five hospitals to go live with that system in the country. And it was such an exciting thing to do that I actually looked forward to doing again, and I’m not sure why.
I guess the thing that drives me is I really like helping an organization change and improve for the better, be it through better data, better processes, better support for customers — whatever it is, that ability to make change and make improvements is something that really excites me. You have a really intense, rich opportunity to do that when you’re putting in a new whole system that changes how everybody operates. I get a lot of joy out of making that kind of contribution to an organization. It is a fun thing to do.
Gamble: What has it been like stepping into this role where you said before they didn’t have a CIO preciously — how did that affect how you approached stepping into that role?
Martz: It was a lot of the same challenges that any new CIO has when they first step into an organization. You really need to first just watch and learn and observe. I certainly came in with all kinds of ideas and concepts about how the organization should operate, how the IT team in particular should operate, and lots of ideas of things that I wanted to implement, but I’ve intentionally taken the first six months just to learn what this group does well and where our real challenges are — to not make changes just because I like my way better, but really learn to adapt the best of what I know to the best of what they already know and already do. So I’ve been cautious about starting to make changes; it’s just now that I’m starting to really implement those kinds of things.
It’s very important with CIOs to really focus first, frankly, on the organization and on the executive team. Make sure that you’re recognized first as an executive, and second as someone who happens to run IT. When I’m in our executive team meetings, I’m not there talking about the IT angle of things or only bringing up IT issues. In fact, I almost never talk about IT issues. I’m much more focused on what our business challenges are that we’re focused on at the time and contributing as much as any other executive can contribute to what our solutions might be, what our strategies might be, how we need to evolve our organization to adapt to whatever is the topic at the moment. Doing that helps establish a credibility for you in the executive team that makes it so that when you want to bring an idea to them, they’re much more willing to listen to you and take you seriously. And also, if they bring a concern to you and you might have to tell them no or not yet, you have the credibility that you can do that, and they will listen and understand — they won’t try and dictate what IT should do, but they will collaborate with us and make sure that we’re an active partner with them.
It’s part of the evolution that I think CIOs have been going through, as in most industries, as they’ve become to rely more and more on technology that’s become a more critical role. It certainly is the case with healthcare, where we are very quickly changing from a paper-based industry to a very electronic-based industry, that CIOs need to evolve not to be technicians at the board table, but executives at the board table who happen to have responsibility for IT, as well as perhaps other things.
It has made a difference for the team here. Because the IT team didn’t have a CIO, they very often could get run over and ramrodded by department folks who just may want something done, and sometimes they would get blamed for things that were really not IT’s fault, but other people’s fault. I have been able to ensure that we are engaging as a partner — where we need to hold others accountable, we do it, but we do it in a fair partnership way, not in an attacking form, and I think we’ve earned a better respect for IT than what they had in the past where they really didn’t have someone at the helm to make that happen.
Gamble: And that speaks to not just your approach, but then also like you said where the industry seems to be going as far as this role, which is really a big shift from what we saw years ago. It will be interesting to see how that continues.
Martz: It is. There’s nothing more important for any executive, especially for a CIO, than to be willing to be transparent and credible with their peers at the executive table. We need to accept blame where we should and apologize when it’s appropriate, but we also need to feel fully comfortable holding others accountable. And when we get into cheerful jousting matches — I prefer to call it that over arguments — that we can feel comfortable going toe-to-toe as friends and peers, and not as antagonists or enemies. You need to have that level of trust and confidence and credibility to be able to do that. It’s very important that we never speak tech when we’re talking outside of IT. That’s a skill that a lot people need to deal with.
IT also is very involved with organizational change, I think a lot more than most folks realize, because systems naturally cause change and in many cases, the organization winds up looking to IT to help lead change. A lot of times, the IT leaders will push back in some uncomfortable ways. You often hear people say ‘This isn’t an IT project; this is an organizational project.’ And they’re right; almost everything that we do is not an IT project. But when we use those words, sometimes what other executives hear is, ‘I don’t want to be responsible as the CIO. I want someone else to take charge.’ We have to careful about that. It is perfectly appropriate for us, the CIOs, to take charge of organizational projects that involve far more than IT. As long as we’re doing it in a partnership with our peers and help lead the entire organization to these changes, it makes us as IT a lot more valuable to the organization and we become very often the go to people to get things done. That is definitely a change from the way IT has been in the past.
Gamble: So it seems that all in all this has turned out to be the right move and that you feel good about things half a year in.
Martz: I really do. There certainly was a fair amount of doubts and questions as to whether I was making the right decision at the time that I made it, but I have had no regrets. The opportunity to make improvements here has been tremendous, and the contributions that I’ve been able to make have been very welcomed here. A lot of the organization has wound up referring to IT for advice and guidance, and that’s exactly the kind of organization I want to see us be, where we’re looked up to as people who can help the organization — not just as data plumbers that just make things go, and otherwise we stay out of the way. So it’s been a very rewarding situation.
Gamble: It sounds like you got your hands full, so there’s not too much time to think anyway, right?
Martz: We definitely do considering, what’s on the plate and the small team that we have here.
Gamble: Thank you so much for your time. I appreciate it. I’d like to check back a little down the road to see how the Big Bang goes.
Martz: Okay. Hopefully, it’ll be a happy bang. But thank you, I very much enjoyed the discussion. I look forward talking to you again.
Gamble: Alright, thanks and I’ll be in touch.