If you’re going to be a successful CIO, you need to learn how to do one simple thing: let go, says Chris Paravate. Yes, CIOs need to be aware of what’s going on throughout the organization, but he believes their purpose is to educate, set clear expectations and provide guidance. In this interview, Paravate talks about the groundwork his team is laying to prepare to roll out Epic across the system, why he’s all about workflow training but cautions against overusing consultants, and how NGHS worked to achieve operational engagement. He also talks about the concept of humble leadership, what he learned from Allana Cummings, and what it takes to build a culture inside the IT division.
- Customer-centric IT: Supporting “customers, not applications”
- Leveraging technology to improve processes
- “I hate calling the help desk.”
- Leading the Epic rollout at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta
- CIO aspirations
- Working with Allana Cummings — “She and I saw eye-to-eye.”
- From an outsourced shop to in-house IT
- “Unfiltered feedback”
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His responsibility is to make sure, whether we’re talking about printers or new ERP systems, that he has the ultimate accountability for the support of that division, and that he owns that relationship. He’s the quarterback for support.
It’s about really removing the hassle for customers and understanding where we add value, and making sure that we continue to focus on those value-add activities. But it requires that you have a strong enough relationship with your customers that you’re truly in tuned and you’re listening and anticipating what their needs are.
Are we listening more than we’re talking? Are we following but also anticipating? It’s like that good administrative assistant who anticipated that you needed to see that report and gave it to you. How is IT anticipating what your needs are and advocating for the customer?
Allana and I had worked together before — she was a project manager for me, and I knew that she and I saw eye-to-eye on the values and vision and what IT is capable of doing for an organization. So it was a really good partnership, and something I really enjoyed.
You have to have a strong enough relationship with your leaders that they know you’re committed to them and they know that you care about them and you want them to be successful, but you’re not going to let them perform below what they’re capable of.
Gamble: Did you find it difficult going from a position where you’re more involved in the IT aspect to a role that involves really more than IT and gets into the organization’s success as a whole with things like increasing revenue?
Paravate: That’s a really good question. I was talking to the president of the Gainesville campus about a particular project and how IT needed to help participate. And he said, ‘Oh my gosh, we’ve got to have IT at the table; you guys touch everything.’ I think that’s the newer reality — that we are so involved in a lot of aspects.
One of the things I did inside the IT strategy was I painted a picture of what I’m calling the customer-centric IT division where we don’t support applications, we support customers. And those applications may come or go, but those customer needs are really where we’re focused, and so we’ve done some things to shape IT differently. For example, I have a director of business systems and that director is the business partner with the CFO. And his responsibility is to make sure, whether we’re talking about printers or new ERP systems, that he has the ultimate accountability for the support of that division, and that he owns that relationship. He’s the quarterback for support that’s provided to that group, and so they become an extension of that division and foster and build that relationship to be an IT partner.
So that’s been a big part of where my focus has been, even to the degree of changing the way that analysts historically have supported products. We’ve got a big focus on first call resolution and really providing exceptional customer experiences at the help desk. We’ve actually established a process where the help desk may take the first call, but they can conference an analyst in to help resolve that issue as a first call resolution. The goal is if you make a call — which, a lot of times calling a help desk can be a hassle in itself — then we’re going to make sure you’ll get a resolution and you’re going to get it timely and that you find value in that experience.
We’re going to be pushing the envelope in some other areas. I’m a big believer in online chat and being able to embed that in applications, so I really want our help desk to be able to see the user screen and for the user to be able to click on a chat icon and be able to engage the help desk person real-time while they’re working on something.
Gamble: That’s a game-changer from how things have been.
Paravate: I hate calling the help desk. I hate calling anybody’s help desk, but I’m much more tolerant of a scenario where it’s, ‘Hey, I’m on my Verizon website and I’m getting ready to change something — can I chat with somebody about it?’ and how much more value that experience brings. It’s about really removing the hassle for customers and understanding where we add value, and making sure that we continue to focus on those value-add activities. But it requires that you have a strong enough relationship with your customers that you’re truly in tuned and you’re listening and anticipating what their needs are.
I think it comes back to some of my values of how we are building a culture inside the IT division. I believe every person has a God-given talent — what is that talent? How are we building that capability? How is that capability being leveraged to add value to the customer? Are we listening more than we’re talking? Are we following but also anticipating? It’s like that good administrative assistant who anticipated that you needed to see that report and gave it to you. How is IT anticipating what your needs are and advocating for the customer? ‘Hey, you’re going to need this at month’s end, so I went ahead and chased this down and we have a call with the vendor on Friday to talk through this, because I just want to make sure you’re month-end schedule is clean.’ That’s the type of environment we’re trying to build, and I think that’s just how IT continues to evolve as now being a key part of operations and not just a department that provides reports and is relegated to technical things.
Gamble: And then as that evolves, the CIO role does too and continues to take on different shapes.
Gamble: And you said you were at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta previously. What was it that drew you to Northeast Georgia?
Paravate: I had worked at Children’s for 13 years and was the implementation director over our merger activities in the early 2000’s as well as leading their Epic implementation program. I completed that project and finished implementing Epic and was really looking for my next challenge and my goal had always been to progress toward the CIO.
I was getting ready actually to leave Children’s to lead another Epic implementation at another organization. It one of those times where it was time to make a career change. At the end of the day, the CIO and I at that time — I could work with him and I could tolerate him, but he and I didn’t necessarily see eye-to-eye on some of the values. And Allana Cummings, who is CIO now at Children’s, was the CIO at Northeast Georgia, and she had called me and said, ‘Hey, would you come to work for me at Northeast Georgia?’ And so one thing led to another, and I came up here six years ago where we were a McKesson outsource shop and we brought all that in-house. We were a Horizon customer and badly behind in several upgrades and implementations and worked to restructure that and then focus on building leaders within the IT division.
So that’s what brought me here and part of why I came there at that time is Allana and I had worked together before — she was a project manager for me, and I knew that she and I saw eye-to-eye on the values and vision and what IT is capable of doing for an organization. So it was a really good partnership, and something I really enjoyed. Allana left in September of 2014 to go to Children’s as the CIO. And so when she left, they moved me into the interim role and then I went through the formal interview process.
Gamble: And so in working with her, did you take some notes from the way that she did some things as CIO and kind of say, ‘I respect that,’ or ‘maybe that’s something that I would do going forward?’ Where there things that you learned by watching or by working with her?
Paravate: I think Allana and I always shared the values of really taking care of your team and investing in people. I think Allana really helped me learn to really build my leadership capability and really strengthen my coaching skills. I actually have her office now, so I’m sitting here in her office, and I remember being in this office and talking about coaching and developing people and really about how to have some of the tough conversations with leaders and help them see where they have development needs. I don’t remember how she stated it, but she gave me an analogy. She knows my wife because I’ve known her for 20 years, and she said, ‘good leaders give you unfiltered feedback,’ and I said, ‘okay.’ And she said, ‘It’s kind of like when you get home and your wife tells you all the things that you’re not doing. It doesn’t mean she doesn’t love you, it doesn’t mean she’s not committed to you, it doesn’t mean she wants a divorce. It just means you have some areas you need to work on. And you have to have a strong enough relationship with your leaders that they know you’re committed to them and they know that you care about them and you want them to be successful, but you’re not going to let them perform below what they’re capable of. I think that’s what Allana was so exceptional at — being able to provide that type of feedback and development, and I certainly learned a lot from her on how to be more effective in that area.
Gamble: Alright, that definitely covers a lot of ground, and I think that’s really great advice and insights, especially with everything you’re doing to prepare for the implementation. This is what so many organizations are grappling with, so I think this is going to be really useful to get that perspective.
Paravate: Well good, I hope it helps
Gamble: All right. And I definitely would like to check back again down the road to see how things are going along.
Paravate: That’d be great, we’d love to share.
Gamble: Well, thank you so much, Chris, for your time.
Paravate: Thank you.