There’s been a lot of discussion about the transformation the CIO has undergone in recent years, and the skillsets that are needed to drive the industry forward. One attribute that’s often overlooked, however, is the ability to manage expectations, says Gary Light of Memorial Hospital and Health Care Center. He believes a core function of the CIO is in marrying “the reality of what we want to do versus what can be done.”
In this interview, Light discusses the essential role IT plays in translating business needs into technical solutions, the importance of engaging stakeholders like the CNO in planning a major migration, and how his team is working to stay ahead of cybersecurity threats. He also talks about the many value lessons he has learned through mentoring, and how he has benefited from a diverse career background.
- CHIME’s mentoring program
- “I get as much out of it as the mentee I’m working with.”
- Lessons learned from consulting
- “It helped me understand how to work with different customers.”
- Bridging the gap between needs and wants
- The need for diversity in leadership
- “We’re still here to take care of our patients.”
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How people choose to work with the CFO, CEO, and physician leaders are very common concerns, along with what we’re doing as far as our approach to selecting a record, what we’re doing in cybersecurity, and what technologies we’re looking at. When you get CIOs together, those are the things that come up in conversation.
Ultimately, it’s about trying to meet an individual’s needs. It’s appreciating what’s driving them, what’s motivating them, and what their pain points are, and not just trying to apply an IT solution to it.
Organizations recognize the need for a CIO to be somebody who can help the rest of the organization understand the limits and the reality of technology — what applications can do and what they can’t do, and how long it takes to get there.
Change happens, and at the end of the day, we’re still here to take care of our patients. That aspect of it hasn’t changed. It’s just how we do it — more efficiently, and more cost-effectively. These are the things that will continue to challenge us.
Gamble: When you think about the mentoring you’ve done through CHIME, are there different areas in which people seek advice, whether it’s budget issues or interacting with different leaders?
Light: There are. It really spans the spectrum of everything that a CIO will come into. Some are aspiring CIOs who want to know about how to work with the other members of the IT leadership team, and what they can do to better position themselves to take on increasing roles and responsibilities. I’ve had people talk to me about staff issues they’re having and how they might handle certain disciplinary discussions.
There was a case in one of the organizations where they had lost a member of the leadership team — how that was affecting the atmosphere of the organization and how they were processing that. Of course, how people choose to work with the CFO, CEO, and physician leaders are very common concerns, along with what we’re doing as far as our approach to selecting a record, what we’re doing in cybersecurity, and what technologies we’re looking at. When you get CIOs together, those are the things that come up in conversation.
Gamble: I would imagine.
Light: For me personally, I very much find the mentoring sessions to be a two-way street. I enjoy the conversations, and I get as much out of them oftentimes as the mentee I’m working with. Being able to hear what they have going on and the challenges they face in their particular environment has always been educational for me. I’ve had the pleasure of working with community hospital CIOs like myself, as well as leaders in academics, behavioral health, and a variety of areas or segments of our industry that I don’t normally work with. So it’s certainly been a learning experience for me as well.
Gamble: It’s great that people want to give back to those who have been influential in their career, whether it was a formal mentor relationship, or just someone they were able to reach out to now and then. All these things can really influence us in our careers.
Light: They absolutely can. CHIME creating not just this program, but a structure to facilitate it, was really needed. Through my career there have been many times when I’ve said, ‘I wonder how somebody would approach this particular problem,’ but you don’t really know who to call. Certainly through CHIME, you get a chance to meet a lot of people and cultivate those relationships and friendships. And you can always call people, but we’re all busy in our day-to-day lives. I don’t always think to pick up the phone to call one of my friends and say, ‘Hey, what are you doing on this?’ You don’t want to interrupt them. And so this creates that conduit where there is a more methodical approach to information sharing. It’s been very worthwhile.
Gamble: Looking back at your career, you’ve had different roles within healthcare. Do you think that having diverse background has helped you?
Light: It certainly has. My degree was in engineering, and before I came to healthcare, I spent the first 10 to 15 years of my career as a software developer for a couple of large consulting firms. I traveled around the country doing that. I’ve always been technical and analytical in my approach, but the consulting side made me understand what the customer’s needs were, and how to work with different customers in a varied environment and be somewhat flexible from customer to customer.
And as I made the transition into healthcare, drawing upon that consulting background has served me well as I work with various parts of our organization. Ultimately, it’s about trying to meet an individual’s needs. It’s appreciating what’s driving them, what’s motivating them, and what their pain points are, and not just trying to apply an IT solution to it. I think the background I had leading up to my time in healthcare has really helped set the stage for that.
Gamble: When you look at the CIO role, there are so many different paths people can take to get there. Looking to the future, what do you think are the characteristics that CIOs will need to have going forward?
Light: I think what has served CIOs well in the past will continue to serve CIOs well in the future. What’s always made a good CIO is somebody who can bridge the gap between technology and the capabilities of information systems, with the organization’s business needs. We can see that it’s evolving, because before, so much focus had been on clinical aspects. In the future, more and more it’s going to be about revenue cycle, and the discussions about revenue cycle aren’t going to be left to the accountants. It’s organizational, and I think that’s going to serve CIOs very well.
The key is the ability to understand business. When you look at how things were traditionally done — and I say traditionally because I’ve been doing this a long time — it goes back to when there was a director of IT who was the computer guy. It was, ‘call Joe, he knows what to do.’ The director of IT was somebody who knew computers. That shift isn’t new, and it isn’t the future. It’s a continuation into the future that organizations recognize the need for a CIO to be somebody who can help the rest of the organization understand the limits and the reality of technology — what applications can do and what they can’t do, and how long it takes to get there. There was this belief that computers are always faster and faster, but when you talk about computer time, it’s always slower and slower, because it takes forever to get anything done. It’s just translating that business problem into a technical solution; that takes time.
Gamble: It is interesting; people have so many different experiences and backgrounds that they’re bringing to roles like the CIO, and I think that can only be a good thing for the industry.
Light: The more diversity we get and the more ways of looking at things, the more it’s going to help organizations in their overall approach. As we look to new technologies like telemedicine and how that fits into the patient engagement scenario, that’s where CIOs need to marry the reality of what can be done versus what we want to do. Just because we have FaceTime on our phones, it’s not a reason to engage that way. We can’t do things just because we can. There needs to be a compelling reason.
Gamble: I agree. It’s such an interesting time to be a part of the industry.
Light: It is. It’s consistent in that change happens, and at the end of the day, we’re still here to take care of our patients. That aspect of it hasn’t changed. It’s just how we do it — more efficiently, and more cost-effectively. These are the things that will continue to challenge us.
Gamble: Before we wrap up, I have one more question. Did you graduate from SUNY Maritime College?
Light: I did.
Gamble: That’s where my Dad went — and all three of his brothers as well.
Light: Really? That is interesting. Being from New York, the SUNY program is everywhere. I grew up on boats, and so it had a lot of interest to me. It was a military program, with a very cadet regime, and it gave me the opportunity to do some work in the Navy Reserve, which I really enjoyed. I was able to serve my country in some way, but nothing compared to the men and women in our active forces who are on the front line. I enjoyed that aspect of that school as well.
I haven’t lived in the area in a number of years, so I haven’t made my way back there. A number of years back, my Dad was transporting his boat to Lake Ontario, so we sailed down New York Harbor. We came down through Long Island Sound and took the opportunity to stop there and spend the night walking around and talking to some of the students. It was fun to be back in whole environment.
Gamble: I’m sure. Well, that covers what I wanted to talk about. I want to thank you so much. I know you have a lot going on, so I really appreciate taking the time to talk with us about the work your organization is doing.
Light: Thank you, Kate. It was my pleasure. I enjoy sharing again aspects of what we’re doing here. Like many, we deal with challenges, and sometimes our approach might be a little bit different, and we like to talk about that.
Gamble: Great. Thanks again.
Light: Thank you. Take care.