When you’re a military-based health IT leader, one of the biggest challenges is to identify initiatives that align with the overall organizational strategy — and can be completed within a specific timeframe. Not an easy feat, but any means. For Lt. Col. Chani Cordero, who spent three years as CIO with the US Army’s Information Management Division and Medical Education Training Campus, that project involved a concept that hasn’t yet made its mark in healthcare: gamification.
That could soon change, says Cordero, who believes gaming has enormous potential as both a learning tool for medical students and a motivating factor in patient engagement. In this interview, she talks about how she incorporated gamification into her strategy and how it can be so beneficial. Cordero also discusses the military’s ultimate goal of standardizing IT systems, why it’s critical to bring naysayers into discussions, and what she has learned in her time with the Army. [**Please note that the opinions expressed by Lt. Col opinions are her own, and are not endorsed by the Defense Health Agency or the U.S. Army.]
- Retaining top talent: “My predecessor picked good people.”
- A culture that “allows for personal growth”
- Monthly “all-hands” meetings
- Online polls to encourage feedback
- Advisory boards to educating leadership on IT initiatives
- Welcoming naysayers — “That’s how we get better ideas.”
- Vendor partnerships
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I like to believe that the culture of our organization allows our personnel to grow through training. We’re always looking at how we can help staff meet their personal goals and give them to the tools to do that
IT people are typically introverts who may not want to raise their hands and speak publicly, and so we’re using online polling to get their feedback.
If I have a particular customer who’s frustrated as to why we can’t bring in a particular piece of technology, I invite them to be a member of our organization so they can turn that negative energy into something positive.
In my relationships with various vendors, I’ve found that even if they can’t necessarily help us, we can still learn from the interaction.
Gamble: What size is your IT staff, approximately?
Cordero: I have about 80 personnel in my staff. It’s a mixture of military, federal civilians and federal contractors. It’s very similar to what a health CIO would have. I have a customer support call management center. I have a copy and print services. I have mail distributions. We do record management.
One thing that’s a little different is we have a fully functional multimedia department. Within that department, we have a full studio where we can film training videos. I have graphic artists and illustrators on my staff. They’re the fun arm of the branch.
Gamble: I know that for some organizations, recruiting and holding on to staff can be a challenge. Is that something you’ve run into?
Cordero: I’ve been really fortunate in my position here because my staff is relatively stable. Some of it I definitely credit to my predecessor because he chose and interviewed very good talent. I like to believe that the culture of our organization allows our personnel to grow through training. We’re always looking at how we can help staff meet their personal goals and give them to the tools to do that, which can lead to satisfaction.
Our pay is competitive. Many people don’t realize that federal employment jobs are pretty competitive for the private sector, and of course you get the added benefits and pensions that you don’t really see much anymore. Right now we contract the helpdesk and some other roles through a small business owned by a woman; she has a philosophy of ensuring her customers are taken care of as well as her employees. That partnership really helped us as far as in our retention.
Gamble: That’s a big issue. People want to feel like they have a purpose, and they want to feel that they’re growing.
Cordero: Exactly. For example, I do a monthly all-hands meeting where we bring everybody together. We celebrate birthdays, we celebrate new employees, and we have farewell parties for employers who are leaving. Fortunately we don’t really get too many farewells, but sometimes the military rotates out, or sometimes a federal employee might receive a promotion in another location.
During these all-hands meetings, we also celebrate our wins. We do what we call ‘kudos’ where when an employee gets recognition from a customer, we read it out loud to the entire team. I usually take that opportunity to open up for engagement. IT people are typically introverts who may not want to raise their hands and speak publicly, and so we’re using online polling to get their feedback. With this software, they can ask questions via their cell phones and I’ll read it out loud and answer it. This way, everybody has an opportunity to ask a question, even if they’re not willing to stick their hand out there in front of everyone.
Gamble: Right. Another initiative I want to talk about is the METC Technology Innovation Group — how did that come about, and what are the key objectives?
Cordero: We formed the Technology Innovation Group (TIG) about two or three years ago. The purpose is essentially to provide our senior leadership with insight into information technology and how it works on this particular campus. The idea was to give them insights into some of the policies, guidelines, and strategies to incorporate information technology within the organization. It was designed as an advisory to one of our other governance boards that we use for procurement or for bringing new applications or hardware to the campus. It’s a mixture of technology folks and academic partners who focus on what innovations are out there and what they’d like to see; it’s also a sounding board to vet some of those ideas and initiatives.
Gamble: Did you get pretty decent number of participants?
Cordero: Absolutely. I was actually surprised at the number of folks who wanted to be a part of the group. We have some really sharp faculty members here that may be instructors or they may work in HR or logistics or facilities, and they have ideas — maybe those ideas came from a previous role or from participating in professional associations. And they’re saying, ‘look how they’re training — how can we do that or bring that on here?’
I’ve also even brought my naysayers in. We are a governing agency, and so sometimes our processes might be a little bureaucratic. If I have a particular customer who’s frustrated as to why we can’t bring in a particular piece of technology, I invite them to be a member of our organization so they can turn that negative energy into something positive, and maybe we can incorporate what they want into the organization.
Gamble: That makes a lot of sense. This way it’s not always one person or department who’s saying no.
Cordero: Definitely — sometimes that’s how we get better ideas. In government, we always this ‘this is the way it’s always been done.’ You might get a person who’s younger or new to the government or public sector, who comes in and says, ‘This is how we did it at my last job.’ And sometimes we can incorporate those ideas and bring them to our organization.
Gamble: Now in terms of IT systems, do you work with several different vendors?
Cordero: Absolutely. I have over 130 systems throughout the directorate. Some of the systems are government owned, government procured. A good number of them are commercial, off-the-shelf systems. It’s funny because when we attend conferences or tradeshows — and we always come in our uniforms — people will ask, ‘why is the military here?’ And I’ll tell them, ‘you don’t understand the large number of commercial off-the-shelf products that we actually buy and use.’
Gamble: I’m sure it comes with challenges having to work with a lot of different systems. We see that so much with organizations that have best-of-breed or multivendor strategies.
Cordero: Yes, and our procurement system is not always the easiest. One of our challenges — and I’m sure this is common in the public sector — is we’ll see a vendor product and think it’s fabulous, but the way we procure it is a lot different in the private sector. So we have limitations on that.
In my relationships with various vendors, I’ve found that even if they can’t necessarily help us, we can still learn from the interaction. Government is very risk-averse; we follow a lot of codes and laws like the Federal Acquisition Regulation, and also we’re extremely bound by ethics. If I go to a networking event, I can’t win the TV or the car if I’m going as a representative of the government, but that doesn’t mean we can’t talk to our vendor partners.
My personal philosophy is if a vendor comes to me and says ‘I think I might be an asset to your organization, here are my products,’ I invite them in. I’ll block off about 30 minutes on my calendar, tell them my problem set, and see if maybe they can find a solution. If they can, that’s great, and we’ll try to figure the procurement process. If they can’t, that’s okay. I’ll take their card and file it in my phone, and maybe there’s something I can use in the future. Because again, it’s a partnership. We do procure a lot of our applications from the private sector, and so I like to maintain those relationships.