In a few weeks, Saad Chaudhry will embark on the opportunity of a lifetime when he becomes the first-ever enterprise CIO for Saudi German Hospitals Group, a multinational health system based in Dubai.
The opportunity, however, almost didn’t happen. Being a diligent associate CIO, Chaudhry was hesitant to click on an email about a CIO job in the United Arab Emirates; “I thought it was spam,” he said. In fact, it wasn’t until he received a phone call that he realized it was a legitimate offer to fulfill a dream to lead an organization on the other side of the world, applying the lessons he has learned during his career.
Recently, healthsystemCIO had a chance to speak with Chaudhry about what made him interested in pursuing the role at Saudi German, how he hopes to leverage his “human leadership” philosophy to drive change; why he isn’t worried about being able to adjust to a new culture; and what he’ll miss most about Anne Arundel.
- First priority as new leader – “To meet everyone who’s responsible for keeping the lights on.”
- Driving change – “A CIO doesn’t do it alone.”
- The “adventure” of adapting to a new culture
- Abu Dhabi’s data exchange – “I truly believe in the local power of a good HIE.”
- Creating a framework based on CRISP
- Crowded vendor market in UAE
- Dubai’s expat community – “You’re never left to your own devices.”
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A change of this magnitude, or any magnitude really, is not done by the CIO alone. The CIO is only one person. And as CIO, my leadership approach has never been to dictate something from the top-down.
Whenever there’s a change, I choose to approach it as an adventure — as something to learn and grow from. That has allowed me to have that positive outlook when there’s a change occurring at work or in my personal life. This, I think, qualifies as both.
My goal once I get there is to continue building that out and continue understanding, as we’re standing up these regional HIEs, what their pain points are. How do we bring CIOs from all the other organizations in those parts of the world to the same table, just like we did here, and as a result of that, how do we make those interoperability pieces better?
The good news is that for people relocating to such hotspots of expats, there’s always going to be some sense of community. There’s going to be a set of organizations that fluidly and specifically deal with the action of moving abroad and getting settled in. You’re never left to your own devices.
Gamble: What do you think is going to be your approach in starting this new role? Obviously it’s not something where you can flip a switch on day one, but what do you expect to be the big priorities early on?
Chaudhry: My first priority is to be to get out there and meet the leadership — everybody who is responsible for running the organization and keeping the lights on. That’s going to require a fair amount of travel because of the footprint, but my goal is to essentially meet all the directors of IT, the CEOs, CFOs, and CMOs of the individual facilities spread out across these continents.
The reason is because a change of this magnitude, or any magnitude really, is not done by the CIO alone. The CIO is only one person. And as CIO, my leadership approach has never been to dictate something from the top-down. My approach has always been to build a coalition to help understand what would benefit the practice of medicine, the business of medicine, and every other supporting entity in the health system that allows for patient care to occur, and then work with this coalition to see how we can make the changes that are going to happen from a technology standpoint together.
This manifests itself in many different ways. It manifests itself in me being the person who actually goes out there and shakes hands with the leadership at each facility and says, ‘We need to build trust together,’ and works to understand their pain points and what exactly needs to be changed to alleviate some of those pain points. But it also means that they know who to come to if IT isn’t holding up its end of the bargain. It’s a double-edged sword, but it think the only way to approach changes of this size and magnitude is to have a coalition behind you where everybody has bought in.
Gamble: Right. And of course you’re dealing with another significant change in moving yourself and your family overseas. Talk about how you’re approaching that and how you hope to assimilate into this very different culture.
Chaudhry: It’s going to be a big change. My wife is also extremely excited about the prospect of experiencing a new country and a new culture, but it depends on how you approach large changes from a personal perspective as well. I have always, probably out of necessity, melded both sides of my personality together: my personal side and my professional side. Whenever there’s a change, I choose to approach it as an adventure — as something to learn and grow from. That has allowed me to have that positive outlook when there’s a change occurring at work or in my personal life. This, I think, qualifies as both.
As far as assimilation, I’ve already started to chat with some of the colleagues that I’ll have once I’m on the ground there. This doesn’t just include American or European CIOs from organizations that have a footprint in that part of the world, such as Cleveland Clinic and Hopkins, but also the local IT executive leadership out there.
I’ve started conversing with the senior vice-president and the CEO of the Abu Dhabi Healthcare Information Exchange that went live about a month ago. They’re also building similar HIEs at other Emirati states. Abu Dhabi is one of the United Emirates, and Dubai is the other, but then there’s Sharjah and some others. All of these individual states in the UAE want to build an interoperability framework for healthcare IT; Abu Dhabi going live with the HIE first is a beacon everybody else can follow.
I truly believe in the local power of a good HIE. We have a very robust one here in the State of Maryland, CRISP (Chesapeake Regional Information System for our Patients). I’ve been very engaged with it, both for my role here at Anne Arundel, and in my previous role with Johns Hopkins. As a result of everybody in the State of Maryland being engaged with the HIE, it’s able to do more and more and more for all the hospitals in the state.
Similarly, I envision a future in that part of the world where these HIEs, as they come up state by state, can then start playing well together as a network. We have something like that in the United States. This is going to be a first step in the journey for that part of the world, and I’m extremely excited about it. I’m already starting to buy into it. I’m building a coalition of change on that specific subject in that part of the world, and my goal once I get there is to continue building that out and continue understanding, as we’re standing up these regional HIEs, what their pain points are. How do we bring CIOs from all the other organizations in those parts of the world to the same table, just like we did here, and as a result of that, how do we make those interoperability pieces better for everybody?
The dilution of EHRs out there is much wider. The spectrum of vendors utilized there is much different than what we have in the United States. Many may see that as a challenge. I think it’s an amazing opportunity to make a network that’s agnostic for any vendor, agnostic of any EHR the hospital is using, and focuses pure and simple on the exchange of data. And then whatever the hospitals choose to use at the end of that pipeline of data from the state HIE is up to them.
My goal when I get there is to start building a network on a personal level as well, but on a professional level it’s no different. It’s building a network of like-minded healthcare IT folks and then actually using that network to drive the IT change and transformation.
Gamble: That makes sense. Even something like finding a home is a big consideration. Do you have a place picked out, or are you going to have a temporary home?
Chaudhry: That’s a conversation that’s been spanning a few dinners in my household. The good thing is that in Dubai specifically — and I believe this holds true for the entire UAE — there’s a humongous expat population. The last figures I saw were anywhere from 70 to 80 percent of the region’s population are expatriates. These are people who work there and live there, but are not from there; most of the time they’re from surrounding countries, or from the U.S. and Europe. What they’ve done is built a social structure around it. They’ve built processes around how to welcome expats that are coming into their country and allow them to feel at home relatively quickly as compared to some of the other countries around the world. The organizations that operate in that part of the world are well-versed in doing this.
From my perspective, I was very happy and excited — as was my wife — to learn that even though our move, our relocation, our moving of furniture, our moving of items that we own is going to be the biggest we’ve ever encountered in our lives, it’s actually going to be probably the easiest as well, because we don’t have to pack anything. The way it works with customs, a regulated and certified relocation company has to verify that everything that’s packed and sealed has been assessed by them and is on a piece of inventory. And so they actually pack everything for you. They actually wrap up everything for you, so the only thing my wife and I have to do is basically put stickers on things and mark what’s going.
In terms of finding a home, they have ‘orientation firms’ — my employer has employed one specifically for my move. These are folks who are going to work with you directly to say, ‘What are your requirements for where you’d like to live? What kind of commute would you like? What kind of neighborhood would you like? What kind of view would you like from your living room windows?’ School districts, those types of things. In terms of temporary housing, my organization is setting us up in a hotel until we find something more permanent.
Gamble: These are really important things, because this isn’t just a new job. It’s a whole life change. It’s important to have these things ironed out and to know that you have that community.
Chaudhry: It’s important also to highlight this because as our folks here in the US start thinking globally more and more, and the global need for American healthcare IT professionals grows, I’m assuming more people are going to do this — maybe not Dubai specifically, but everywhere around the world. As Americans, we have such a vast and beautiful piece of land here, and we often don’t travel much further away from it, especially not relocation-wise. There are many people who don’t relocate outside of the United States their entire lives, and that’s okay.
But there are organizations, companies and countries out there that deal with this on a daily basis. They’re used to it. They’re accustomed to it, and you just have to have faith that if an organization does this for people they’re bringing in from outside the country on a weekly basis, they can help you out with your move as well. It’s absolutely a stressor that I had initially, as an American moving abroad. But at this point, I’m happy to say it’s no longer my chief stress point.
Gamble: Right. On a side note, I lived in Singapore for five years as a kid. We went through the whole thing of living in hotel for a bit before finding a house. But I remember how incredible the expat community was. And this was a long time ago, so it’s probably even better now.
Chaudhry: I had no idea that you had that background. You’ve lived this firsthand, so you know exactly what I’m talking about. Singapore is another one of those places. I have a few friends that have relocated from the US to Singapore. It’s becoming one of those multicultural, multinational hotspots. What we’re seeing is when any such concentration occurs, it attracts all the supporting services that go along with it. The good news is that for people relocating to such hotspots of expats, there’s always going to be some sense of community. There’s going to be a set of organizations that fluidly and specifically deal with the action of moving abroad and getting settled in. You’re never going to be left up to your own devices to do the research and be lost.
Chapter 3 Coming Soon…
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