When Ryan Smith first started as a software engineer at Intermountain Healthcare, he probably wouldn’t have guessed he’d come back one day as CIO. But he did aspire to become someone who could “influence the direction of technology,” just as Larry Grandia (the organization’s first CIO) had. And he knew that attaining a leadership role at a “pioneering institution” like the Utah-based health system wasn’t possible without the right experience.
And so he went to work, taking on roles that enabled him to learn as much as possible about the industry while developing his skills as a leader. It was that experience, Smith said in a recent interview, which helped prepare him to step in as CIO at Intermountain, a role that “feels like coming home.”
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Adjusting to the CIO role: Smith’s immediate focus is on meeting with leaders and staff and getting their perspectives on where key opportunities exist. “It’s a lot of listening, a lot of rapid learning, and a lot of assimilating information.”
Finding opportunities during a crisis: Smith believes there are many new ways in which organizations can “leverage technology, leverage data, and leverage digital capabilities to help advance clinical work and remote patient care. It’s really an exciting time.”
Building experience with M&A at Banner Health: During his tenure with Banner Health, Smith realized the importance of having a business-driven strategy to enable acquired entities to be rapidly integrated. “I believe I’ll be able to leverage that experience as Intermountain continues to grow.”
Being exposed to different IT environments as a consultant: As an executive advisor with Health Catalyst, Smith quickly realized that “every organization isn’t like Intermountain or Banner,” and got a sense of the roles digital, mobile, and cloud technologies play at different organizations.
Q&A with Ryan Smith, CIO, Intermountain Healthcare, Part 1
Gamble: What has been your approach in stepping into the CIO role at Intermountain?
Smith: As you can imagine, I’m trying to come up to speed as quickly as possible. We’re in a very fast-moving environment right now trying to deal with COVID-19. And so it’s been day to day and week to week in terms of the challenges we’re seeing at a system level.
I’m trying to meet with all of our corporate and operational leaders during my first 90 days so I can learn as much as possible about what the greatest needs are, and how my organization can help support the company’s goals and initiatives. It’s also recognizing that we need to be really flexible from an IT perspective, and very adaptable to the different types of business needs that the rest of the organization is facing.
In the meantime, I’m also meeting with leaders and staff within the IT organization and getting their perspectives where the biggest opportunities exist. It’s a lot of listening, a lot of rapid learning, and a lot of assimilating information, and from there, starting to form new strategies for how we can partner and support the business going forward.
Gamble: With Covid-19 still very much at the center, how does that affect your strategy?
Smith: You have to be very flexible and adaptable. From what I’ve been able to ascertain based on my recent experience with Health Catalyst, every healthcare system right now is facing enormous pressures around revenues and cost management. Some organizations have seen increases of 4,000 or 5,000 percent in video visits and telemedicine, and they’ve had just a few weeks to get their arms around it. And so leaders need to be supportive, understand what the needs are, and figure out how to flex quickly to help achieve outcomes.
Gamble: Are there specific long-term priorities you’ve established, is it more about focusing on immediate needs?
Smith: We don’t really have the luxury of being able to just to put things on the back burner. By and large, we’re still working on a lot of big initiatives that had been prioritized. At the same time, there’s this absolute recognition that we have to flex our muscles and build muscles that weren’t necessarily there before, or hadn’t been as developed, and move quickly.
It seems like everyone’s in the same boat right now. There’s a lot of shoring up right now, and a lot of new ways we can leverage technology, leverage data, and leverage digital capabilities to help advance clinical work and remote patient care. It’s really an exciting time.
Gamble: How do you hope to draw from your prior career experiences at Banner Health and Health Catalyst, as well as Intermountain?
Smith: I was at Banner for nearly 5 years. It was an operating model that’s renowned across the healthcare industry; that experience provided me with a great perspective on the importance of running IT as a single enterprise-wide function to really be able to maximize efficiency and provide a consistent experience to all of our team members and caregivers. Because of the high volume of merger and acquisition work Banner does, I also learned the importance of having a business-driven integration strategy so that we could rapidly integrate acquired entities. I believe I’ll be able to leverage that experience as Intermountain continues to grow.
During my two years with Health Catalyst, I saw firsthand the huge opportunity we have in healthcare to leverage data, business intelligence tools, analytics to make wholesale, transformative changes.
That’s part of what I was able to experience while being away from Intermountain, and I look forward to being able to apply that. Those concepts are by no means new to Intermountain, but I believe I have some new angles that could be helpful.
Gamble: What was your role at Catalyst?
Smith: I was an executive advisor to CIOs, CTOs, digital officers, data officers, and analytics officers around the country. My job was to help them build out data and digital strategies to help position their organizations for the future.
Gamble: I can see how that experience helped build your perspective.
Smith: It did. I really had the opportunity to canvass the country to see up close the true state of healthcare, and witness what’s working and what isn’t. One thing I quickly realized is that every organization isn’t like Intermountain or Banner. When you spend the better part of 20 years in that environment, it’s easy to get the sense that all organizations are pretty much the same. Well, they’re not. That experience helped cement in my mind the critical roles that technology, data, digital, cloud and mobile all need to play in coming together and making leapfrog improvements. Other service industries outside of healthcare have already done this; now it’s our turn to leverage those learnings and apply them at our organizations.
Gamble: That makes sense, especially with digital health adoption quickly increasing.
Smith: Absolutely. I had an amazing opportunity years ago during my time at Intermountain to be the executive lead of our e-business, which was designed to help the company transform both operationally and digitally to meet consumer expectations.
When I joined Banner, I was able to turn a fledgling program into a full-blown digital business program, bringing in human factor designers, UX experts, web and mobile software engineers, and data experts, and locking arms with marketing to help transform into a consumer-centric organization. Intermountain has been great at that historically, and I look forward to helping support those digital business opportunities as we continue to expand those types of services. It’s more relevant than ever, and it’s going to continue to play an even greater role in the industry going forward.