For many leaders, transitioning to a new organization — and a completely different industry — during a pandemic might not seem like a logical move. But for Tony Ambrozie, coming to healthcare was a no brainer.
“This is a place where a lot of transformation will happen, and a lot of it will be around technology, digital, and machine learning, which is what I’ve been doing,” he said during a podcast interview. And it will happen “in a relatively short period of time.”
Recently, Ambrozie spoke with healthsystemCIO about the enormous opportunity as Baptist Health South Florida’s first Chief Digital and Information Officer, and how he hopes to leverage the experience he has gained working for organizations like American Express and, most recently, Disney. He also talked about why 5-year plans are becoming a thing of the past, what he has learned from Elon Musk, and what he believes are the biggest challenges in healthcare.
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- The best pieces of advice for transitioning to a new industry? Read books, listen, and prepare to immerse yourself in it as much as possible.
- Having spent time in a number of verticals, including software engineering, retail, financial services, and hospitality, Ambrozio has learned that the one common denominator is a “focus on high-quality technology” to support digital growth.
- The four dimensions of digital experiences in healthcare involve consumers (before and after clinical encounters), patients, clinical staff, and operations/administration.
- Developing a solid digital strategies means letting go of the ‘perfect’ vision and instead adopting an agile model.
Q&A with Tony Ambrozie, Part 1
Gamble: Thanks so much for taking some time to speak with us. Let’s jump right into the questions.
Tony: Sure. I’m guessing you want to start with, ‘What in the world were you thinking going into healthcare during a pandemic?’
Gamble: Exactly. In fact, you did a webinar with us in December where you talked about the ‘tremendous opportunity in healthcare from a digital perspective,’ but, as you alluded to, it was an unusual time. Can you talk about how you made the transition?
Ambrozie: Of course. Transitioning to healthcare during a pandemic was very unusual. But I’ve been interested in healthcare for a while. I think this is a place where a lot of transformation will happen, and a lot of it will be around technology, digital, data and machine learning, which is what I’ve been doing for a while. A lot of great things will happen in a relatively short period of time, I believe. And so, especially given that I’ve been in a number of places already, where else to be but here?
Now, in terms of how I’ve managed that transition, obviously coming from a different business, there’s a significant learning curve. But I’ve done it a few times before. I started in software engineering for a startup almost 30 years ago. I then went into manufacturing and retail, financial services with American Express, and then hospitality with Disney.
People ask me, ‘How do you do this?’ There are two things. One is that once you’ve done a few transitions, you learn how to learn. You gain the knowledge of how to learn new things and you know where the opportunities and limitations are, who the players are and what are the rules, and you build that mental image.
The second part — which is just as important — is once you get into a new domain, especially one as fascinating as healthcare, you need to do a deep and absolute immersion into that domain. Elon Musk was once asked how he manages to learn new things from seemingly unrelated domains such as electric cars and batteries and rockets and financial services, and his answer was three words: ‘I read books.’ Now, I may not be anywhere as successful as he is, but I absolutely do that. I read a lot of books and articles and I go conferences, but I also listen very carefully to all the internal and external folks in that domain. And then I try to internalize it all into my own mental image.
Looking at these domains I’ve worked in, most of them in the last 20 years, what binds them together is a focus on high quality and engineering-driven technology — not just to support normal operations, but the promise of digital. And so by now, digital and data technologies are part of my professional DNA, I would think.
Gamble: When did you first arrive at Baptist?
Ambrozie: An eternity; almost four months ago. So I’m a veteran.
Gamble: Of course. What was your approach as far as the direction the organization wanted to take with digital? It seems like they were already on that path, but where did you see things going?
Ambrozie: First of all, for those who are not familiar, Baptist Health is a large health provider system in South Florida. I knew during the interview process it was a special place and I’ve come to learn that indeed that was the case. One of the things they commit very strongly to at the board level, the CEO level, and the direct reports level, is a profound focus on digital transformation. Bringing me onboard was the first step in that commitment. Our CEO, Brian Keeley, talks about Baptist becoming the Amazon of healthcare in South Florida, which is a very powerful vision.
And so there were initiatives that had started before, but once I came in, I was able to start pulling folks together based on what I knew, and I was learning. My focus here really is on two levels. The first one is to build, in parallel, digital experiences and capabilities, as well as data and machine learning. That’s why they absolutely wanted somebody from a different space focused on the consumer.
The other is on rebuilding the core technology function to support the digital and AI/machine learning part. Think about it like two streams that need to go in parallel.
Gamble: And digital itself has so many components.
Ambrozie: It does. Digital is really focused on four dimensions in the healthcare provider space. First and foremost is the consumer experience, both before and after clinical interactions. This is anything from booking and changing medical appointments, all the way to telehealth and remote monitoring. Next is providing that consumer experience when consumers become patients; when they’re in the hospital or having clinical interactions, what is their experience? That’s slightly different.
The third is digital experience for the clinical staff. What digital tools and experiences do they need to be effective? And finally, the focus on operations and administration. This is really about making operations more efficient over time through automation, data analytics, and machine learning.
The other part of my goal here is rebuilding the technology, data foundations and capabilities needed to be able to deliver that digital transformation. So we’re looking at cloud as an enabler of those capabilities for high-quality development and technology operations. This is really the business of technology. Focusing on cost effectiveness and getting more out of the technology and digital dollars. And clearly all this is supported by talent development.
All of this has really crystallized for me and our teams in the last four months based on where we want to be and go and where we are now, and then mapping the distance from point A to point B.
Gamble: Right. And is part of that focus turning this digital vision into more of a strategy and looking at, here’s what we need to do and when?
Ambrozie: Absolutely. The digital transformation vision was already there. I added some contours, but that was in the first two weeks. When there is so much to do and so much opportunity and demand, the beginner’s honeymoon is short. And so the next step was developing a strategy. I think we have a good one; it’s built more in an agile fashion. Instead of spending a year defining the perfect strategy, we’ve put together something we can start sooner rather, without having all the pieces all completely figured out, then determining whether you can execute on them. From there it becomes a conversation about the roadmap and plan: what, when, with whom, and with what money. That’s where we are at this point.
Gamble: Right. So you don’t necessarily have a three-year plan or the five-year plan, but rather, something more agile?
Ambrozie: I think so. It’s interesting; I’ve worked with companies that have had business models with investment cycles of 5, 10 or 20 years. In healthcare, it’s different. Not only does the technology evolve from one generation of iPhone to another, simplistically put, but the experience itself evolves, and the ecosystem evolves in ways where we’re providing experiences we didn’t think were possible.
Therefore, long strategies are difficult to put together, but we have a vision. We have a vision of where we’d like to be in three years and what that will look like. But when it comes to roadmaps and implementations, it needs to be a lot shorter. Some of these things are truly cutting edge and therefore there’s a fair amount of trying and learning. But I would say it’s more agile, and it’s evolving over time.