Last week, I attended the CHIME Fall Forum in San Diego. First conference I’ve attended in 2 years. The great pause has given me time to reflect a bit on the CIO/vendor relationship. To add context, I was originally thinking about some of my personal relationships, and that sparked a thought train. I realized I have a handful of really close friends and I have a lot of acquaintances. I also know a few jerks.
Acquaintances are cordial; and we certainly treat one another with respect. Often, I can provide something for them, and they can provide something for me. But friends are different. We know each other better. We take the time to listen to one another. When one of us has a bad situation erupt, we do more than empathize; we take meaningful action to help. We want the other to succeed and are willing to do what it takes to make it so. And jerks are, well, jerks.
That brings me back to health system technology. Prior to Covid, I thought I had a good handle on the situation. As CIO of a multi-hospital system, I interact with hundreds of companies looking to sell their wares to us in a competitive market. Over the years, as a means of framing up these relationships — and preserving our collective sanity — I have informally categorized vendors into one of 3 buckets:
The vendor sells something. We buy something. The T+Cs are clearly laid out with contractually determined SLAs. They provide a service. We write checks. If they fail on some front, we reference our SLAs and hold them to account. The vendor generally has hundreds, perhaps thousands, of customers and we are one of the masses. The relationship works because both sides know what to expect and rely on one another to meet their contractually stated deliverables. This would be the acquaintance.
Of the many companies we contract with, a handful qualify as what we would consider a true partner. And I’d like to think we are a partner to them. These are companies whose products/services are often core to our business model, and they have demonstrated, with actions beyond words, that they are walking this mile with us. That is, they have taken the time to understand our world, know our people, discern our challenges and brainstorm with us to effectively cure our headaches.
They might invite us to their headquarters to learn more about their direction while asking us to present our roadmap. They come onsite to see our world firsthand, and to connect the technology to the patient experience. And, when things go wrong (and they always do at some point), they step up to do the hard work — often in the middle of the night — because they know our operational success depends squarely on their technology.
Further, we invest in them. We serve on their advisory boards and are willing to freely share with their leadership new thoughts and ideas of how their technology could solve the next generation of problems. And often that turns out to be a gold mine. In short, we invest in each other. As such, we depend on one another, and we take comfort in knowing that we can depend on one another. This would be the friend.
Transactional Vendor Masquerading as a Partner Vendor
As the name implies, this is a vendor who uses the term ‘partner’ or ‘partnership’ and says many of the right words, but their actions fall short. This vendor will talk. A lot. Usually about the products/services they offer, frequently attempting to fit their model into ours before they have even taking the time to understand our world, or learn key elements of our circumstance. It is superficial at best and disingenuous at worst. This would be the jerk.
I’d rather have the vendor tell me straight up, ‘We have too many customers, so we will be transactional in nature, but you’ll get everything in the T+Cs.’ That’s it. No attempt to be something they know they can’t deliver on. That, I can respect.
So, that brings me back to CHIME. Like many times before, I planned to spend my time connecting with friends and vendors. These are not necessarily mutually exclusive. During my time at the Keynote, sessions, dinners and ad-hoc conversations, I’m in observation mode. I want to understand if this reductionist model remains valid, or if I need to morph, edit or evolve the thinking. I will post my observations and perhaps even a conclusion or two on LinkedIn and Twitter.
I will share how the CIO thinks, or at least how this CIO thinks, on this topic. Feel free to follow along and let me know your thoughts and ideas about how to frame up the nature of the CIO/vendor relationship. And, with the benefit of the great pause, perhaps we’ll talk a bit about how to make that occasional friend.
This piece was originally published on LinkedIn by Lee Milligan, MD, SVP and CIO at Asante Health System.
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