Published March 2021
Top information executives at healthcare organizations have a wide range of projects that are vying for their attention, but top of mind for most is integrating technologies so that they can effectively share information and, at the same time, keep patient data secure and safe. It’s something that is on the to-do list for Sven Krause, newly named CIO at Hillrom. The long-time vendor, best known for making hospital beds, has gathered strategic acquisitions and now is working to integrate them to enable providers to give connected care to patients that will improve outcomes. Krause shared his thoughts with Anthony Guerra, Founder and Editor of healthsystemCIO, as they discuss these common challenges also facing providers and health systems.
Guerra: Today we’re talking with Sven Krause, CIO at Hillrom, about the top trends impacting health systems, how Hillrom is expanding to help hospitals address those trends, and why everyone needs to be focused on security. Sven, thanks for joining me today.
Krause: It’s a pleasure being here.
Guerra: Why don’t you start out by telling me a little bit about your organization and your role as CIO at Hillrom.
Krause: Hillrom is a global medical technology provider with 100-plus countries that we’re active in. We’re really focused on three main areas – on the ambulatory, acute and home care segments. We have $2.8 billion in revenue, very sizable, very well represented in the U.S., so anywhere you go into a physician’s office, a hospital you’ll see our brands all over. I’m excited to be with them – I joined about eight months ago as the CIO, and I’m responsible for what we call our digital journey, lifting Hillrom and with that, all of our customers – our caregivers and health systems – to the new age and new capabilities.
Guerra: Tell me a little bit about your career path, some of the work you’ve done that put you in a position to take on this role.
Krause: Before Hillrom, I spent most of my career in consulting. I used to be with Ernst and Young, and my last role there was leading the technology activities for health sciences in the U.S., so we would help all the manufacturers as well as health systems and health providers with new technologies, helping them understand what are the trends around security, connectivity and process capabilities around clinical workflows and how could we help them from a consulting perspective. So with that, I’ve seen a lot of the good, the bad and the ugly in the world out there. So for me, doing this now for a medical technology innovator like Hillrom was just the next step of the evolution, so I’m very excited to have taken on that role.
Guerra: What is it about what you bring to the table that got you the job? Hillrom is going to have their choice of anybody and they picked you – that’s a big deal. What is it about what you bring to the table – what’s your special super-power – from a technology point of view? Is it a vision, is it an ability to see trends?
Krause: I think in reality, what everyone is facing – all of our customers out there, all of the health systems, all of the physicians – the new reality is around disruption. So technology companies are expanding their capabilities into health, whether it’s the hyperscalers, whether it’s any of the technology service providers. They’re all expanding in that space, and what our hospitals and providers are seeing is a massive need to get disruptive and also to innovate.
What you’re seeing in the consulting world is you’re always at the forefront of innovation – so what does it mean to move to more (artificial intelligence) or machine learning in the health space? What does it mean to move into a cloud and lift all of our capabilities into a cloud world? What does it mean to move from more “cap ex” which hospitals have historically been operating under, into more “op ex” models? And ultimately, what does it really mean to advance what we call connected care?
With the massive influx of attacks on hospital systems, for example, what does cybersecurity truly mean if you’re in a highly regulated and highly sensitive data environment, like a hospital or physician’s office? So bringing that to the table from a consulting role, where you’ve seen all that’s good out there and all the best players out there, and all those capabilities, and really funneling this into our vision around advanced connected care, around our products and interoperability, and bringing that to our customers – our health systems, hospitals and IDNs – was one of the biggest qualifiers.
In addition, one of the things I had been working on a lot in my days prior to Hillrom is really optimizing processes by using standardization to optimize them. A lot of our hospitals and the CIOs in our hospitals care about – how do I get to standard applications, how do I get to interoperable applications? How do I implement security in zero-trust environments, for example, and how do I optimize clinical workflows to improve outcomes for our patients? That ability, and that combination of new technologies and standardization is a unique qualifier that allowed me to jump into this role and hopefully bring Hillrom and our customers forward.
Guerra: It sounds like you have a great sense of your customers, like you understand and have gotten into their minds. And I think this is truly important in business – you have to understand your customers. You mentioned cap ex vs. op ex … you’re even thinking about the way they can spend – how they can spend, how they’re allowed to spend – and how can they buy from you. So, “What do we have to do with our products and how do we make it likely that they’ll be able to purchase them.” That concept of really knowing the customer inside and out is interesting to me. Can you talk about that?
Krause: In the past we used to call it customer or client intimacy. We need to understand day-to-day what we call our heroes – our nurses and our doctors – are going through every single day, in order to talk about what it even means to optimize clinical workflow or how to measure patient outcomes. That only works if we understand what they care about and what they live through every single day. What we’ve seen through COVID is one of the most significant disruptions ever that our health systems have experienced and it became clear how difficult it is if you are not standardized, if you don’t have clear clinical workflows, if you don’t know how to communicate with each other amongst the different parties within the hospital and patients. The need has just arisen so quickly and accelerated with COVID. Those are exactly the right discussions for us to have right now in order to be prepared for the future.
Guerra: So you’re talking about understanding doctors and nurses. Let’s talk about understanding hospital and health system CIOs. You’re a CIO at a company like Hillrom – that’s different than being a CIO at a provider. There are similarities, and you’re going to encounter some of the same challenges, but tell me your thoughts about what are the needs, the challenges, that CIOs at large health systems are dealing with right now. What are they trying to solve, and then we’ll get to how you’re trying to position yourself to be a service provider of these people.
Krause: You’ve been leading a lot of these conversations as part of your healthsystemCIO interview process, and what you hear from (provider CIOs) is not different than what industry CIOs are dealing with every single day. At the top of their minds is certainly security and data privacy – so how do I protect the data and the assets that I have within my hospital, for example. How do I connect and provide connectivity amongst all the different devices and capabilities within the hospital without exposing anything to the outside? And the third thing is how do I bring more standardization across my hospital? So if I have several hundred hospitals across the U.S., how do I connect them all with each other?
Health systems have grown over time, through acquisitions, for example – how do I integrate an acquisition and keep them running, and now drive analytics across all of them and not have five or 10 different solutions? And that’s why advancing connected care service is so important for us because it’s exactly what our health systems care about. The connectivity and cybersecurity and the security protection around this is what they truly care about. And when we say connecting care, that doesn’t just mean the interoperability of our devices, for example, or the devices within the hospital.
It also means the connectivity between the different parties within the hospital – the doctors and nurses and providers, etc. How do they communicate with the patients? How do they get alerted when something goes wrong with a patient? How interactive can we make the diagnostics, and how much intelligence can we get in the hands of a doctor or a nurse in the hospital so they can immediately see what’s going on with their patients? How can they be more accurate and drive better outcomes? If you talk about the top three or four things, that’s what a health system CIO thinks about, and honestly, that’s what a true provider cares about – they care about their customers.
Guerra: Hillrom traditionally, or one of the things people think about Hillrom, is the beds. They’re incredibly sophisticated beds, but the beds come to mind. But the company has been on a journey. Could you take me through the evolution of this to where it hopes to do more things and provide more services. I also want you to talk about your onboarding to this; you had a vision of what technology can do for companies, of trends, of where things are going. You want to see if these visions are in alignment. But saw a vision that aligns what you think is right. So just take me through that.
Krause: If you could have heard John Groetelaars, our CEO, when he and I talked in the interview, what he laid out was congruent, and the vision was fully in line, with where I thought the trends are going out there, where I think we should be going as a company, and what he’s been pursuing for the last two years as the CEO of Hillrom. You can look at our strategy and vision around advancing connected care and really improving the lives of patients and caregivers.
Then also there’s our M&A strategy and where it has been going – so five or six years ago, Welch-Allyn was the No. 1 brand in the market around patient monitoring diagnostics. That was a significant strategic move for us to grow beyond beds when we’ve been on this journey for a very long time. Now our bed galaxy, our connectivity around the bed, is No. 1 in the market. There’s no discussion about that. But when you look at all the acquisitions – to improve care communications, interoperability between medical devices within the hospital, diagnostic visualization tools and cardiac monitoring – all of them are an ecosystem of capabilities that Hillrom has been putting together, and this is exactly the discussion I had in my first meeting with the CEO.
And what I’ve witnessed over the last eight months has been impressive. There’s been discussion around connected care within the hospital, what it means to connect patient diagnostics to the care communication capabilities and to our bed galaxy. That ecosystem is what creates the power of the company, and that’s what really excited me. Being at the forefront of technology, all the ability we’re giving to our providers and to our caregivers, help around analytics in the future … we’re working with some of the large hyper scalers out there. That’s what really excited me in taking on the role.
Guerra: Let’s talk a little bit about that CIO-CEO relationship. You just described your relationship with your CEO. This has been a classic discussion over the last 15 years that the CIO should not be the one that fixes the projector when it doesn’t work, right? It’s an interesting dynamic to be a CIO; you want to lead, but you’re not the CEO. You need to lead, but you need to follow that vision. You don’t want to be totally passive; you want to be bringing ideas. You’re not just there to be told what to do. Is it to suggest technology that can enable that larger vision that’s established by the CEO? What do you think is the best way that that relationship should function?
Krause: What I’ve witnessed is that John is an extremely forward-thinking and visionary CEO that truly understands the disruptability and capabilities of technology, and how the market is changing, as I mentioned earlier, to software-based and data-based decision making and analytics that predict outcomes in the future.
I’m going to add one more party in here – our CTO, Brian Lawrence, is an extremely capable, forward-looking engineer who really oversees the extension of our devices, the connectivity we offer. So the three of us are really working in lockstep in improving the capabilities around our markets of our products. On the inside of Hillrom, we work on how do we get better – our workflows, our processes, our technologies and how we interact with our customers. The commerce capabilities – how do we get the best services to our customers? It’s a trifecta of capabilities, and I can tell you that I’ve not seen that everywhere. I’ve seen a lot of companies out there and health systems, and it’s just not always the case. It really comes down to the leadership and their vision.
And what you’ve just described, is not just a Hillrom challenge – CIOs in health systems historically have not been relevant, not nearly as relevant as they are today. Now, large hospitals and health systems are looking to their CIOs to guide them. What does it mean to for us to standardize on enterprise standards? What does it mean for us to connect our devices? How do we drive more cybersecurity? How do we protect our data better? The CIO has become massively relevant in those discussions in the health systems. And we’re seeing that as well; hence, we’re having this discussion. And it’s the right thing to do; you need to have the discussion at that level together with your CEO.
Guerra: I wonder if we’ll see more CIO to COO or CIO to CEO transitions. I’ve seen a few, but not a lot. But I wonder if we’ll see more, because technology is such a huge part of healthcare today.
Krause: Five years ago, if you had had a discussion with one of your health system CEOs, and you would have talked about cloud, they would have said, “Leave me alone. I don’t want to have any data out there in the cloud. It’s not secure; it’s not private. All my patients’ PHI is exposed; I can’t have any data outside.” Now, if you look at discussions today, look at all the announcements from the large health systems and how they are collaborating with the hyper scalers. That wouldn’t have been there five or seven years ago. So the amount of disruption over the last few years has led to that accelerated role and the importance of the CIO. We’re seeing that in the interactions that we’re having around connected care strategies, they’re happening with the CIOs, and that’s the right role to have those discussions with.
Guerra: You mentioned a few of the acquisitions. A lot of CIOs on the hospital side, when they see vendors make acquisitions, they’re always a little dubious of the integration behind the scenes. I would imagine that’s a lot like a hospital acquiring a new hospital or a physician practice – the goal is to make that a meaningful combination and not just a business combination. Is that one of your priorities, to get those acquisitions integrated in a data-flowing perspective? What are you trying to do with those acquisitions?
Krause: One other reason I was brought on (at Hillrom) was the integrity, the synergies of acquisitions in the past – Welch-Allyn was one of the largest – we’ve acquired them, but historically, we’ve really let them stand alone. And there’s a value to standalone, autonomous businesses as we drive our category leadership in the market. But there’s also a lot of value in integrating back-end capabilities and standardizing processes, as we talk about workflow standardization.
One of the things we’re going through is our internal digital journey, which includes integration of all of our businesses onto a common platform, with common data models and common reporting and analytics, and common processes, and that’s one of the things that I’m overseeing internally. Our customers are delighted by it because we’re interacting with them in a much more modern way. When it comes to service, they are seeing the ability to order from us and interacting with us in all shapes and forms. But also our employees, and that’s important, especially with COVID – we’ve seen new strain on employees and their mental health. So improving employee experience and standardizing processes for them is a big priority for us. Internal integration around data interoperability of our applications and security around this is one of my priorities as well.
Guerra: We’ve talked about CIOs and the position getting elevated. Certainly, the CISOs have been really elevated as well – security is top of mind for just about everybody, it’s no longer an afterthought. I think everybody gets that.
Krause: You open the Wall Street Journal now, and on the front page, there’s a story that talks about somebody else being hit by ransomware or having their technology exposed. The massive uptick that especially hospital and health system customers have seen over the last few months, in particular because of COVID, just raised awareness and was a reminder of this and how unprepared a lot of companies are.
Within Hillrom, the company gets it – we’ve been operating very closely with different standard-setting boards, including the DOJ. We see a lot of our devices being certified under the high security standards. And that’s something that our health systems care about, as we bring devices to them, the security is one of the top priorities. So yes, our CISO, our products and security is top of mind for everybody.
Guerra: As a final question, I’d like to see if you have some advice for our health system CIOs, based on what you know. Now you haven’t been in that role, but based on what you know about what they’re dealing with, what’s your best advice to them, and what do you want them to understand about Hillrom?
Krause: My advice is to continue to be curious about what’s out there. What are the capabilities, the disrupters and technologies out there, whether it’s analytics, whether it’s clinical workflows or connectivity or security. Continue to be curious and walk with your eyes open. You don’t have to rush into something, but there are technologies that are advanced enough that can truly improve outcomes for the health systems and ultimately for the patients. So curiosity, balanced with speed, is something that I would give as advice.
About Hillrom, take the time and talk to us about the broader connectivity within the hospital and the clinical workflows and the connectivity and security around devices. That’s really our strategy around the vision of advancing connected care. And talk to us about outcomes and how we can potentially help across the full care continuum. That’s my marketing advice here.
Guerra: I think that was a great chat and I appreciate your insight. It sounds like you have an exciting role at an exciting time in life. Hopefully we’ll get to catch up again.