Is your IT department a strategic hero?


Hospitals and health systems are moving from being a cost center to being a strategic differentiator. However, this pace of transforming IT from a Keeping The Lights On (KTLO) cost center to a strategic enabler is slow. 

We recently surveyed 100 CIOs from the nation’s top health systems to get a feel for what the typical CIO of a large health system looks like and to better understand how CIOs are equipped to deal with the new age of healthcare IT.

The majority of top health system CIOs have backgrounds in running large system integration organizations. The jury is still out on how these CIOs will retool themselves to deliver strategic differentiation in the age of real time decision enablement and information flow. 
 

Average Age:

We started with a simple proxy of CIO readiness: Age. While the typical age of leaders in core technology companies in silicon valley is trending lower - based on our study, the average age of CIOs was slightly unexpected: nearly three quarters (70%) are over the age of 50, and close to 20% over the age of 60. The shift in HIT of moving to a more strategic position could be the reason for this statistic. It is becoming increasingly obvious that executives at health systems are realizing that IT leaders need to be more involved in the boardroom and not just from a “review and approval of large IT projects” standpoint. Now more than ever, it’s important for CIOs to work with their peers in identifying and formulating strategy on forward-thinking technology that can improve and automate business processes.

Number of years at the current health system:

What we found interesting about the data in the graph above was the lack of longevity these top CIOs had at their current position: Five of 54 CIOs who have been at the health system for five years or less did not start off as a CIO, meaning that they worked their way up to the leader position. Since the IT department has the most constituents and bear the most burden of maintaining core functions of a hospital, it may be becoming more common to bring in new eyes and ideas to help move the IT functions of a health system forward. Another thought is that IT leaders need to have some experience in implementing change management because they have to bring departments together in order to be successful in running all the technology of a health system. By switching health systems after a series of years, more experience and exposure to best practices from other environments is helping to propel this change. Possibly, these new best practices are being learned and are more common that the new phase of IT is more than just a systems integration function. 
 

Non-IT Experience:

A small minority (18%) of the CIOs surveyed had non-IT experience throughout their professional careers. These non-IT positions were medical/clinical (41%), operations (29%), consulting (24%) and project management (6%). While having a tremendous amount of experience in information technology is important, not having other business knowledge and experience can be somewhat crippling. Clearly, it is imperative for CIOs to have knowledge about infrastructure, platforms and integrations, but having experience outside of the IT world is just as important. The fact that can make or break a solution is knowing not only how to run the solution and keep it running but also knowing if the solution actually solves the problem and is realistic for its use case. When IT leaders have had additional experience outside of the IT realm, it can be very useful when evaluating technology solutions utilized 24/7 in a health system such as clinical solutions.
 

Non-healthcare experience:

Close to 60% of the CIOs have not had experience outside of the healthcare industry. The majority of the CIOs who have non-healthcare experience held those positions early in their careers and made the transition to healthcare shortly after. The industry has seen a recent trend of hiring executives outside of healthcare to bring in different perspectives on improving operations and the patient experience. Having a different view from another industry that is more technologically advanced than healthcare could be very important in the near future. As health systems compete more and more, new perspectives will help differentiate them from the rest. The same is true with IT. Even though technology is technology, CIOs need to be at the forefront of new and innovative advances that could help their organization. Instead of being the gatekeeper, the IT department should be the gate enablers and lead the guidance and support of useful technology for their peers and constituents.

Employed at more than two organizations prior to the current role:

Of the 62% that have worked for two other organizations outside of their current health system, 50% have worked for companies outside of healthcare. This could be another testament as to how health systems are bringing in more talent from other industries and different types and sizes of organizations. While this statistic shows dedication and loyalty to an organization, it could also promote the “this is how we have always done it” mentality which is common for people to have when they have worked at an organization for a long period of time. Fortunately through the increased usage of analytics, IT leaders are getting past the preference for experience over data. The utilization of and reliance on analytics is ever present and will not be losing importance anytime soon, if ever.