From CIO to CIO: My interview with CIO Richard Alexander
Richard Alexander: You say it’s important for a CIO to “work on developing a partnership mentality”. What does that mean for you? What specific tools and approaches have you used with your team to help build that mentality? How did you first broach the subject with your team?
Brian E. Thomas: Early in my career, I found that building strong relationships, or partnerships, was the foundation for winning at anything. That includes vendor relationships, managing a project, or getting your CFO to approve a large technology purchase. Learn your customers’ business like they know it, be empathetic, and eliminate their pain points. Building solid relationships from day one will help gain support for your technology initiatives down the road. Having the right relationships will allow you to select a strong ally and champion for these technology initiatives.
The most effective and cheapest tool you can utilize is a well-laid communications plan. Whether it’s training, or an enterprise communication, strategically disseminating this will help align the message with your goals. As a technology team, we consider ourselves “Solution Providers”. This mentality helps empowers our team to think and act like a true solution provider. Additionally, when our customers hear the term it gives a positive spin or ring.
Richard Alexander: Given that all corporate service groups (including IT) must prioritize their activities and live within constrained budgets, it’s important to pick projects that create real business value. What governance process do you use to do that? How do you engage your business-unit partners in this prioritization? What improvements have you seen in your partnership with business units from doing this?
Brian E. Thomas: An important part of your company’s strategy is to have a good governance process. In Healthcare, it is critical that you ensure there is a good representation from the medical provider community. Typically, projects or proposals are brought to our Medical Informatics Committee initially, represents a large percentage of the organization. Moreover, initiatives or strategies are focused around the patient.
When you involve your stakeholders, you will ultimately ensure the success of your technology initiative and the business strategy that you are supporting. Once the stakeholders have bought into the “why” of an initiative or strategy, you will find a majority or unanimous consensus and easily find a strong champion for that initiative. Many years ago, I learned a valuable lesson on an implementation of a medical voice recognition software. Assuming all medical providers would utilize this type of technology, we went ahead and pushed forward with this initiative across the enterprise. After completion of the implementation, we found that only 15% of the providers wanted to use the software. The younger provider generation preferred using built-in templates and functionality within the electronic medical record software versus dictating their notes.
Richard Alexander: Do you have any kind of formal communications plan? If so – what do you include in it? (Do you do any kind of formal stakeholder analysis to determine what messages you want to deliver and to whom?) If you don’t have a communications plan, what do you do as a leader to make sure your team is delivering consistent messages about the value of IT to your business partners?
Brian E. Thomas: Many of our communications plans come from our Change Management or Project Management communications template. This communication includes a brief on the who, what, where, why, and when. Analysis on previous initiatives have shown that the focus of the message needs to tell the stakeholder what’s in it for them.
A key part of any communication plan is to ensure a consistent message that can easily be repeated at any level of the technology or project team. That starts from the CIO down to the Service Desk.
Richard Alexander: IT people measure many aspects of their performance – MIPs available at peak times, # PCs deployed, and so on – but not many of these measurements speak to businesspeople outside IT. What measurements are important to your business partners? How do you choose which measures to report (and how to report them) in order to demonstrate the value of what your team delivers to the business?
Brian E. Thomas: A traditional metric in IT is system uptime and was the most important metric back in the day. However, as technology has shifted and more customers utilize technology, we now measure IT services in terms of the value and service, now we must benchmark ourselves against these outcomes. What’s most important to me is full transparency on what we do and what we deliver.
For example, we have established SLAs (Service Level Agreements) for any request that is submitted. They are prioritized in 4 categories: Priority 1 – impacting patient care; Priority 2 – impacting the customer’s job function; Priority 3 – slightly impacting the customers’ ability to work, but have a work-around; Priority 4 – requests for new service or equipment.
Finally, as the business strategist, the CIO needs to ensure IT’s strategic value is visible to the rest of the organization. Their position of leadership enables them to execute IT strategy, goals and objectives, and ensure they are aligned with the culture of the company. Driving business process improvements, IT becomes just as important a link in the chain as every other department when it comes to solutions that align with the corporate vision.