C-Suite Executive with Technology Literacy: CIO

Robert Napoli, CIO & SVP-IT, Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands
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Robert Napoli, CIO & SVP-IT, Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands

During my first healthcare IT leadership job, the organization for which I worked didn’t have a CIO position.

"A CIO can accomplish much more important objectives, such as leveraging technology to bring efficiency and greater financial returns"

As with many healthcare organizations, IT reported to the CFO and was considered a cost center with little strategic value. We were responsible for making sure that the technology lights stayed on, which meant: the help desk, infrastructure, telecom, and anything technology related.

This has changed. Technologies such as mobility, cloud computing, big data, and social media have created strategic issues that require the attention of a CIO capable not only of innovation but also of helping to transform the organization itself.

For CIOs, the days of managing infrastructure, data centers and telecom as core job functions are over. These functions are still important, but today it’s easy to outsource or automate many of them. At worst, there are other staff members within Information Services departments to whom these tasks can be delegated.

Freed from the mundane, a CIO can accomplish much more important objectives, such as leveraging technology to bring efficiency and greater financial returns. You don’t just do this by implementing new technologies; you do this by thinking differently about how, when and why to use technology. For example, a CIO can be instrumental in shifting the mindsets of front line staff as well as the Board and top level executives.

To do this, a CIO needs to be the opposite of what he used to be: instead of running a department that largely operates behind-the-scenes, he has to build strong relationships across the organization.
 
“Technology is a team sport,” said Tim Zoph when he and Donna Roach presented the results of a survey on October 15 at the CHIME Fall Forum. The survey was administered to CHIME (College of Healthcare Information Management Executives) board members and member CIOs, as well as to non-CIO C-suite executives.
 
Zoph reported, “One of the most important learning of this enterprise was that achieving alignment with the senior team is fundamental. If you don’t have alignment, you’re going to have problems developing strategy.”

Interestingly, according to the survey C-suite executives had a stronger sense of the need for CIOs to be change agents than did the CIOs themselves. This didn’t surprise me. Non-technology executives need a partner with whom they can collaborate, and in many cases their desire for such a partner exceeds some CIO’s readiness to be such a proactive and dynamic professional.
 
The core capabilities of an engaged and engaging CIO closely resemble a technology literate CEO. You must be able to operate around a strategic vision for the entire organization shifting people, resources and mindsets as necessary to bring that vision to fruition.

Of course, this is all happening in the context of near-constant change. As Zoph observed,” The healthcare industry is accelerating its pace of change. It feels very frenetic today, but it’s going to be even more frenetic. There are a lot of forces for change, including organizational consolidation, consumerism, precision medicine, regulatory developments, and payment model changes.”

When I joined my organization 2 and half years ago, I was expected to operate in a proactive, strategic manner. To be frank, in the past things became stagnant and antiquated. I had broad discretion to change people, processes, and technology so that we could operate at high levels of performance.

Yes, I’ve invested a lot of time and effort into operational remediation, but I’ve also been busy providing the strategic value that technology offers. During this time, we implemented a mHealth app, built a data warehouse for our BI initiative which will drive our decision making, and moved many applications to the Cloud; the latter will reduce costs and redirect staff toward more meaningful efforts.

As a member of the Executive Team, I am also being relied on to assist the organization in non-technology related strategic initiatives. Aside from changing the culture of my department (which is a leadership responsibility), I am a key leader in helping create and manage the innovation process which we’ve described internally as “Thrive.”

I’ve been asked to find ways to drive revenue and reduce expenses in all areas, not just with technology and I am also spearheading an effort to bring lean Six Sigma process methodology to the organization in order to improve performance.

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