The CDO role in healthcare: Will 2019 be a breakout year?

Whether the “D” in “CDO” stands for “data” or “digital,” all trendlines seem to suggest that 2019 will be a breakout year for these emerging leadership roles across healthcare.

While Gartner advocates that the CDO role encompass enterprise information management (EIM) and digital innovation, the healthcare industry seems to be hospitable to both a Chief Data Officer and a Chief Digital Officer. Regardless of the investments that organizations make in these roles, these leaders must be business savvy and forward-thinking.

What is driving the creation of these new roles and how do they add value to their enterprises?

Differentiation from the Chief Information Officer (CIO)
The requirements for the healthcare CIO, regardless of entity type, have changed dramatically. I take exception to those that say that the average healthcare CIO is just not up to the diversified challenge of the role and that this factor alone has led to the expansion of the IT suite. Rather, I see IS (information services) or IT (information technology) like any other discipline that has evolved and matured over time to reveal that there are specializations within.

Some CIOs love the foundational “ops” functions of IT. It is their passion and what they do best. It’s the niche that they carve for themselves and they are happy for others to take on other functions. This is what gave rise to positions like CTO, CMIO, CNIO, etc.

Other CIOs really love the “strategy” of information services delivery – innovating through technology. This has given rise to the Chief Digital Officer and some CIOs have moved into these positions as the value proposition for a dedicated role has been created.

Data/Information are finally starting to be viewed and valued as enterprise assets. Like other assets that have a dedicated executive - the COO over the bricks/mortar, the CFO over the money, the CIO over technical infrastructure - data needs its dedicated executive as well giving rise to the Chief Data Officer.

The Chief Data Officer
Organizations have spent a fortune on EHRs, HIEs and other types of technology enablement to create and collect data beyond anything that could ever be captured in a paper chart. Why? Because we believe that in this deeper data lies tremendous value – to improve care, to reduce costs, to accelerate cures. The power of data and analytics is disrupting the healthcare landscape and driving the demand for an accountable, high-level executive. Without this additional horsepower at the top, opportunities to improve revenues, boost productivity and innovate may never be realized for lack of focus and accountability. It only makes sense that someone should be charged specifically with this awesome responsibility and opportunity.
While there is no standard position description for healthcare’s Chief Data Officer, the industry does seem to be coalescing around what it wants, needs and expects of the role:
 Ensure data quality, reliability and access
 Cut costs/improve margins
 Improve business agility
 Create operational efficiency
 Enhance decision-making and enable it deeply in the organization
 Reduce risk in data-driven/data-oriented projects and programs
 Ensure regulatory compliance
 Innovate
 Capitalize on big data opportunities – drive revenue growth, monetize information assets
 Create competitive advantage

This agenda requires a team comprising data/information architects, data scientists, data quality, EIM, data governance and master data management professionals, and BI/Analytics gurus to start. It’s fair to say that the successful healthcare Chief Data Officer is part integrator, part optimizer, and part innovator.

In interviews conducted over the past few months with CIO/Chief Data Officer dyads, they describe their relationships pretty consistently – the CIO enables the technology environment such that the Chief Data Officer knows she can rely upon those source systems and infrastructure to deliver the data she needs.

The Chief Digital Officer
As healthcare moves to value-based, consumer-centric care, and as the market is being disrupted by tech-savvy vanguards that have shaped the digital experience in other sectors, healthcare organizations are responding by introducing the Chief Digital Officer. The industry is increasingly turning to the Chief Digital Officer to unlock innovation and drive engagement, connectivity, productivity within and beyond the traditional enterprise boundaries.

As with the Chief Data Officer, there is no consensus position description for the Chief Digital Officer, but there are some trends in wants, needs and expectations:

 Leverage technology to reimagine operations
 Map digital assets to strategies
 Develop the digital technology portfolio
 Initiate or innovate digital processes
 Drive new revenue growth
 Monetize digital assets
 Disrupt with creativity
 Delight the customer

The idea of “delighting the customer” is the most common want/need/expectation. A relentless focus on the human experience is driving digital health and the agenda of the Chief Digital Officer. He is obsessed with rethinking how care is provided and how wellness is promoted. He considers every interaction that happens in the delivery of care and the promotion of wellness and how to optimize those interactions through digital. It’s much bigger than the technology, but the disruptive nature of the technology challenges everything we know in conventional healthcare. This puts the Chief Digital Officer squarely in the center of change – cultural, operational, strategic – that touches virtually every healthcare function and process, at maturity.

The Chief Digital Officer is a convener, drawing his operational horsepower from the business and indirect relationships, rather than a huge staff. That said, as digital health initiatives are defined and implemented (e.g. telehealth, patient engagement, even AI), they require their own operational leadership that may report to the Chief Digital Officer.

Measuring the Value of the CDOs
Regardless of the CDO role in question, healthcare organizations are evaluating CDO performance and value contribution similarly:

 Have efficiencies been realized?
 Have expenses been reduced?
 Have new products or services been introduced?
 Have revenues increased?
 Are we in a better competitive position?
 Has business risk been reduced?
 Has customer experience improved?

Look for 2019 to be a breakout year for these roles across the healthcare industry. Healthcare is on pace to invest over $12B in digital health in 2018. Healthcare organizations need a savvy and innovative leader to make sense of that evolving digital landscape and the new data being created from it.

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