The new-age CIO: 3 leaders on how the top IT role is evolving

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As technology's role becomes cemented at the core of most business operations, organizations are increasingly turning to their CIOs for guidance.

In a July 10 article in The Wall Street Journal, reporter Kim Nash wrote, "With software at the heart of many new business models and CEOs part of the executive teams that as a whole know more about information technology than their counterparts in the past, everyone wants more from CIOs." With this quote as a springboard for the conversation, three panelists at Becker's 2nd annual CIO/HIT + Revenue Cycle Conference voiced their thoughts on the ever-changing role of the CIO.

No longer can CIOs focus exclusively on technology and IT-related problems. Instead, they "have to be very collaborative with the other top leaders in the organization, and then dovetail the technology strategies into [their discussions]," Jody Albright, former interim CIO and executive coach and consultant at Albright & Associates, said July 27 during a panel discussion on The Evolving Role of the CIO. As the most technologically savvy members of the executive leadership team, CIOs also must be able to fluidly translate so-called "techspeak" into terms other executives — like the CEO — will understand, Ms. Albright stressed.

But just how much contact with the CEO is the right amount? It depends on the organization. While Ms. Albright met weekly with other senior executives during her time as interim CIO, she never directly reported to the CEO. On the other hand, Frank DiSanzo, executive vice president, CIO and chief strategy officer at New Brunswick, N.J.-based St. Peter's Healthcare System, meets with his organization's CEO — who brought him into St. Peter's in 2008 — on a weekly basis. "I report to him directly with a dotted line to the president of the system," Mr. DiSanzo said. "We talk on the phone and we even text." Ben Patel's situation falls in between. The vice president and CIO at Chicago-based Sinai Health System said he's part of a strategy group that meets with the Sinai CEO once each week.

One common thread between the three panelists' situations lies in what they discuss with their CEO: IT strategy. "I've started walking the CEO through the IT roadmap we've created so she knows our five-year IT strategy," Mr. Patel said. Mr. DiSanzo agreed with the need to clearly communicate IT strategy with the other top leaders, and Ms. Albright also stressed the importance of helping the CEO be able to discuss IT at the board level.

This change in the CIO role is occurring at a time when the field of healthcare is also rapidly evolving. Mr. Patel attributed the transformation of the healthcare industry to three key drivers: value-based care, healthcare consumerism and technology advancements.

To successfully shepherd their organization through this period of evolution while paying attention to the growing emphasis on healthcare consumerism, many healthcare CIOs turn to other industries for insight and inspiration. When panel moderator Molly Gamble, editor-in-chief of Becker's Hospital Review, asked which other CIOs the panelists get advice from, they offered various answers. Mr. DiSanzo has started to notice the applicability of what Disney CIO Susan O'Day does. "As we deal with healthcare's movement out to the home, it's going to be important to start acting like those companies and offer things that consumer-based companies are offering," he said. Mr. Patel looks to Wal-Mart CIO Karenann Terrell and Johnson & Johnson CIO Stuart McGuigan, the latter of whom recently implemented 3-D printing for certain joint replacements at his company.

No matter how the CIO continues to evolve, a few key factors will stay the same. "Business knowledge is key," Mr. DiSanzo said. "It's no longer just about technical knowledge in the area."

Being people-centric is also a key tenet of success. "People are critical," Ms. Albright said. "Your relationship with people and your networks inside and outside of work are important." But above all, CIOs must keep the focus on the patient. "There's nobility to what we do relative to serving the patient," Mr. DiSanzo said. "That's what we're all there for, whether it's the IT, the nurse or the doctor."

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