Evolving titles: How CIO-CFO partnerships can create value for healthcare organizations

Gone are the days when hospital and health system CIOs focus only on technology implementation and vendor management, while CFOs focus exclusively on budgeting and finances.

During Becker's 8th Annual Health IT + Digital Health + RCM Meeting three healthcare technology experts discussed the increasingly close relationship that is necessary between CIOs and CFOs. Panelists included:

  • Charles Podesta, CIO, Renown Health (Reno, NV )
  • Jeanne de Vries Sands, CIO, Summit Behavioral Healthcare (Franklin, Tenn.)
  • Andrew Adams, managing director and provider finance practice leader, Nordic Consulting

Effective communication is the foundation of great CIO-CFO partnerships

Because CIOs and CFOs oversee different areas of healthcare organizations, effective communication between them is key to advancing strategic organizational goals. It's important CFOs are included in technology-related conversations early on, so they understand the return on investment of IT investments. Equally crucial is CIOs speaking the language of business and finance that CFOs understand.

"I like to bring our CFO along in the journey, helping him understand where we are in the process, what we are thinking about and where we are going," Ms. Sands said. "In our company, EBITDA [earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization] is king, so if I don't use that terminology in the proposals I'm bringing forward, I've done the CFO a disservice."

Mr. Adams elaborated on this necessary two-way communication effort. "IT leaders have to be really focused on describing the value that IT is delivering and translating that value to financial outcomes and information whenever they can," he said.

In making the case for IT investments, CIOs can benefit from non-IT colleagues driving the discussion

Provider organizations are facing multiple challenges, including budget constraints and staffing shortages. Despite these challenges — or perhaps because of them — they still need to invest in technology to improve efficiency and competitiveness. Some organizations are focusing their attention on challenges related to IT investments by setting up IT governance councils, while others are approving IT investments based on discussions raised by non-IT departments.

Renown Health has taken the latter approach. During weekly president's council meetings, which involve C-suite and operational leaders like the chief nursing officer, attendees hear about issues where the solutions require technology investments. However, the CIO only participates to support those presentations or to educate others about the technology — not to personally make the case for these investments.

"It is operations bringing it forward — they're the ones saying they need the technology, not IT," Mr. Podesta said. "When you make that change in your organization culturally, it becomes huge."

Ms. Sands echoed a similar experience. "I can't tell you how many communications I've helped write that then go out from the operational leaders . . . so that they can be seen as the projects' owners," she said.

CFO & CIO roles are both becoming more strategic, less operational — and increasingly intertwined

On one hand, CFOs are becoming more technology savvy and more involved in solving large-scale organizational problems, rather than only focusing on finance and budgeting. On the other hand, CIOs are getting more involved in identifying and tracking the benefits related to IT projects, instead of just focusing on implementations and vendor management.

"CFOs are starting to want to put considerations around value and expected financial benefits of technology investments into budgets, so that CIOs really have to deliver on technology programs," Mr. Adams said.

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