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The Chief Information Officer and Chief Digital Officer Conundrum
Posted by The HCI Group
on October 23, 2020 at 10:36 AM

In a recent webinar, Edward Marx and Hillary Ross met to discuss the evolving position of the Chief Information Officer and what it means for the Chief Information Officer. Progressive health systems are actively hiring Chief Digital Officers (CDO) and it can be difficult to determine what skills and experience are required for the emerging role. Ed and Hillary discussed the practical steps you can take to best prepare yourself for your future in this quickly evolving digital healthcare world.

Hillary Ross is the Managing Partner and Practice Leader, Information Technology at Wittkieffer. She is nationally recognized as a subject matter expert in healthcare IT executive search and consulting. Specializing in the recruitment of senior level leadership including CIOs, Digital, CMIOs, CHIO, CRIOs, Biomedical Informatics, Data Analytics, Perioperative Informatics and Personalized Medicine. Hillary has placed leaders in academic medical centers, healthcare systems, hospitals, managed care, and healthcare associations, in addition to tech companies and private equity and venture capital firms. She has worked with a multitude of clients and cultures both nationally and across the globe.

The evolution of the Chief Digital Officer 

“About three years ago, we started looking at the prevalence of Chief Digital Officers in industries other than healthcare, as looking at these industries can always be a good indicator of what will soon be a trend for healthcare. We did some research for a large health organization and there were only 8 at that time three years ago. When we looked at the profile of those CDOs, a couple were CIOs, but more were coming to the role from different backgrounds. Nowadays, there are 33 CDOs and the majority of those have come into existence in the last year and a half. So, I definitely see this as a role that is gaining traction and that we will see more of.

In looking at today’s CDOs, half come from healthcare, but not necessarily CIOs. They have backgrounds in strategy, innovation, analytics etc. The other half are coming from outside of healthcare from industries like transportation, entertainment, payors, start-ups, retail and consultants. So, it’s a real mix. Additionally, several different models are emerging for reporting relationships for the CDO. It will be interesting to see what will become the norm over time.”

How should traditional CIOs do to enhance their skills and prepare themselves for the role of the CDO?

Firstly, I want to say that I don’t think CDOs are going to replace CIOs. Today’s CIO needs to ask themselves if they want to be a CDO. Is that a pathway they want to go on? They could stay the CIO and continue to be an integral part of the organization. Some CIOs that we’ve spoken to are not motivated by the innovation element that it takes to be a CDO. They are satisfied remaining as a CIO and they shouldn’t feel compelled to have to go down that path.

Certainly, if the CIO wants to take that route, there are definite considerations and steps they can do to prepare for that role. It is key that they gain experience in assessing an organization and preparing a digital strategy. They will have built a network both in and outside of healthcare. They must be a student of transformation in other industries, so get out of your own niche and look at finance, hospitality, airlines, retails etc. and understand how digital has transformed those industries in the last 15 years. Find what is applicable to evolve healthcare. Also, build your network by joining digital organizations and find your mentors. Finally, digital innovation is key.

Click here to watch the webinar recording and hear more about solving the CIO and CDO conundrum.