During our recent live interview with Russell Branzell. CEO and president of the College of Healthcare Information Executives (CHIME), co-hosts Ed Marx and Chris Belmont asked some key questions about the role of the Chief Information Officer (CIO). They discussed the evolution of the CIO in light of COVID-19 and the ramping up of digital transformation across the industry.
Ed Marx: Many CIOs have had to step up and evolve their role quickly as result of this pandemic. What do you think is next in terms of the continued evolution of growth for CIOs? What areas should CIOs focus on to continue that growth?
Firstly, CIOs should consider this next short-term phase of helping our organizations both economically and operationally to get back to “normal” over the next 12 to 18 months. Not just in their traditional IT role, but also in an operational role of helping their organizations return to a place of normality. This will not necessarily be the “old” normal they might be accustomed to, but instead a “new” normal in which they will be able to grow and mature from.
This pandemic should not be considered a positive matter, but there is a chance to make the best of this situation as there has never been opportunity like it previously. In order to grow leadership and help an organization mature and transform, we need to look at the exponential changes made to address the pandemic and consider how we will continue that process into the future. How do we continue to look for ways to change the model?
What is interesting is that everything we predicted was going to happen has been implemented through this pandemic. People working from their homes, accessing health in their homes, physicians working remotely, telecare, empowering the patient and so on. There were all predictions we had already assumed would happen in the future, that were implemented almost overnight as a result of COVID-19. This would not have seemed possible just a few months ago.
Both HIT leaders and the entire C-suite need to advance to the next level of leadership to help their organizations grow and mature. They need to continue to change the industry and the way we deliver care. We’ve been looking for the catalyst to improve quality, safety and reduce costs for many years. Now we have been given a reset button that gives us the opportunity to lead and implement changes to achieve those outcomes.
Difficult Decisions Ahead & Defining Value
Chris Belmont: We’ve been talking about digital transformation in this industry for many years. Some organizations will use this time to accelerate their transformation and others who are less advanced on their digital journey will use this situation to rethink the norm. One of the big challenges is the financial impact of this situation, as organizations are currently haemorrhaging cash and burning through reserves to address the pandemic. However, leadership are now pressured to introduce another level of transformation, pump the breaks on legacy systems and make difficult decisions. Do you think the CIOs are ready for that?
When I have spoken with CIOs and asked if they see investments and the workload decreasing in the future out of economic necessity, and they have disagreed. As a matter of fact, they have told me that their teams are already looking to the future and thinking about what they need to implement over the next 18 to 24 months.
One thing that has changed is the mindset of decision making. CIOs are now implementing a strict thought process of value-based decision making to help the organization reduce cost and improve revenue. Whether that be a financial investment to a full AI platform in the future, they are considering the overall benefits to their organizations more vigorously. We were less disciplined when considering this in the past and were prone to reactionary decisions on what looked most attractive and new at the time. Moving forward, decision making will be meticulously analyzed in terms of value to the organization. Most of our leaders have always wanted to work this way and many will embrace it. However, some will need to advance their skills in order to improve their decision-making processes.
The Role of the Chief Digital Officer
Ed Marx: We discussed the growth of the CIO role. What are your thoughts on the emergence of the Chief Digital Officer role? In some organizations the CIO is the CDO and in others the CDO reports to the CIO. What do you think about the future of the IT leadership role and the direction it might take post-COVID?
For almost a decade, we have seen quite a few new roles being introduced, and part of the reason for that is digital healthcare is maturing in every organization. Healthcare is becoming more of a digital environment, therefore needing additional roles and personnel to help lead it. Some of the current leaders are maturing into these more expansive leadership roles from a traditional CIO background. Alternatively, when some organizations are looking for a broad scope leader who can look at the different areas required from a wholistic perspective, be that a combination of clinical, organizational or strategic thinking, they might source externally to fill that role. We have previously asked many CEOs if they believed they had that high-level HIT leader who can drive strategy and transformation in their organizations. Most of them felt that they did not and that is a testament to the industry right now. What has just happened in response to the pandemic and what needs to occur in the future, really highlights that all leaders and CIOs need to up their game to get us to where we need to go.