From Naysayer to Partner: How User Expectations and Needs Are Changing IT’s Role

By | September 19, 2020

Steven Goriah, VP of IT, CIO & CISO, Westchester Medical Center

During the early weeks of the Covid-19 pandemic, there was a lot of focus on digital health, and the potential it had to improve patient care while increasing efficiency. But as leaders take a stock of how their teams responded — and how it will impact the future — the focus is less on the tools that were put into place, and more about the speed and efficiency with which they were implemented.

And that means every organization that was able to, for example, stand up telemedicine in a matter of days, it’s time to face the music. Because each time an IT department was hailed for doing extraordinary work, the bar was raised a bit higher. And now that end users have had taste, they want more.

“There was a dramatic shift in expectations from end users, and they’re sticking with that,” said Steven Goriah (Enterprise CIO, Westchester Medical Center Health Network), who addressed the topic during a panel discussion with Nick Szymanski (CIO, Signature Healthcare) and Marc Probst (CIO at Ellkay). “The mindset of what can be accomplished has changed dramatically, and as CIOs, we have to rise to meet that.”

His team did just that, rolling out a temperature scanning system that could identify employees, load their data into the cloud, and run reports on it — in just a matter of days. In the pre-Covid world, the same initiative would have easily taken 4 to 6 months.

Nicholas Szymanski, VP & CIO, Signature Healthcare

Although it’s impressive, it’s becoming the norm in an environment that, until about 15 years ago, was “was way underserved by technology,” said Probst. Now, users have become increasingly savvy, and have developed a thirst for applications — one that the tech industry has been happy to oblige. It has presented a host of challenges for CIOs, particularly as organization shift toward digital health.

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At Signature Health, which is in the midst of a major EHR migration, the IT team has been focused on application rationalization, which entails determining how many applications are being supported, and identifying the number of redundant systems.

“Ultimately, it’s getting a better understanding of what you have and breaking down the silos of where those applications s can be, who’s supporting them, and what’s the main function,” noted Szymanski. “That will help reduce that burden.”

And it can be quite a burden, according to Goriah, whose organization underwent a three-year initiative to get a better handle of where they were, and where they wanted to be. As it turned out, there was a significant gulf between the two. “It was an absolute nightmare,” he said. “There was no governance in place and no strategic alignment. If a service line wanted an application, they brought it in,” regardless of how it affected other systems. There was also no process for evaluating applications and preventing duplication.”

Marc Probst, CIO, Ellkay

What often happens in this case is that IT is forced to rain on the parade of users who are excited about a new technology, and puts them in a difficult situation. “We need to stop being the department of ‘no,’” and instead, “partner with physicians and administrative leaders to fully understand what they’re trying to accomplish, and to help to use technology to drive that.”

There are, however, several steps that need to be taken, and CIOs must be willing to “get further in the weeds” with users, and to step out of their comfort zones, noted the panelists. Below are some of the steps leaders can take to move closer to the ultimate goal of application rationalization.

  • Understand the data. The key to the process, said Probst, is understanding your data, which starts with doing a solid inventory, then developing effective methodologies and processes for moving it. Leaders need to be able to answer several questions, including what data are most useful, what data have to be retained and for how long, and for what purposes will it be used. “Until you flush all of that out, I don’t think you can make a responsible decision,” said Szymanski. “Once you have those answers, can start to determine what to do going forward.”
  • Find a partner. The more complex data migration gets — and it’s extremely complex already — the more important it is for CIOs to find an experienced partner to help navigate the process, said Goriah, whose team is currently working with Ellkay. “What we’re doing now is phenomenally different from what we’ve done in the past. Having a partner who knows how to do this and works with you to deliver on customer expectations in a seamless manner, and be at your side, is the key in all of this.”
  • Invite security to the table. As with any major initiative, application rationalization won’t be successful unless security is “tied into the process every step of the way,” noted Goriah, who previously held the CISO post at WMC. That way, they can work to ensure the right data is being pulled, the right people are accessing it, and it’s normalized in a way that meets the organization’s security standards.”
  • Build trust. The CIO’s role, according to Goriah, is to provide the technology users need to make their jobs easier. “It’s delivering a quality solution that meets the organization’s strategic needs and helps get them where they need to go,” he noted. “They need to have confidence in you. They need to see you as a trusted advisor and believe you’re looking out for their best interests.” Of course, it takes time to build that foundation.
  • Own your mistakes. It also means consistently delivering on promises — and if you can’t, own up to it, said Szymanski. Be honest about why it didn’t happen, and what’s being done to prevent a similar situation in the future.
  • Skip the tech talk. Those outside of IT, including other senior leaders, have no desire or need to hear tech talk, he noted. “One of the biggest responsibilities I have is to be able to translate. I need to be able to speak in their terms and understand their needs.”
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As the CIO continues to evolve, relationship management will become increasingly important, the panelists noted. Technology knowledge will always be essential, but as expectations change and new paradigms are introduced, leaders need to be willing to go deeper. “You have to know how to build, manage, and enrich relationships with leaders and end users so that it’s a partnership,” said Goriah. “The role is changing, and as a CIO, you have to have the right mindset to adapt to it.”

To view the archive of this webinar – Application Rationalization for a Post-COVID Environment (Sponsored by Ellkay) – please click here.

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