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Three Steps to CIO Success

By Patrick Hale, CIO, VITAS Healthcare


Patrick Hale, CIO, VITAS Healthcare

Whether you are a new CIO or one entering a new company, your main goals are to keep your team aligned while your career stays on track. Within two years of joining VITAS Healthcare as the CIO, our Information Technology (IT) team went from a group that was embroiled in constant “fire-fighting” to a coordinated machine; scripting releases, creating standard operating procedures and formalizing processes within every team. VITAS’ IT management team is now a true partner whose opinion is not only sought out, but is also responsible for organizational-wide innovation and process improvement. By following these three simple steps, you and your team can get there too.

Step 1 – Gain Trust: Do Your Job Well and Focus on Constant Improvement

From finding yourself in a turnaround situation to directing an already high-performing team, you must always begin with a focus on the basics. Operations and stability come first; you cannot get any traction for innovation when the email system won’t function properly.

First, identify key influencers on your team that have the skills and motivation to improve things. In the early days of my tenure, I spent significant time one-on-one with employees listening and engaging them in problem solving. It was then I realized I was blessed with a fantastic team that understood the value of operations. Second, as you begin to see the thought leaders emerge, focus on implementing thoughtful suggestions that will improve the performance of your team and your systems. Start small, but keep challenging the team to take on larger and more complex improvements. For example, as I learned more about my team and its thought leaders, I found out that the VITAS IT team had already set in motion a few “core” projects that needed insight and expert guidance from a CIO who could advocate for getting operational projects done right, which in turn, would help ensure the team’s overall success.

One of the most important tasks in the “Gaining Trust” phase is to implement key performance indicators (KPIs) that are understandable to business leaders. This is not an easy task and can take several iterations with trusted peers to settle in on a good set of KPIs. It’s best to find out what makes your executive team “tick” and give them what they want to see.

"VITAS’ IT management team is now a true partner whose opinion is not only sought out, but is also responsible for organizational-wide innovation and process improvement"

As the successes begin to mount, make sure you are letting your stakeholders know about it. Remember, there is never any perception of improvement unless people hear about it, and your job is to communicate.

Step 2– Formalize the Organization: Build a Team Structure That Can Become a Strategic Differentiator for the Company

The structure of a technology team is never a cookie-cutter proposition. Although the “right” organizational structure depends on your particular situation, I believe there are three options you should always consider in your organizational make up: a Chief Technology Officer (CTO), a Chief of IT Operations (CITO) and a formal IT Steering Committee. The CTO and CITO are roles focused on coordinating technology delivery across multiple technical teams.

The CTO presides over a multi-disciplinary Enterprise Architecture team, ensuring technical decision making is reviewed holistically to drive out unintended impacts to infrastructure or architecture. The CTO role should be integrated into all technical decisions and proposed innovation.

The CITO oversees an ongoing operations review (performed each week in our case). Heading up a matrixed, cross-functional group, the CITO analyzes the root cause of failures and identifies trends that would otherwise be undetected. Any and all changes to your technical ecosystem are reviewed and approved in a formal change management process under the direction of the Chief of IT Operations. While many consider this a “non-traditional” role, its implementation at VITAS has all but eliminated outages.

These roles work in harmony with a formalized governance strategy designed to keep your team aligned to the needs of the business. IT Steering Committee members should be key executives (CEO, CFO, COO, CAO, etc). This ongoing commitment of oversight by key stakeholders creates complete alignment with business goals and challenges, allowing IT to rapidly deploy resources when and where they are needed the most.

The biggest challenge in aligning IT today is the ever changing tactical landscape CIOs must contend with. CIOs across almost every industry vertical now routinely experience major disruptions in project plans as IT workers are forced to react to new requirements and regulations with little notice. “Nimbleness” and “innovation” are the new watchwords for our teams. The ongoing level of executive participation on your IT Steering Committee is critical to align your IT Project Portfolio and ensure dollars are always focused on the top business priorities, especially when that reality can change month-over-month.

Step 3– Push the Envelope: Build Leaders and Challenge Them to Be Even Better

Today the IT Portfolio at VITAS Healthcare is one of the most aggressive of its kind. The company is using mobile devices and native mobile applications to bring care to the bedside in ways standard healthcare systems simply cannot. The demands of our clinical teams have required us to look beyond the basic skills needed to run a “normal” application suite. We started right away to groom, grow and/or hire experts in the strategically crucial technologies that the company would be built on, not simply maintain our hold on aging tools.

No organization is successful without the right people working together to achieve a worthwhile goal. Probably the hardest job of any CIO is to find a way to attract and keep the very best talent. I have recruited technical talent in the Midwest and lamented that we didn’t have a “vacation destination” city to attract bright workers. Well, now I am headquartered in Miami, and I can tell you recruiting is no easier even with the “wow” factor a location like Miami can bring. I focus on two simple rules:

1) Recruit Talented People: Talented people are attracted to an organization that has a great culture of respect and values its people’s skills. Champion respect and diversity, and make room to “have fun” with your projects.

2) Cultivate The Best Team: We have a saying in VITAS IT that “innovation is celebrated, but execution is worshipped.” The best teams make brilliant ideas a reality and the best candidates want to work for teams that deliver on their promises.

If you want to attract talent, there is no better recruiting catalyst than making a difference. Find your team’s core competence and get moving. There are a million ways technology can transform your company. As CIOs, it’s our job to find that solution and get it done.

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