CIOs tell how the cloud is changing their jobs

As the cloud, among other IT developments, dramatically changes the face of healthcare, the acronym for chief information officer is perhaps the last remaining link to the role CIOs have historically played.

Jeff Rowe | Apr 06, 2018 05:20 pm

It’s a funny thing, IT.  It’s designed to facilitate the collection, transfer and analysis of information in whatever sector it’s used, including in healthcare, but along the way it manages to change a lot more about the sector itself.

In a recent article at HealthcareIT News, for example, three CIOs talk about how one of the impacts of IT in healthcare has been, well, to change their job titles.

"Today's CIO is no longer an engineering expert provisioning hardware and software," said John Halamka, a longtime holder of that title at Boston's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. "The CIO broadly communicates, convenes governance groups and supports innovation.”

According to David Higginson, CIO at Phoenix Children's Hospital Chief Information Officer David Higginson sees it, there have already been three ages of the CIO in U.S. healthcare.

"In the '80s and '90s it was kind of a plumber type person who got the network working, got the servers running, got the emails going, and that was their job," Higginson explained in an interview at HIMSS18. "Next, in the 2000s, we got into having great big budgets and being tasked by the organization to 'Go make this thing happen.' I think a lot of CIOs today did really well in that project management, system implementation-type field.”

Now, he says, "The potential role for the CIO is to be the digital transformation person who's going to understand what's going on with business and then apply technology to get something out of it.”

The most recent wave of this digital transformation, of course, is spurred on by the move to the cloud. 

"The modern CIO procures services, often from cloud providers, based on business requirements," Halmaka said. 

Going out to the cloud for analytics, clinical decision support, EHRs, not to mention a raft of mobile apps and social networks, might seem like something everybody does nowadays but it's still a radically different model than IT departments packed with software architects and programmers building proprietary programs or keeping massive databases and enterprise apps up and running.

And as chief information officers and hospitals turn their focus from technology to information, the CIO role is evolving into a full-fledged executive charged with generating revenue and scaling the digital business. Indeed, a new type of executive that builds on traditional CIO skills is emerging to meet that demand. Sometimes that means changes in title, such as chiefs of innovation or transformation – or new mashups such as chief information and analytics officer or, in the case of David Chou of Children's Mercy Kansas City, chief information and digital officer.

Chou explained that the CDO role is to be a strategic agent with "business insight, change energy and a more explicit transformational focus," than more traditional IT leaders, responsible for building and maintaining infrastructure and networks. 

"This shift necessitates big changes in strategy, culture, organization and competency that extend beyond the IT organization to encompass all business functions," Chou said.