CIO: What You're Doing Isn't Good Enough

Kathryn Mackenzie, for HealthLeaders Media, October 28, 2008

The CIO can no longer be just the go-to IT person for the organization. As CIO, you are now expected to be able to help manage initiatives that are larger and affect more parts of the organization. But hold on: Even that's not good enough.

"The 'A' game of today is tomorrow's 'B' game. You might feel like you are doing a pretty darn good job, and you probably are, but that is just no longer good enough." That blunt assessment comes from John Glaser, vice president and CIO of Partners HealthCare System.

He and Judy Kirby, president of Snelling Executive Search, spoke to CIOs in a standing-room-only presentation on the "Evolution of the CIO" at the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives' Fall CIO Forum in Henderson, NV, last week.

To the obvious dismay of the audience, the two talked about how the role of the CIO is expanding and becoming increasingly difficult and complicated.

OK, maybe that's not what CIOs wanted to hear, but they sure did listen.

As budgets get tighter, CIOs are increasingly being asked to do more with less and to deliver solid results the first time, with no room for mistakes. "The board is basically thinking, 'we've blessed you with this money, now show us what you can do,'" says Glaser. Certainly with the current financial market woes, missing project deadlines or going over budget by even the smallest amount will simply not be acceptable, Glaser and Kirby said.

And they both say the skill set required for the job of CIO has evolved so much over the past 10 years, that many of today's CIOs do not even have a background in technology. They, of course, still must be able to understand technology and IT trends, but these days it's more important to be the consummate executive making many of the same types of managerial decisions as the CEO or COO would.

"The CIO role is increasingly being cast as a strategist and executive with more attention being placed on the CIO's contribution to the overall business strategy," says Glaser.

You may be asking yourself why the shift is happening. A lot of it, say the speakers, has to do with money. CIOs are increasingly being asked to do more with less. While the demands placed on you will not slow down, the budgets to meet those demands will remain the same or, in some cases, decline, says Kirby. Which means you are going to have to master the ability to do more with less.

If you want to become a "competitive asset" to the organization you work for or if you want to move into a role of greater responsibility Glaser and Kirby say you'll have to be willing to step out of your comfort zone and do things you might find unpleasant or risky, like releasing a little control and delegating to subordinates.

And you'll need to develop your communication skills; both speakers repeatedly emphasized the importance of being able to express your goals and plans to the rest of the executive team in a coherent way, in a way that emphasizes how IT can solve the problem, rather than why IT would be good to have.

"Don't lead conversations with IT. Lead with the revenue stream, give the business case, then offer up how IT can fix it," Glaser says. Because in tight financial times, this might be the most successful way to get your projects funded.

Bottom line: The next generation of CIO is going to have to step up and function at the same level as the rest of the executive team.

Kathryn Mackenzie is technology editor of HealthLeaders magazine. She can be reached at
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