Why the CIO Has the Opportunity to Play a Transformative Role in the New Wave of Analytics

CIO Analytic HeroAll of us quietly yearn to be heroes. CIOs are no exception.  We want to harness the power of healthcare analytics, using information technology to dramatically improve healthcare quality and costs.

Despite their privileged position atop the IT food chain, though, only a handful of healthcare CIOs ever get to realize this dream.

Why? Simply put, CIOs never own both the data content and application layers of any meaningful technology, at the business transformation level. With rare exceptions, the CIO’s role in any enterprise-wide technology implementation is second chair to leaders in other verticals.  The CEO, along with HR, owns the enterprise resource planning (ERP) system.  Clinicians ultimately own the EHR.  CFOs own revenue cycle and general ledger.  CIOs own email.  In every case, the institutional power of the vertical most affected by the technology tends to lead its implementation.

Which is why the Enterprise Data Warehouse (EDW) represents a CIO’s last chance to be a transformational hero in healthcare.  I’ve been a CIO for 22 years of my 30-year career, with a good track record in a variety of areas in that role, and the one area that is consistently recognized as the most valuable to the organizations that I served is my leadership of the EDW and healthcare analytics strategy.

Unlike other enterprise-wide applications, the EDW crosses all verticals but fits comfortably within none.  It draws data from multiple source applications serving multiple verticals, including the EHR, ERP, revenue cycle, performance management and patient satisfaction applications. It empowers leaders in virtually every vertical from clinical to quality to finance. And due to its highly technical nature, the EDW is one application that few outside of IT will have skills or interest in understanding. It fits the data-driven, nuts-and-bolts details personality of a CIO like a (sensor-laden, wearable computing) glove.

For a CIO who’s up to the challenge of becoming a healthcare analytics hero, the EDW is a good thing to own. It’s that rare opportunity to be involved at both the application and data content layers in a transformative way. Through the EDW, a CIO can truly manage the data needs of everyone in an organization rather than one vertical at a time.  Drawing financial, clinical, operational and patient experience data from isolated silos across the network, the EDW integrates and combines data, making it, ultimately, actionable by the organization. No one is better suited to this task than the CIO — the technology specialist and the business generalist in the organization.

The Three Types of CIO

A CIO’s odds of becoming healthcare’s analytics hero are deeply affected by their capabilities, their leadership style, their affinity for technology, and the culture of their organization.  There are three basic types of CIOs that I’ve witnessed and seen in myself – the Technologist, the Businessperson, and the Integrator.

The Technologist: This first mode of CIO leadership describes someone whose primary interest is infrastructure technology. In the IT stack, they are naturally attracted to the layers below the application and data content layers, focusing on data centers, networks, operating systems, storage, servers, security, desktops, and smartphones.  Many CIOs are highly skilled in this area and return a lot of value to their organizations in this role.  While offering big value to their organizations, these CIOs are not often included in the circle of strategic decision making with the rest of the C-levels.

The MBA: These CIOs see themselves more as business leaders than technologists, and they typically do not have a deep IT background. They are attracted more to the upper layers of the technology stack, where the software and data meets the vertical business and clinical users.  They play a more significant role as a member of the C-level suite.  The downside of this type of CIO is that they are challenged working their way down into the technology stack, just as the Technologist is challenged working their way up in the stack. This type of CIO can get into trouble by under-managing the importance of a solid and affordable technology infrastructure.  They often spend too much or too little on infrastructure, either of which has dangerous consequences.  More often than not, I see CIOs in this category overspending on the infrastructure layers, throwing money at misplaced risk management, because they know no better.

The Integrator: The third type of CIO can move up and down the layers of the IT stack, with ease.  These are the rare veterans that many of us aspire to be.  He or she can talk to the CMO, CMIO, or CNO and understand the organization’s needs at the application and data content layers, near term and long term. The Integrator can then go back to their IT teams and understand the capabilities and the possibilities of the technology, and work with vendors to help bridge any gaps. Because of their mastery of both the data content and application layers, Integrator CIOs can make a huge contribution to the leadership of a healthcare organization.  They sit at the executive table and are highly respected in the C-level suite.

Probably fewer than 5 percent of CIOs fall into this last category – largely because the culture of healthcare doesn’t yet recognize that this is fundamentally an information-enabled industry. As a result, many CIOs who are capable of becoming Integrators never get the chance.  Their executive teams simply can’t envision a CIO contributing to the strategic decisions and value of the company.  There’s no seat at the executive table, even if the CIO is capable of sitting in it.

For CIOs who have the skills, attraction, and aspiration towards the Integrator role, leading the strategy behind healthcare analytics and the EDW can be the winning ticket to becoming an Integrator and thus an Analytic Hero for your organization.  Not only does the EDW supersede verticals in its potential ROI, but when properly deployed in tandem with cross-functional teams from clinical, quality, analytics and finance, it can relieve the IT department from its “report factory” mode. In turn, the CIO is freed to become a strategic contributor to the larger organization.

If you’re a CIO, do these three models accurately represent your experience of the role?  If they do, which of the three modes best describe your role in the organization?  Are you already a healthcare analytic hero in your organization?  If not, leading the charge on the deployment of an EDW offers that chance.

This post was previously published by HealthSystemCIO.com.