CTO leadership is critical as healthcare organizations evolve and are challenged with ever-changing technology environments.
Multiple technology challenges and the need for someone to manage a centralized IT infrastructure environment prompted a call for help from a large academic health system. The health system saw a growing need to have its IT systems integrated and restructured to support the larger, multi-hospital organization.
The healthcare organization was facing major system hurdles with disparate and aging infrastructure, change management challenges, expansion issues, and Epic being rolled out to all its member hospitals and physicians. At the time, front-line computing equipment couldn’t support current or future demands. The organization’s facilities were using 10-year-old desktops, juggling 16 different domains and eight different email systems. System outages were a serious, potential problem because backup capabilities had not been successfully addressed.
The health system faced a variety of challenges involving more than just technology. Morale was low among IT staff members – they felt underappreciated and underpaid – and the technology team was viewed negatively within the organization as there wasn’t enough transparency into what the department was attempting to do.
The complexity of these and other issues was straining the organization’s executive team. Leadership was struggling to communicate to all staff effectively and to reach settlement on standard processes and procedures.
The Huntzinger Management Group (Huntzinger) started off with an initial assessment of the infrastructure environment, operations, and ability to deliver to the future needs of the healthcare system. To address the findings and recommendations from the assessment, the organization turned to Huntzinger to provide an experienced Chief Technology Officer (CTO) to serve in the Vice President of Technology Services role. The healthcare system knew that by choosing Huntzinger, it was not just getting a single resource, but one that was backed by several other knowledgeable CIOs and CTOs to assist the on-site Vice President in this role.
Huntzinger’s CTO was well-suited to the task at hand, with experience both in managing people and implementing operational best practices in information technology (IT). States Huntzinger’s CTO, “You really need someone who has experience in running a complex organization from the operational side and understands what it takes to run a stable environment. Years of experience managing technical teams, combined with operational experience, allowed me to work with peers in IT to collaboratively move the department forward.”
To improve efficiency and system performance, the organization’s IT had to be reconstituted to support the combination of its multiple facilities and sites into a single, information-driven delivery system. One of the first projects for the Huntzinger CTO was unifying the IT department to support the transition – addressing concerns such as email variations, Active Directory issues, and updating PC operating systems still using Windows 7.
Huntzinger developed and implemented a consolidation plan, with several key projects, that supported the current and future needs of the healthcare system. Key projects included in the plan were streamlining Active Directory, converting to one email platform, consolidating systems and processes for network, telecom, servers, storage, and end-user computing.
Additional initiatives were rolled out that included consolidating the help desk, managing an integration and interface team, implementing technology to support transitioning to Epic information systems and building a cybersecurity function. The Huntzinger CTO also implemented event management for critical events, drafting an emergency plan that assigned specific roles to event leaders in outage situations.
The Huntzinger CTO was also given staffing decision responsibilities and capital budget oversight. In the role, the Huntzinger CTO managed more than 300 FTEs and contractors, and developed and oversaw the operating and capital budgets. During Huntzinger’s tenure, we were able to provide just-in-time resources and deliver all IT technology projects on time and on budget.
To address transparency, the Huntzinger CTO developed the role of technology support managers that were assigned to each hospital, which improved the visibility and responsiveness of the technology team to the hospital. To address IT morale, redundant and unnecessary management layers were eliminated, and a salary analysis was conducted to normalize staff salaries that were more competitive to the local market. Huntzinger’s CTO states, “Overall, the IT staff was underpaid, and we were losing people; we were able to increase salaries for the people who had been there a long time and had made significant contributions.”
The mix of technical and management skills is what makes CTOs valuable to today’s healthcare organizations. Successful CTOs must have a solid technology background, but also crucial management skills to direct large groups of people and lead them to achieve results as a team. CTO positions can vary depending on the type of organization and engagement.
CTOs also need to have the gravitas and stature to work with a variety of senior executives. At this health system, the Huntzinger CTO worked with executives of its various hospitals as well as corporate executives. In the email spend decision, she not only developed the plan to address system-wide problems but was able to justify the rationale and spend required to various executives within the organization.
It’s crucial in these types of engagements to become entrenched in the new organization, Huntzinger’s CTO said. “At Huntzinger, we become a member of the executive team – we don’t market ourselves as consultants, and most people don’t even know that we’re not employed by the organization.” A key to a successful engagement is “the ability to develop relationships and integrate into the culture,” she continued. “No one thought of me as that person from Huntzinger. Staff didn’t think of us as being from another company; they thought of us as representing them. We had their best interests, and the interests of the organization, at heart.”
Many healthcare organizations are now struggling to find capable CTOs, which underscores the difficulty in finding managers to address the technical challenges facing providers today. As CIOs are increasingly drawn into discussions about how IT can help meet the strategic needs of an organization, there’s a growing need for capable executives that can address the many technical issues and use of appropriate technology that healthcare systems need.
Finding qualified candidates is expected to be increasingly difficult. As the healthcare industry emerges from the COVID-19 crisis, it will be faced with a fresh set of technological challenges such as increasing reliance on telehealth, remote monitoring, patient engagement, teleconferencing, remote workforce, and cloud computing. The CTO role can evolve and morph over time, amplifying the need for someone with a wide range of experience