Governance, team building, vendor management, and facilitating change can help CIOs improve efficiency, reduce costs, and achieve organizational goals.

The healthcare chief information officer (CIO) role is at the intersection of numerous critical aspects of healthcare delivery and requires a talented leader who can optimize the technology that supports business and clinical services through deliberate planning and action.

This is especially true as health systems face ever-tightening margins and healthcare CIOs across the nation are grappling with increased cost pressures and staffing challenges.

“CIOs need to be effective leaders, hire the right team, and be very self-aware,” said Lindsey Jarrell, Chief Executive Officer at Healthlink Advisors. “CIOs need to be really clear on what they are good at and what they need help with, and assemble a team of in-house experts, vendors and consultants who can help them achieve their organization’s goals.”

According to Jarrell, balancing IT objectives with increased cost pressures is possible when you focus on the right priorities, including:

1. Governance and business relationship management (BRM)

Effective governance and BRM is an important foundational element to navigating cost pressures — and one way CIOs can start is by developing solid partnerships with clinical and business partners to understand their operations and related technology needs.

“IT departments are dealing with request after request coming over the wall, and if the team doesn’t have the context to vet an idea, they can end up in a tough spot,” said Jarrell. “CIOs need relationship managers who have the day-to-day responsibility for building and nurturing relationships and accountability with clinical and business partners.” Relationship managers need to constantly ask, what does my customer need from me this week?

2. Team building and retention

In today’s nationwide IT employment market, taking care of team members and building a positive workplace culture is critical to retention and hiring.

“CIOs are now competing with healthcare organizations all over the country for IT team members with the skills they need — which has increased salary costs and makes retaining team members with institutional knowledge even more crucial,” said Jarrell. “If institutional knowledge walks out the door, a CIO may not be able to replace those skills.”

Departmental vacancies could force CIOs to outsource certain functions to a third party, exposing them to additional risks and costs. And although managed services, outsourcing, and cloud migration are trending topics in IT due to the potential for cost savings, these decisions require careful analysis — and sometimes the cost savings aren’t there.

“Ideally, CIOs want to build a culture where a team member who gets a job offer for $10,000 or $15,000 more really has to consider whether they want to leave,” said Jarrell.

3. Rationalizing vendors

CIOs need to look at each vendor and application they use critically, asking questions such as, “Why are we doing business with this vendor?” and “How can we simplify our relationship?”

Jarrell said it is easy for a healthcare organization’s vendor relationships to become “bloated” — especially with trending functionality such as artificial intelligence (AI) and robotic process automation (RPA).

“An organization might say, ‘Having the right analytics will help me save money,’ and before long, they will have four or five AI vendors and two or three RPA vendors with questionable outcomes, and they are saying, ‘Where’s the ROI?’,” said Jarrell. “The truth is that deep partnerships can pay off, but you have to be in the right business relationships for the right reasons,” said Jarrell.

4. Adding a change agent

It’s no secret that healthcare IT teams are often faced with complex problems, but sometimes it’s navigating change that poses a greater challenge — and that’s where hiring a healthcare IT consultant can help.

“In large organizations with a complex IT landscape, technology and process management can be like a boulder rolling downhill — hard to stop or change the direction,” said Jarrell. “Bringing in an outside ‘voice’ to act as a change agent can help healthcare organizations analyze jobs they don’t have time for and provide unique expertise or advice, but it can also help them re-evaluate existing processes or solutions.”

For healthcare organizations looking to add a change agent to their team, review vendor contracts and relationships, assess their staffing and outsourcing needs, or establish effective governance, Jarrell and the experts at Healthlink Advisors can help.

“Our sweet spot is helping CIOs and their teams make better decisions by clarifying a problem, establishing a path forward, and getting to a solution that minimizes risk — leading to time and cost savings,” said Jarrell. “We know that CIOs couldn’t have gotten where they are without being extremely smart and hiring an outstanding leadership team, so we use our knowledge of this unique market to provide the support they need.”