In collaboration with First Health Advisory

Established CIOs can maximize their effectiveness and make real progress toward organizational goals by taking time to reset priorities and benchmarks.

From the Presidential Oval Office to the corporate C-suite, planning for the “first 100 days” on the job is a popular, effective way for new leaders and their teams to establish priorities, set benchmarks, and ultimately, achieve their goals.

But when the first 100 days are relegated to the rearview mirror, leaders often leave their initial, effective approach to planning in the dust as they become accustomed to the culture and processes of the organization often becoming bogged down with day-to-day challenges.

“Most healthcare CIOs come on the job with big goals, but over time, many find themselves scrambling to keep up with business changes, unexpected vendor changes, and regulatory needs,” said Chris Jenkins, senior vice president at Healthlink Advisors. “When that happens, it becomes very easy to lose track of big-picture priorities, strategies, and initiatives.”

According to Jenkins, taking a “next 100 days” approach to IT planning provides a periodic — and much-needed opportunity to reset.

“CIOs need to look at the current IT strategy and how it aligns with organizational priorities,” said Jenkins. “They need to ask the question, ‘Are we doing the right things to achieve our goals?”

For a CIO who is barely getting through the day, this may seem impossible but with a bit of intention, CIOs can shift the organization’s mindset and cultivate a continually maturing IT landscape through a “next 100 days” culture.

Here are a few steps healthcare CIOs can take to get started:

1. STOP and assess.

Without a doubt, finding the time to stop and take stock of the organization’s overall information systems situation may be the most challenging step for CIOs.

“Taking time away to work on planning is priceless, because it gives CIOs a chance to rethink IT and how it aligns with the organization’s needs,” said Jenkins. “CIOs should be functioning as thought leaders focused on enabling strategy, not putting out everyday fires and if they aren’t able to get away from putting out fires, they need to be asking why.”

To assist in the planning process, CIOs should be asking questions that include:

  • Do we have a plan?
  • Is the plan helping to achieve organizational goals?
  • Do I have the right team in place?
  • Do our teams understand the needs of our customers?
  • Are we engaged in effective governance with our customers?
  • Are we providing a secure, resilient, and highly available infrastructure?
  • Are we doing business in an efficient manner?
  • Who is monitoring our systems?
  • What do I need to outsource or automate?
  • Who is measuring outcomes and reporting on those measurements?
  • Are we managing our vendors or are they managing us?

Asking these questions will help CIOs and their leadership teams identify areas where their organization needs to make changes whether it’s restructuring personnel and onboarding team members who can handle specific internal functions, rethinking vendor relationships and utilization of resources, implementing enhanced security, risk management, or governance processes, outsourcing and automating tasks, or “righting the ship” on a project gone awry.

2. Determine priorities.

The CIOs and their teams are faced with near-constant requests. This means effective systems for prioritization, relationship management, and governance are essential for good strategic planning.

“It’s crucial that customers have access to the right resources, but I can’t assume I know what the customer needs if I’m not taking the time to talk to them and ask, ‘What do you need?’ and ‘What can we do better?” said Jenkins. “CIOs should focus on developing a culture where communication between IT and the customer is the norm, because those relationships go a long way toward driving credibility and trust.”

When IT teams understand their customers and their current and future needs, they can effectively communicate those needs to IT leadership. IT or organization leaders can then analyze, assess, budget, and prioritize customer-specific requests fitting them in without compromising other longer-term projects or system risk mitigation.

“There is remarkable energy driving digital health initiatives as we look for new ways to deliver care, compete, and stay abreast with our industry’s disruptors. As Chris points out, shared governance is a cultural ‘core competency’ required to successfully deliver a digital health portfolio. Combined with ever growing nation state criminal and hacktivist cyber threats, that continually evolving technology portfolio must be secure, capable, high performing, and resilient. CIOs and chief digital officers will thus continue to carry the challenge of communicating that digital health investments rely upon appropriate and secure infrastructure platforming,” said George T. ‘Buddy’ Hickman, chief strategy officer at First Health Advisory.

3. Make a plan – and ask for help if needed.

In today’s healthcare IT landscape, things change fast and they change a lot. Although a three-year strategic plan still has a place in long-term planning, focusing on the next 100 days will provide a more realistic model for sustainable change through a continuous iterative process.

“After a team establishes their priorities for the next 100 days, they can break down tasks and set benchmarks for what they will deliver or execute in 30 days, 60 days, and 90 days,” said Jenkins. “Even within the ‘100 day’ model, teams can take steps to achieve long-term goals by moving the ball forward incrementally during each successive 100-day period.”

However, even after a plan is in place, leaders must develop an accountability structure to ensure that each step is executed and the organization doesn’t slide back into the status quo.

“Sometimes, hiring a neutral, unbiased ‘change-agent’ is an effective way to help CIOs and IT teams assess their situation, clarify problems, develop a plan, and make the commitment to execute it,” said Jenkins. “A trusted IT advisor can help health care CIOs and their teams with analysis and decision-making that aligns with the organization’s overall strategy, budget, and priorities.”

Chris Jenkins is senior vice president at Healthlink Advisors, a healthcare consulting firm committed to improving clinical innovation, business systems, and healthcare IT strategy, delivery and operations. Our team has extensive experience in assisting healthcare organizations with short- and long-term IT planning. To learn about how we can assist your organization, contact us.

George T. ‘Buddy’ Hickman is chief strategy officer for First Health Advisory, a health technology, risk assurance firm dedicated to improving patient safety and enterprise cyber resilience. First Health Advisory provides full spectrum managed security services in support of mitigating risk and uncovering efficiency in the environment of care.