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IT & Business Convergence Interview: Healthcare Leader

IT & Business Convergence Interview: Healthcare Leader

Nov 17, 2016

Steven Prewitt, Vice President, I/T Business Transformation Services, Healthcare
Interest and experience in transforming operations within healthcare and driving business value using information technology. Expertise in strategic planning, organizational strategy, mergers & acquisitions, data management and project portfolio management.
Specialties: Healthcare and Technology Strategy, Mergers & Acquisitions, data management, building and leading successful teams, complex program management
–Bio-sketch from LinkedIn at the time of publishing

Interview Questions
Structure
1. What is your preferred structure for an I/T department in an organization like yours in your industry? Why do you prefer that structure and why do you feel it serves the business?
Steve has worked in a number of different models where the CIO reported to CEO’s, CFO’s, and to CAO’s. He does prefer the CIO to report to the CEO, so that I/T can assume its transformational role within the enterprise. “Where I/T is in a technical evolution where it makes sense for a company the CIO should report to the CEO,” he said. The CIO needs to be a part of the strategic conversations.

He began to distinguish between core I/T and business facing I/T as he continued: “Security and Infrastructure for example are core functions of I/T and there are innovative things happening there. However, those are the ‘table steaks’ functions of I/T and are not going to win you any medals.”
“How do we use technology and applications strategically to change the way we work? Can we get to market faster? How can we reach more customers? Can we lower our cost?” he continued. “I like to talk about competing and winning as it relates to I/T.”

Steve’s function is to be the leading edge interface between the business and I/T. Steve sees himself as a business person first. As he said “In a room full of business people our role is to be the smartest I/T person, and in a room full of I/T people our role is to be the smartest business person.” His team’s function is to work on the “porous edge between I/T and business operations.”
He firmly believes in the role his team plays in an organization. He prefers for I/T to be organized around the core lines of business, and to be a customer engagement focused structure.
He prefers to see an I/T function called a business partner (this is the team he leads in his current position). Their job is to be the expert in their company and the industry so they can bring ideas and suggestions as to what the best technology response is. They perform customer relationship management for I/T to the business as well. Steve would envision a business partner (depending on size) for each function e.g. sales, accounting, etc.

He summarized it well. “These partners need to know what the other companies in our space are doing. They need to know what regulatory changes may affect us. These partners need to be able to suggest a credible technology response.” He insists that the partners sit down on a regular basis with the leaders of the functions. “My preference is not to be a demand led I/T shop. Rather, we need to be a forward leaning I/T shop. We need to bring ideas before they ask.”

In an ideal world, Steve does not envision his group as one that reports to the CIO. Although his group is business focused, his group is also I/T focused, as they bring I/T and the business together. Therefore, in his opinion, his group is best positioned under a branch of the structure that is neither beholden to the business line nor I/T. He did caveat his point: “However, if what we do is not in I/T, then I/T gets boring really fast.”

He describes his group’s role to employee candidates in the following way: “We don’t generate our own electricity anymore. We don’t build our own buildings anymore. Those things have been discovered and standardized.” His point was that much of I/T is so commoditized, that much of the function is now below the strategic relevance line. His team is that part of I/T that focuses on the strategic role of I/T.

When asked if reporting to the CIO would inhibit his group’s role, he said conclusively that structure does not really matter. To Steve, there has to be a strategic continuum of activity that thrives on mutually beneficial relationships, not structure. He did elaborate on an advantage of reporting to the CIO, and that is that a board of directors has some familiarity with writing large checks for an “I/T system re-platforming.” However, they are not comfortable writing huge checks for business restructuring, yet that is exactly what they get (and frankly what they expect) when the re-platforming is done in a transformative way. In other words, the I/T perception brings up the tolerance of the cost of change.

Steve sees strategy as an ongoing activity. The strategic moments are happening all the time, and they don’t happen on the strategic planning calendar. He sees a continuous process to “make hay when the sun shines.” Although Steve and his team are constantly talking strategy with the business, he does like the annual strategic planning event to be a “pulse check.” For him, the pace of business change is happening so fast that I/T needs to be transformational when the business demands it, not based on a calendar.

Focus
2. What are the key areas / strategies / tenets you align with on every initiative to ensure it is aligned with the business?
Steve’s first tenet is to take a “framework first” approach. He spoke to “Big Data” and that it is here to stay, but that it doesn’t work until you give it a platform to succeed upon. So, when Steve reviews initiatives he prefers to roll out frameworks that enable new capabilities, while being a launch pad for much greater things. He noted, “You need a haystack to look for a needle.” This was his approach to being transformative in a big way, while also providing incremental value to the business along the way. He also believes it gives leaders “exit ramps” as he called them, meaning they have opportunities to dismiss the initiative without first having invested disproportionate funding.

Steve came to preferring approach is that he realized earlier in his career that focus and attention of senior leaders is not a common asset. So, a few big things outweigh a lot of little things all the time.

Steve also looks for the initiative to have mature corporate communications and change management. He expects early business process transformation commitment from the business. He also insists on a dedicated business leader and stakeholder participation. Steve believes a successful initiative as one where senior leaders outside of I/T have operational commitment (in their goals ideally) that demand I/T capabilities to be successful. “If you have that….you are well on your way.”

Finally, for large initiatives, Steve requires a dedicated core team. This can include a dedicated business partner, dedicated business lead, dedicated governance, and dedicated business people (user level) that are tech savvy and focused.

3. What are the key indicators you see that repeat themselves through your successful business aligned initiatives?
Steve mentioned that he judges the value I/T brings the business by measuring the suggested project portfolio. He noted that I/T will reduce the portfolio when their projects are more successfully transformative the first time. In his opinion, the portfolio gets smaller and reflects a few big initiatives and then “an everything else” list. He said “transformational projects stop the death by a 1,000 paper cuts (caused by ‘baby step projects).”

4. How do you encourage your teams to stay invested in the business? How do you keep them business focused, and not technology focused?
“This is my job!” he said right away meaning him and his business partner team need to as he said in an earlier answer “work on the porous edge between I/T and business operations.” Given this dynamic, he also uses common management techniques to keep his team honed. He shows the career track that his department provides its members and truthfully presents it as a “leader’s farm system.”

Steve sees his and his team’s role as one that educates the business and I/T. He facilitates mentorship relationships with a number of people I/T.
Finally, Steve frequently will seed his team with business experienced team members and surround them with more technical talent to compensate while they ramp up on the technical aspects of the job.

Communication
5. How do you maximize awareness of I/T successfully servicing the business? Up, down and laterally?
Although Steve does not own this role, he prefers to play down the value of I/T to the organization. From Steve’s point of view, ROI is the only tool that business people use to decide if I/T is a good idea. However, to Steve it is not about ROI, it is about being business capability enabled. Steve does not talk about the value of his team. He talks about what customers the business wants to pursue, and how to enable that. Through this business focus, he shows value.

Within I/T, Steve spends a lot of time telling I/T how I/T is adding value. His answer was the reverse of the expected answer for the question, but his point was to continue to evangelize business outcomes and help I/T understand.

Steve is very realistic about the role I/T plays in an organization. He said, “I/T systems are like cafeteria food. There is the bad and there is the unmentionable.” After a chuckle he answered the question of how he keeps from being labeled a dreamer. He said “I look for capabilities needed and try to set a vision. A leader is someone who articulates a vision that others will execute willingly!” His point is to articulate the vision in a way that shows the steps, and in that way Steve and his team are not dreamers, they are roadmap creators.

Development
6. What are the most common barriers to business alignment you have faced repeatedly?
Steve’s perspective is that the #1 barrier he faces stems from senior leaders not being I/T leaders. He believes that shared goals is the key, and it is a challenge for business leaders to have goals that also keep them invested in I/T’s success.
Goal setting is sometimes an issue when a goal is set for I/T that is not under I/T’s control and there is no roadmap to achieve it. This becomes a business goal disconnected from program reality. He recognized that often technology as an enabler is sometimes a layer removed from being completely aligned with business goals, and because of this sometimes business leaders will do things that are counter to the I/T goal.

7. If you had to highlight things that you learned from life lessons, what would they be?
What Steve has found is that once you get higher up in an organization the people who watch you don’t understand I/T. He emphasized that you need to stay aligned in these circumstances by articulating the vision and show progress. “If you do that, you are fine,” he said.

8. Do you have any best practices or tricks of the trade that help you see when technology is being proposed for technology sake?
Steve believes in a business case methodology. However he joked that he had a reputation for killing projects by the dozens. Why? “Because they are not that good of idea,” he said. The reason he believes this is that the attention and focus of senior leaders can only be put on a certain amount of initiatives. “A few big things outweigh a lot of little things by a long shot,” he emphatically noted. He also went on to say that ROI is an overused metric to determine the value of an initiative. “No one goes into a construction site and asks what the ROI of a nail gun is,” he said. For Steve the question is: “what capability is the technology bringing?” He recognizes the power of technology. “Technology drives behavior changes,” he said. Also, Steve heavily leverages the strategic plan for making decisions.

9. Do you have any real life stories where you saw a decision moving towards technology for technology sake and you were able to refocus the decision on the business? How did you do this? What were the results?
Steve noted “I have failed in almost every aspect of I/T so I have a story everywhere!” He did not state a specific story, but he did talk to the Big Data current trend. He said “If someone pitches the ‘uber’ management consulting level data architecture you need to run and hide!” He was emphatic, “Don’t fall for it!” He admitted that in concept a data model for the enterprise is a cool concept. However, in practicality the enterprise data models are only good when they “can fit on one whiteboard with not too small of print.” This applies to ETL, Data Warehousing, etc. Steve closed by saying that there is a really important negotiation going on between business organizations and I/T. He asked the question “Is I/T the great hope? Or will it drift to the status of a facilities department?” If Steve’s way is mainstream, there is no worry of irrelevance for I/T. As he said “You can’t outsource how to relate technology to the business, and that is a transformation team’s role!”

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