The CIO's evolving role in the age of analytics


In a recent Computerworld feature, Deanna Wise, Executive Vice President and CIO of Dignity Health, encouraged forward-thinking CIOs to develop partnerships within their organizations to drive better customer experiences that translate into revenue. Wise has a strong record of doing just that, collaborating with SAS to implement advanced analytics throughout Dignity Health, the nation’s fifth largest hospital system.

The data and analytics revolution has CIOs in a quandary: Do they maintain their traditional focus? Or seek to strategically lead the data and analytics processes in their organizations?

Fueled by the growing role of data and analytics in an outcomes-based care delivery model, modern health care organizations are facing an evolving data crisis. Thanks to the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act and associated government incentives, hospitals and ambulatory practices have implemented certified electronic health record (EHR) technology. EHR data is supplemented by a wealth of external data from social media, health information exchanges, payors, connected devices and consumer organizations. We at SAS like to say that this growth is driven by the three Vs: Volume, velocity and variety.

Immersed in data like never before, health organizations are now asking, “What do we do with all of this data?” And “how do we get the data-driven insights we need in order to manage the business?” This revolution of data and analytics has CIOs in a quandary. Do they seek to strategically lead the data and analytics processes in their organizations? Or do they maintain their traditional focus?

The traditional CIO

The traditional focus, which I will call the “old school CIO,” is one where the CIO leads the use of information technology throughout the organization. The approach was both instrumental and effective in driving the computerization of hospitals in recent decades. It’s a strategy often used to drive department heads to participate and comply with a common IT platform and associated software decisions.

However, the times are a-changin’. In many organizations, as Wise points out, IT is seen as little more than a “keeping the lights on” cost center, like HR or accounting. The old school CIO’s approach can serve to commoditize IT and, as Wise states, “commodities can always be replaced.” What’s behind this trend?

Growth in cloud-based applications has made it easier for service lines and departments to purchase IT applications that are separate from the hospital’s core suite of applications and independent of the CIO’s oversight. This at times creates a dynamic tension between IT and business/clinical users in some health care organizations. Some old school CIOs further contribute to this tension by exerting an attitude of control and compliance rather than serving as a strategic resource to fulfill the organization’s mission.

The strategic CIO

Against this backdrop, let's consider the role of the emerging CIO. With the growing focus on analytics and data, CIOs must become strategic in their thinking and embrace the “I” in their job title. The “I,” of course, stands for information, which should cascade from effective data governance, data management and data preparation. In the same Computerworld article referenced above, Kevin Baril, Principal at Grant Thornton, suggests data belongs under the oversight of the CIO.

Some CIOs – like Dignity's CIO Deanna Wise – are up to this challenge. And they should be. Gartner predicts that by 2019, 90 percent of global organizations will have a chief analytics officer (CAO) – a trend that U.S. health care organizations may well follow. But to whom will this CAO report? And what role will the CIO play with regard to data and analytics? I see two possible tracks for the future of analytics leadership in these organizations. The old school CIO must make way for either a strategically focused CIO or a CAO.

The strategic CIO embraces the “I” in CIO and, by the very nature of her role, encourages the development of an information-driven organization. She understands that data is the lifeblood of the organization and seeks to lead data governance, data preparation and data management to ensure appropriate lineage of all data and analytics throughout the enterprise.

The strategic CIO also ensures information technology adequately empowers the necessary data, information, and analytics continuum of the organization. As a caveat, if not led by a clinician, the role must take care to adequately prioritize the clinical nature of data and clinically oriented mission of the organization, viewing patients and their treating clinicians as the “customer.”

Where does the CAO fit in?

The strategic CAO will inevitably differ from a CIO, with greater focus on the information than the technology needed to create that information. For better or worse, the CAO may elevate the focus on the continuum of data creation, through the stages of information, knowledge and ultimately wisdom, while de-emphasizing the technology.

In health care, this may foster the understanding that the outcomes of the technology are more important than the structure. However, it may not adequately prioritize the needs for infrastructure and data security, even in a cloud-based environment.

In any case, there's not a single solution for positioning the strategic CIO versus the CAO role. But one thing's for sure: The age of analytics in health care has begun. Care delivery organizations need to figure this out – and the sooner the better. The transition to value-based care is an economic certainty, and the survivors will have a robust analytic capability that touches all aspects of operations, both business and clinical. Let the future begin!

For more on the CAO role, download this ebook: Portrait of a CAO


About Author

Alan Cudney

Principal Industry Consultant

Alan Cudney, RN-BC, PMP, CPHQ, FACHE, is a principal industry consultant in the Healthcare division of SAS Institute. As a registered nurse informaticist, Mr. Cudney is deeply grounded in processes and technology at the patient level. His healthcare experience of more than 30 years crosses hospital settings, managed care, disease management, outpatient psychiatry, long-term care and IT vendors. Mr. Cudney has directly staffed or led more than 40 consulting engagements, leading organizations to promote healthcare IT adoption, population health, clinical informatics, care coordination and quality improvement. The result includes multiple success stories and client testimonials. Mr. Cudney completed undergraduate work at the Florida State University and earned Master of Business Administration and Master of Health Science degrees from the University of Florida. He is also certified as a Project Management Professional, a Certified Professional in Healthcare Quality and a Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives. He is widely published, has presented at national conferences and has served as guest lecturer for college courses. He also serves on the Editorial Review Board of the Journal of Hospital Administration.

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