As a business and information technology major right out of college, Kevin Hahn's computer acumen was tested in a hurry at nearly a dozen hospitals off the beaten path in Pennsylvania.
Hired by vendor Shared Medical Systems in June 1981, he pulled off 11 computer conversions in nine months under a contract involving general hospitals then owned by the state, scattered mainly in depressed areas of coal country.
"They were not garden spots," Hahn said. As a result, management-level project members weren't anxious to go on location. They often left Hahn and one other recent grad, Brad Hughes, to fend for themselves out in the field.
Computer know-how wasn't enough as they continually stepped onto the turf of local honchos whose particular concerns had to be soothed. "We became the politicians rather than just the techies out there," Hahn remembered.
Fifteen years later, he's still politicking as a now-seasoned healthcare vice president and chief information officer at Horizon Healthcare, tackling integration of multiple care sites in the Milwaukee area.
Though he started out as a technician, that early exposure to cementing consensus was a foundation for a career marked by the ability to see beyond hardware and programs.
"I would describe Kevin as more a businessman than a technical person," said Hughes, who stayed with Malvern, Pa.-based SMS and now is national manager of marketing and sales for its outsourcing division.
Business sense is an asset in today's changing information systems climate, which requires someone who understands both the technical challenges and the strategic business objectives involved, Hughes said.
"Kevin is the breed of business manager that needs to exist today," he said, someone who uses business instincts to guide initiatives "instead of someone interested in building a monument to technology."
His talents will get a test at Milwaukee-based Horizon, comprising eight acute-care hospitals, an academic medical center, home-care and nursing facilities, and about 30 clinics.
Though its components generate more than $1 billion in annual revenues, Horizon owns no assets, Hahn said. All projects are planned and paid for through the consensus of four corporate members, each with a separate information systems organization and structure.
For now, Horizon's information systems budget is about $11 million a year for operations and $8 million to $10 million a year in capital spending-less than what other integrating systems spend, he said.
Hahn said his biggest personal challenge is "convincing or helping them understand (information systems) in a market that's a little schizophrenic in terms of managed care. We have managed care but not much capitation.*.*.*.*That doesn't inspire people to want to spend two-plus percent of their operating budget on information systems."
Another key step in his integration task is to get all the players to first see the benefit of standardizing and centralizing computer functions rather than making independent decisions. "It's really that role of educator that I spend most of my time on," he said.
Blazing trails comes naturally. Hahn first crossed over to the provider side of information technology as a result of managing two pilot projects that for the first time enabled hospitals to run systems in-house. Until then, SMS software had been designed to run on huge mainframes that managed many hospitals' data remotely from a single location.
That turned out to be a watershed event for software development in the early 1980s. "It certainly made me very visible," Hahn said.
One of the test sites, Baptist Hospitals and Health Systems in Phoenix, hired him away from SMS to become assistant vice president for information systems.
Hahn said he grew into the strategic side of healthcare computerization during those years, and he took those lessons to the Hospital of the Good Samaritan in Los Angeles, where in 1988 he got a chance to take an obsolete information system and "bring it into the 20th century."
By 1993, when he left for Wisconsin, the struggling independent hospital had been repositioned as one of the most prominent heart centers on the West Coast, Hahn said.
Horizon then was shaping up as a developing system that "hadn't decided what it wanted to be when it grew up," he said. As the corporate CIO, Hahn said, "I spend a fair amount of my time creating the vision and strategic direction for information systems and even more time helping my peers in senior management understand the need for the investments that will allow our vision to be realized."