Charles Dickens' classic "A Christmas Carol" is no doubt one of the most popular stories of the holiday season. Three spirits disrupt Scrooge's miserly, bitter life and challenge him to change or die. While it's not directed toward technology, I have translated the story.
Information Technology: Ghost of Christmas Past, Present or Future?
Past. Many organizations operate information technology the same as they did 20 or 30 years ago when technology was in its infancy. IT is viewed as simple, irrelevant. Nothing complex. Easily kept within a defined boundary or box. In organizational hierarchies, it's often an extension of finance. Still PC- and mainframe-based. Often referred to as data processing, information systems or information technology.
Present. The bulk of organizations are slowly making their way into early adulthood. IT is rising out of the basement and beginning to impact operations. IT remains subordinate to the C-suite. The title may include "C," but that is mostly ceremonious. Integration and interfaces become increasingly important. Still primarily reactive in nature, IT does not propel the organization forward.
Future. The ubiquitous title "technology" replaces the outmoded "information technology." Leaders view technology as an investment, not a cost center. Technology officers sit at the executive table and thrive under board-level oversight. Discussions are no longer about technical means, per se, but about the strategies and business outcomes that the technology department enables. Advanced social media, business intelligence, mobility and innovation pour out of these forward-thinking organizations. While IT enjoys this maturity in many industries, few healthcare organizations have reached the future stage.
What can you do to ensure that technology is a strategic asset in your organization?
Right leadership. Make sure you have strong business and clinical leadership. Technical skills are important but secondary. Communication, customer relationship management and strategic thinking are key traits to look for.
Right funding. The technology budgets must not be feast or famine. Create a long-range funding plan to ensure success. Consider these investments the cost of doing business.
Right organization. Move technology from the proverbial basement to the top floor. Burying IT in organizational hierarchy drowns out verbal affirmation.
Right staffing. Healthcare is increasingly reliant upon technical capability. Technology is the most pervasive tool that touches every aspect of the business and clinical operations. Ensure that staffing reflects this reality.
Right oversight. Board oversight is ideal. Leveraging board assets, directly and indirectly, adds value. Imagine a committee composed of board members mixed with CIOs from representative organizations. Emotional and intellectual engagement transpires.
Right technology. The future is all about mobility and fact-based decisionmaking, to include predictive analytics. We no longer can operate strictly by gut. Deploy frameworks that enable the speed of business and ensure clinical agility.
After his internal analysis of the past, present and future, Scrooge is shaken from his sleep and has a clear vision of how he must change. Healthcare must wake up from its IT slumber and make progressive choices to avoid an undesirable fate. The slope continues to rise. The longer we sleep, the greater challenges we’ll face in moving out of the past to the present and into the future. The alarm is ringing. Let's wake up!
"God bless us, every one."
Edward MarxChief information officer Texas Health Resources Arlington, Texas
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