4 Tips for the COVID Era CIO

By Nick Giannas

The WittKieffer Information Technology Practice team hosted an online focus group of some 20 healthcare industry CIOs this fall, organized in conjunction with the virtual CHIME20 Fall CIO Forum. For more than an hour, my colleagues and I discussed current health IT challenges with the group, but also the goals and ambitions that these CIOs have for their organizations. All of the CIOs noted how the COVID-19 pandemic had elevated their status among their leadership teams. “We have become essential business consultants,” one CIO said. “We’re no longer just technology purveyors but leading partners in what the right thing to do is and how best to do it. It’s refreshing to be quite honest.”

The distinguished group had plenty of advice for other CIOs to thrive during the COVID era. Their key tips are summarized here:  

  1. Continue to accelerate your digital strategy. COVID-19, while presenting many challenges for healthcare organizations, has been a boon to key IT initiatives, especially telehealth. The CIOs we spoke with noted that their organizations had made huge leaps in progress in regards to telehealth and steps forward in regard to RPA and AI—pushing them years into the future. Moving forward, CIOs must continue to advance important projects while they have the attention of their CEOs, boards, and top leaders. The idea is to create value at a high speed. “We’ve got to stay on the throttle,” said one CIO.
  2. Pay careful attention to your team; stay connected. The CIOs we conversed with were all leading their teams remotely, as most IT staff are now working from home. This makes it critically important for them to stay in touch with their colleagues as often as possible, whether it is morning coffee check-ins by Zoom or more casual virtual happy hours after the work day is done. Some CIOs said that their teams were actually more productive working remotely, and that they will continue the virtual team-building in the future. “We’ll keep doing our morning huddles on Microsoft Teams even when we go back to in-person work,” one said. The CIOs agreed, however, that they have to be conscious of burnout when working remotely and foster work-life balance.
  3. Hone your COVID-era leadership skills. We asked the CIOs what skills they found to be most essential to lead during the COVID era. The top skills included teamwork, communication, adaptability and the ability to change rapidly. “Communication has been the most important skill,” said one CIO. “I’ve stepped up communication radically during this pandemic, and I will not change that even after it has passed. We’ve stayed so closely connected. Our teams are remote and working away but we haven’t missed a beat.”
  4. See the future as the “the art of the possible.” In the CIO’s new role as an enabler and strategic business partner, it will be more important than ever for the head of IT to have a vision for the future. “The role of CIO as innovator has heightened,” one CIO said. “There is more appetite for things that can be automated; and so we need to strike while the iron’s hot. While we need to hold off on spending money, we still need to plan for what’s next.”

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