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January 2016

Preparing Tomorrow's HIT Leaders
By Jim Utterback
For The Record
Vol. 28 No. 1 P. 6

With each passing month, IT becomes more critical to the success of health care organizations. It's a trend that shows no signs of abating anytime soon.

One result of IT's prominent position within health care has been the rise of CIOs and other executives who have in many cases literally gone from the data center to the boardroom. This has presented tremendous opportunities for experienced, career HIT professionals who have seen their stock rise significantly. But there are only so many of these professionals to go around. In other words, the supply of HIT talent fails to meet the industry's growing demand—an increasingly serious and limiting issue for organizations looking to harness HIT's power and innovate while also looking to ensure the security of patient data and adhere to privacy regulations.

The Talent Crunch
After speaking with leading CIOs in the industry over much of the past year, it has become clear that recruiting new talent is often the most pressing concern for these leaders and their employers, presuming they have the budget to expand their teams.

In their search for IT executives, many organizations are looking outside of health care. Some have done so successfully, but there is a limit to how many individuals can transition from other sectors and thrive in positions that often require a great deal of specialized knowledge. CIO roles have become more broad and strategic, and health systems and other organizations are beginning to consider "nontraditional" candidates for these positions.

Chief information security officers (CISOs), which also are in great demand, are increasingly being recruited from outside of health care—from banking and finance, insurance, the military, or government positions—because other industries and sectors placed a premium on data security long before health care did. Recruiting a CISO certainly doesn't guarantee information security, but it is an important first step.

Even in situations in which an "outsider" is hired, it helps a great deal if that executive has some health care-related experience on his or her résumé. As with other burgeoning HIT executive roles, such as chief medical informatics (or information) officers (CMIOs), chief nursing informatics officers, and chief data analytics officers, health care experience and specialized technical knowledge are critical, in addition to general leadership and change management skills.

As HIT continues to grow in significance, executives with the right educational and experiential backgrounds will become increasingly hard to find. With new roles such as CISO and chief data analytics officer sprouting up, educational and certification requirements for IT leaders will become increasingly rigorous and diverse.

For example, CISOs will need specific experience and certifications, such as certified information systems security professional and certified information security manager. An analytics officer will require specific degrees, whether from Columbia University, Northwestern University, or another of the leading programs. In general, master's degrees will become of greater importance for HIT leaders.

Those programs that emphasize leadership skills such as communication, collaboration, and creative partnering in addition to technical growth will be the most relevant.

Expect the following trends in education and training to emerge over the next several years as prerequisites for securing key HIT positions.

A Spotlight on Specific Roles
CIO: CIOs are taking on more responsibility, gaining in status, and being asked to assume more strategic roles. A Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree will be increasingly necessary, preferably from technology-oriented graduate business programs. Professional development must be prioritized in areas such as communications, strategy, and team development. Hard and soft skills must be developed in parallel.

As patients are viewed more as consumers, CIOs must be able to formulate strategies around mobile technology, social media, and market positioning. Education and training in all aspects of the new digital landscape will be beneficial.

Chief Technology Officer (CTO): Like CIOs, CTOs will need to nurture their technical and strategic sides. Obtaining and maintaining technical certifications (such as in LAN/WAN) and even earning master's degrees in these areas will be essential. Proficiency in lean management and other process improvement methodologies are gaining cachet for serious candidates. And, as with CIOs, health care CTOs will need to build general leadership skills—in people management, communications, team development, change management, and so forth.

MBAs will come in handy, as will professional development conducted through HIMSS or the Association for Executives in Healthcare Information Technology, the CTO affiliate organization of the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives.

CMIO: The role of CMIO is gaining in strategic importance and being viewed as a critical leadership position. Hillary Ross, JD, a consultant for the executive search firm Witt/Kieffer, told Healthcare Informatics magazine that we are witnessing the rise of a second generation of CMIOs. The first tended to be primarily change agents, while this generation is "searching for the type of initiatives to leverage the health care system's investment in EHRs." This includes focusing on population health, patient safety, and lower costs.

With more CMIOs leading cross-functional teams of informaticists, analysts, nurses, and other IT professionals, leadership development courses, training, and mentoring take on added significance. On the technical side, board certification in clinical informatics will be a must, while master's degrees in health informatics and clinical informatics will differentiate CMIO candidates.

Chief Data Analytics Officer: This role has yet to be standardized across the industry, thus candidates' backgrounds tend to vary widely. A strong technical education will be necessary, as will an MBA or a master's degree in IT. Chief data analytics officers must have the influence and savvy to help their organizations transition toward data-driven decision-making and cultures, making leadership development a strong criterion.

CISO: With the role undefined, many of these executives are being recruited from outside of health care. A host of technical certifications (CISM, CISSP, CISA, CRISC, CHPS) are helping to lend credibility to the field and help distinguish candidates from one another. CISOs must be able to hold their own in discussions with the CEO, board of directors, and other key stakeholders, making confidence, gravitas, and outstanding communication and presentation skills a requisite for success.

Meeting Future Needs
Universities are struggling to catch up with the health care industry's business needs, although specialized programs are rapidly emerging, a development that hopefully will add more qualified candidates to the pool of HIT executives.

The thread running throughout each of these HIT roles is the need to develop strategic and leadership skills in parallel with an improved understanding of technical issues. Today's HIT leaders are held in high esteem throughout health care, but they must illustrate and share their value on a daily basis. They must be the face of change across their organizations, able to negotiate strategy and budgets, communicate vision, and inspire innovation.

— Jim Utterback, leader of the IT practice at the executive search firm Witt/Kieffer, has more than 30 years of diverse and dynamic executive leadership and consulting experience.