Former Social Security Official Urges CIOs to Lead Internal Collaboration

Tom Hughes recommends ways to manage health-care information exchange across federal, state and local agencies.

by / October 13, 2010
Photo courtesy of iStockphoto Photo courtesy of iStockphoto

The public CIO is undergoing a major transition. In fact, in many organizations the CIO position is changing in response to turbulent, hyperconnected business environments in which organizations must turn to innovative technologies to gain advantage.

However, fear of risk paralyzes many CIOs. This article makes two major recommendations for CIOs: the first is driving internal organizational collaboration through the CIO; and the second is a basic perspective of public CIO collaboration across federal, state and local entities to better manage the modernization of health-care information exchange.

In many government agencies, health-care integration is enormous and risky. CIOs could be involved in millions of dollars of wasted efforts as a result of poor IT strategy for health-care integration. CIOs must be at the executive table listening and impacting decisions that will drive health-care integration and IT direction. Today many CIOs aren’t in the executive tent, so they need to show value, be forceful and also lead business strategy efforts. During the past several years, the CIO’s function has broadened to include responsibilities beyond the traditional CTO-only role; the CIO has become a leader in supporting the CEO’s/government leader’s transformation. Furthermore, CIOs now have some responsibility for the enterprise’s business success, and therefore must improve partnerships within their organization to facilitate business outcomes, such as enhanced e-customer service.

Besides health care, new technologies like unified communications are exciting opportunities for expanding human collaboration inside the agency and hold tremendous potential for supporting business strategies that rely on increased customer self-service, enhanced employee productivity and streamlined processes. While the senior public executive should drive senior staff to consider new organizational approaches to transform their business, the CIO should be a leader in supporting these new organizational collaborations.

Recommendation No. 1:

Elevate the CIO’s organization to have more leadership and collaboration.

The CIO builds a trusted adviser role into the top executive leadership. As part of this transformation, the CIO should strive to reshape IT partnerships so that distributed (siloed) functions can be coordinated under a collaborative information-management approach. The CIO must be able to influence and inspire internal and external business units to work toward a common goal.

This requires the CIO to be a leader in developing a clear vision for IT’s support of business goals and how to motivate fellow executives to work together to achieve this vision. While change is always difficult, a strong CIO who is willing to be more than a CTO can potentially help steer the enterprise through these dynamic times. It’s time the CIO leads the effort to reinvent IT’s role in the enterprise — and his or her role — along the way.

CIOs must build stronger executive governance models for collaboration. Using this approach, CIOs would more effectively drive business change and work across their company or organization. Once the CEO (or agency head) drives the vision and strategy, the CIO’s role should be to translate IT collaboratively and horizontally organizationwide to support the business strategy. In this role, the CIO is no longer simply the IT director or IT budget officer. The CIO must effectively work across the organization by understanding the business vision, identifying how IT strategy must support the business goals, and working to promote collaboration horizontally across the agency’s business and specialized functions to effectively execute change.

The CIO is a business leader who understands technology. The CIO — unlike the senior business and functional leaders of the company or agency — can translate the vision into a strategy without organizational bias and can work across the enterprise to foster collaboration throughout the execution and evaluation phases. In addition, today’s Web 2.0 technologies can better foster this collaboration through the use of wikis, blogs, Twitter and — the most promising — unified communications. As a result of organizing technology in this unified communications approach, people can instantly and simultaneously get information in the form of voice, video or data. This is vastly different from today’s use of technology.

Here’s one example how an organization can maximize technology and work across its structure to make and execute strategic decisions: In this collaborative CIO enterprise model, decisions can be made faster, all functional expertise is represented, an enterprise approach is assured and accountability is built into the execution process.

The CIO operates as a business leader by participating in the development of the agency’s business strategy. The CIO is tasked with setting up collaborative processes and the necessary supporting technology for collaboration throughout the execution of the IT portions of business projects. The CIO exports the collaboration processes and technologies for use in all other execution steps of the organization’s major initiatives. The collaboration model redefines the CIO’s role; provides for horizontal, multidimensional management of major projects; and starts with strategic objectives that are measured in terms of business outcomes. The CIO of the future will manage the organization’s IT investments as part of a portfolio of business initiatives.

Recommendation No. 2:

CIOs collaborate on health care across public agencies and commercial IT firms.

The thought of losing health-care records along with the privacy and trust of the American people is scary. The key point:
Health-care records are lost today and even more will be lost in the future. Work with other agencies and vendors. The federal government is driving many health-care standards, along with health-care records security and privacy rights. CIOs must continue and accelerate the pace of developing strategies and then detail IT strategies for exchanging information.

One simple example of an enormous challenge is the discussion of new data fields in a W-2 statement, which is in tens of thousands of IT systems across government. The CIO will need keen knowledge of how agencies and corporations will build these new health-care data streams into their businesses before creating IT systems. Otherwise, wasted IT investments will reach the billions of dollars and further injure the public’s trust in health-care solutions.

As a former CIO of the Social Security Administration, I tried to build trust with our IT vendors and further understand how their modernization approaches would impact our Social Security systems. The future of data exchange between public and commercial health-care providers is driving the CIO to develop IT strategies that will allow migration paths of public information systems using leveraged commercial solutions, which are voluminous and standardized. CIOs will increase the risk level if they primarily try to build custom systems, which cannot migrate as health-care systems migrate.

Chief executives must hire strong-willed, forward-looking business/IT executives. Many government CIOs won’t make the transition to this new collaborative working environment, and therefore should be quickly moved aside. For other executives, it will mark a new beginning for enhancing relationships and building greater trust within the organization and across government. For organizations that do this well, it could mark the beginning of serious health-care information exchange, which ultimately would translate to better IT systems delivery and better health care for America.

Tom Hughes is a strategy partner with the Federal Consulting Practice of CSC Corp., a former CIO of the Social Security Administration and a public speaker on the need to change CIO perspectives. Please address any comments to:

Tom Hughes Contributing Writer

Tom Hughes is a strategy partner with the Federal Consulting Practice of CSC Corp., a former CIO of the Social Security Administration and a public speaker on the need to change CIO perspectives. Please address any comments to: