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CIO Unplugged – 2/15/08

February 15, 2008 Ed Marx No Comments

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are mine personally, and are not necessarily representative of Texas Health Resources or its subsidiaries.

CIO reDefined: Chief Interception Officer
By Ed Marx

The roles of a CIO are as varied as the companies and sectors they serve. Even within these roles are multiple combinations and permutations that are expressed according to circumstance. The moniker “CIO” itself is not limited to “Chief Information Officer.” No, to be effective in our calling we must stretch the traditional definition beyond this commonly accepted interpretation. This post continues a series on how the “CIO 2.0” will push the boundaries of conventional thinking surrounding the role. We continue with the “Chief Interception Officer.”

Earlier this week, I had the privilege of attending the annual Davey O’Brien awards dinner, honoring the year’s best college quarterback. For the 2007 season, the honor went to the University of Florida’s Tim Tebow who added this hardware to his Heisman trophy. Highlights of his talents were shown and much of the Gator’s success was attributed to a low interception rate. In football, the interception is often considered a game changer. A momentum killer. One team has the inertia and is headed for a likely score. Victory looks certain. Then an errant block, a pocket that collapses, an ill-advised pass, and the opposing team catches the ball. That catch not only snuffs the scoring drive, it discourages the intercepted team. Keep that concept in mind as you read on.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that everything moves from order to disorder. A shrewd CIO can learn to intercept strategies, projects, or activities that perpetuate this law before they take hold. It takes about 10 minutes to identify an organization that lacks a Chief Interception Officer. In fact, you don’t even have to meet this person, just look at their application portfolio and the core technology mix. For further validation, review the number of FTEs per adjusted occupied beds or similar benchmarks. The more complex the environment and the larger the staff on a comparative benchmark basis the more probable the defense is out of sync.

To complement a solid offence, the primary defenses of the Chief Interception Officer are a visible strategic plan and an enforceable IS governance process. A large body of work already exists on IS strategic planning, thus I will simply touch on some of the less reported aspects. While a strategic plan must be aligned with the business objectives of the larger organization, make sure it directly supports all key performance indicators. Ask key stakeholders what drives their personal and departmental incentive plans then call out these specific objectives. Develop the plan in collaboration with key stakeholders without excluding anyone from providing feedback. As a final play, gather stakeholder signatures to signify that they have given adequate input and are endorsing the plan. Let the signature page be your initial slide in your overall plan. I keep a framed copy in our IS lobby as a reminder to those we serve and their commitment back to us.

Though it is a newer concept, a large body of work also exists on IS Governance for your reference. The governance process exercised by most organizations tends to be soft. Executives pitch projects of great promise (ROI, Quality, etc) and obtain funding. Yet no one ever circles back around to measure the actual outcomes. Thus, I will illustrate two notable strategies often overlooked: the need for end-to-end accountability, and the elimination of ambiguity.

To ensure quality progress, I implemented the following governance strategy. One year after a funded project has achieved a go-live status I sent the designing executive back through the governance process to present the outcomes. This discipline reduced the number of project requests by 60%, and those executives that did present had put their project through a rigorous analysis knowing that they would be held accountable to promises made. Projects that passed saw an increase in on time, on-budget performance, and, more importantly, on value realization. Did you notice my purposeful use of “executives” that presented projects? I changed the players from IS to operational sponsorship for all but highly technical projects. Finally, IS Governance must be firm in allowing only two possible outcomes. Funded or Not Funded. Anything apart from this reinforces the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

For an organization to bring about an efficient and effective application of information technology, the Chief Interception Officer must create the proper environment. While primarily on offense in leading an organization, exploit the defensive plays in your handbook. Heroically intercept misguided short passes and long bombs before points are put on the board that are difficult to reverse.


Ed Marx is senior vice president and CIO at Texas Health Resources in Dallas-Fort Worth, TX. Ed encourages your interaction through this blog. (Use the “add a comment” function at the bottom of each post.) You can also connect with him directly through his profile pages on social networking sites LinkedIn and Facebook, and you can follow him via Twitter – User Name “marxists.”

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