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Attending HIMSS Made Me Wonder: Does IT Matter?
Flying home from HIMSS after spending a week in Orlando and reflecting on the conference it made me think about Nicholas G. Carr’s book from over 10 years ago that made everyone it IT defensive. Mr. Carr asked, with a provocative title, Does IT Matter?
After spending a few days on the HIMSS show floor, the collective group of exhibitors might have colluded to try to make Mr. Carr’s point.
Before I run the risk of losing my secret CIO decoder ring (which gives me wide, sweeping powers to say “no” to things, an important task of a CIO), let me skip to the end and say, “Heck yes, I think IT matters.” But it sure was hard to see at this year’s show.
Let me add context. Mr. Carr never claimed that IT didn’t matter. People who only read the title of the book argued thinking that, but his main point was that IT yielded diminishing returns as a continuing source of strategic differentiation.
Since I already shared that I don’t agree with his thesis and I think that IT does matter, let me explain more why it was hard to hold my ground at HIMSS.
I believe that real strategic value from IT comes from cumulative and sustained use of our systems.
The show floor at HIMSS is best at being a live shopping catalog. If strategic value comes from health systems hunkering down and “just using what they own,” it really means we should all be at our core vendor’s user group to get focused instead of out shopping. This is not to say that there weren’t some interesting new ideas and companies at the show, but I would contend that most health system should be implementing, optimizing, or perfecting the use of their existing systems.
The problem with not staying focused is that it makes us forget that IT is only a tool, not a panacea. Shopping for the latest technology because it can be installed now does not usually translate to having our problems magically solved.
Especially for those institutions that have achieved MU Stage 1 or HIMSS EMRAM Stage 6 or higher, the goal really needs to be to make use of everything we have by using our systems more deeply. Most big vendors I talk to often complain that they have trouble getting their existing customer base to either stay current on latest versions or to implement and use all of the already-live functionality.
But it is not simple. New technologies will continue to give companies the chance to differentiate and first movers who take risk will gain advantage. But understanding the opportunity and deciding when the right time to make the bet is not for the faint of heart. It is among the toughest choices for CIOs and the rest of the C-suite to make these days, with constrained budgets and scarce ROI from previous large IT projects.
Mr. Carr makes the claim that widespread adoption of best practices through the use of IT software makes advantages disappear. It is obvious to me that Mr. Carr never spend time trying to enforce common content in a large health system. If he saw our slower pace, he would certainly declare we had a long way to go and had a low risk of IT not mattering.
The reality is that a lot of the IT mystique has been eliminated as consumer use of technology continues to grow. IT teams now need to play by the same rules as other business units by having clear objectives before money is spent. The age of technology for technology’s sake is probably in the rear view mirror. As technology infrastructure becomes a commodity (the cloud), how we use our tools or the depth of our use of IT will define and create our advantage.
Adding to the challenges of the CIO will be the realization that just because we find a new innovation, it does not necessarily mean that it will pay to be a pioneer. Our focus might be better spent on hunkering down and optimizing.
If we are going to make IT matter, as a mentor once told me,“Let’s get ‘er done.” Then we can go shopping.