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CIO Unplugged – 1/15/08

January 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.

Faces: The Toughest Aspect of Being CIO
By Ed Marx

In answering an often asked question—what is the most challenging part of being CIO?—several dated situations came to mind. Losing a data center when the electric grid went down in the northeast. Personnel matters. Providing champagne service and applications on a beer budget. The weight of my responsibilities while knowing patient lives are at risk. Facing down angry physicians. A multi-million dollar project gone bad. These situations ranked as tough, but not toughest.

I think back to Zarema, a woman on the staff interview panel when I came through as a candidate. While her peers tossed softball questions at me, she played fast pitch. I loved it! I respected her glasnost approach and assertiveness. A recent immigrant from Russia, Zarema spoke with a thick accent and held to cultural mannerisms that sometimes clashed with our health system’s progressive environment. Nevertheless, as a tireless and productive employee, she evolved into the go-to person of our division.

Before I left that division and eventually became CIO, Zarema confided in me that she was ill. I stayed abreast of her condition. She was very private, but over time, she received my prayers and support. Then, one day, I got the call. Disease had stolen her life. I lost an exemplar employee. Despite being sick, she had demonstrated how to strive for excellence, for she never settled for less than 100% on her yearly review.

“I still see your face, Zarema.”

A couple of years later, our IS Division underwent an incredible transformation, and much of the progress was attributable to our Field Engineering Team. We suffered “ticket tennis” issues, meaning service requests were lobbed between internal teams while the customer’s needs remained unmet. By combining the silos of Desktop Support, LAN Admin, and Network, we adopted a Field Engineering concept that encouraged and rewarded collaboration, which resulted in higher velocity and customer satisfaction. Dale was one of our young field engineers and a solid performer. Outside of work, he engaged in another passion: his motorcycle. One morning, tragedy came at him fast, and he was killed while riding his cycle to work. That week, the funeral was packed, and the majority of our field engineers joined me in attendance. Listening to them share words of support to the grieving family I gathered morsels of this man’s passion and added them to my treasury on life.

“I still see your face, Dale.”

I recall “Bill,” the husband of one of my direct reports, taking ill. After a few days in the hospital, his wife told me that he had tired of cafeteria food. (Imagine that!) My son and I snuck tastier cuisine past the nurse station then hung out for a little bit and prayed with him. His death devastated me, as he left behind an infant daughter and a young wife. He was brave; he fought hard. And he reminded me how life was too short to not live it abundantly.

“I still see your face, Bill.”

Most recently, another member of my division passed away suddenly. I regret, given my short tenure, that I did not have the time to get to know “Maggie.” Co-workers shared that she was a dedicated employee and a wonderful person, someone I would have appreciated. During a moment of silence at an all-staff meeting, I studied this woman in a picture on power point. I imagined visiting her at her desk, and I wondered what wealth of character I might have gained from knowing her.

“I still see your face, Maggie.”

So what is the most challenging experience as CIO? Identifying with tragedies that befall my department: lives taken prematurely; the impact of death and disease on families and communities. A good leader will morn with those who morn and rejoice with those who rejoice. I have attended many wakes and funerals to console grieving staff who lost children, parents, grandparents, spouses, and other loved ones. I have kept some in my contacts and scheduled their birthdates to chime annually on those bitter yet beautiful days.

I still see their faces.

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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