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HIStalk Guest Writer: John P. Glaser and The Top 10 Cool Things About Being a CIO

July 19, 2008 News 10 Comments

When Mr. H started making his vacation plans, he determined only an elite group of HIT superstars could fill his shoes. Or, perhaps he concluded only a few people would want to contribute to an obscure blog. In any case, Mr. H asked but a handful of experts to provide guest columns in his absence. Partners HealthCare Systems VP and CIO John Glaser was definitely on his short list.

Mr. H and I were thrilled he agreed to participate because he is a funny guy. And, John’s credentials are certainly pretty stout as well. He is the former IS VP at Brigham and Women’s, was CHIME’s founding chair, and was a past HIMSS president. Additionally, he is a PhD, a HIMSS, CHIME, and American College of Medical Informatics fellow. Plus now a published HIStalk Guest Writer.  Enjoy!

– Inga



I have been a CIO for a really, really long time – over 20 years. And while I wasn’t sure about the role at first, after a while it kind of grew on me.

I was asked – what are the top 10 cool things about being a CIO? There are 10 things that I like but I could only remember 7 (this job does nothing for your memory or intelligence).

You get to go to lots of meetings. I realize that most meetings are pretty boring. But they can hardly be called hard work or dangerous work. All you have to do is be able to sit for long periods of time, avoid dozing off and be able to make up facts should a question come your way.

How hard can this be? You don’t have to actually do anything substantive like write code, support users or write documentation – you just have to show up at the right meeting at the right time and keep your eyes open.

You get to go to lots of conferences and events. In order to “stay on top of the industry,” “develop a valuable network of colleagues” and “engage in meaningful dialogue with vendors and consultants” you have to go to multiple conferences and events. Usually these are held in nice places, give you time to play golf, result in your being fed well and provide you the opportunity to wear a badge with colored ribbons.

Your staff are back at the ranch slaving away while it is snowing outside. You, on the other hand, are advancing the organization’s strategic IT agenda as you toss down a couple of cold ones with industry movers and shakers – pool side.

You get to give lots of presentations. The board wants to know the IT strategy. The organization’s leadership wants to understand that projects for next year. Your staff want to hear about efforts to improve the effectiveness of the IT department. As a result, you will need to give lots of presentations. Presentations give you opportunities to show really cool moving bullets, present graphs that build, play video clips, listen to audio clips and, if you’re really good, leverage a hologram or two.

Don’t worry about substance. That isn’t the point of presentations. Entertainment and high tech wizardry are the point.

You get free publications. To get free industry publications all you have to do is fill out the qualification card that says that you approve every IT decision in the organization and that you have installed every technology ever made and that your organization is going to be engaged in major buying decisions in the next year. You may not know what some of this equipment does. You may not know if you really have this hardware or that operating system installed. And you may not have a clue what the IT purchasing plans are in the year ahead.

This doesn’t matter. The publication doesn’t really care whether your responses are accurate or not. They just want to show advertisers that they have important readers so that they can charge top dollar for a full page ad. Once you get the publications you don’t have to read them other than to scan them to see if there is a picture of someone you know. You should however keep big stacks of these publications in your office. This helps to create the aura that you are well informed – see next section on pronouncements.

You get to issue official pronouncements. Every now and then you are expected to make important decisions. Which vendor should we choose? Should we participate in a RHIO or not? Where should we make budget cuts?

You might be worried about the pressure to make the right decision. Relax. All you have to do is decide. You don’t have to be right or wrong – you just have to decide, announce your decision and deliver that decision with a tone of voice and a body posture that indicates that this decision is well considered.

If you want help in deciding you can use the Magic Eight Ball or Rock-Scissors-Paper. Don’t let the rest of the organization see you do this – it has a way of diminishing the appearance of the decision being well considered.

And if someone points out “That decision you made last year didn’t work out so well. What happened?” All you have to say is, “Overcome by events.”

You get a nice office. Being a CIO generally means that the organization gives you an office in the same area as the other muckety-mucks. This office is usually large, has plush carpeting, is appointed with a big desk and a mini-conference table and has a really big screen to go with your ultra-fast computer. Plus there is free coffee nearby.

You may wonder – why do I need all of this space? And why do I need the space to be this luxurious? You need the luxury so that you can appear important. It is important that you appear important when you make official pronouncements. The key part of the space is to have enough room, on the carpet, to lie down and take a nap. Being a CIO can be tiring.

You get free doo-dads and trinkets. Conference exhibit halls (particularly HIMSS) have dozens of opportunities to stock up on pens, key chains, little flashlights, coffee mugs, note pads, bags and lots of other quality merchandise. Vendors, in an effort to grab your attention, will mail you golf balls, radio controlled cars without the radio controls, umbrellas, kaleidoscopes, back scratchers and shirts. And you get all of this because you are top of the IT heap (and you filled out your qualification card as I instructed above).

You have family presents for all of the major holidays and life events for the rest of your life. You can use the shelves in your spacious office to exhibit your loot. While you have meetings in your office you can invite the attendees to play with the doo-dad of their choice helping you to avoid a conversation that you’d rather not have.

These doo-dads and trinkets show you that, while the rest of the organization thinks you should be shot, your vendors and consultants care enough about you to send you presents.

My CHIME colleagues may not admit it. But the above reasons are the real reasons that we are all glad to be healthcare CIOs.

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Currently there are "10 comments" on this Article:

  1. Very funny – sure hope his job is secure – or plans on retiring soon – but a very enjoyable article

  2. Right On! Wish John remembered the other three. All this stand up comedy and most don’t know he is also a rock star.

  3. Stick to your day job. That said, I’d love to hear from John in 12 months regarding the status of Soarian Financials at Partners. He did a very nice presenting for them in their HIMSS booth this year. Let’s see how it all works out for him. My guess is that column will be much more interesting.

  4. Okay — so I don’t miss being a CIO no matter how fun John makes it out to be!! But I do miss seeing John at those conferences and events where we “stay on top of the industry”!

    John was always a very classy guy and remembered my name from conference to conference even though my organization was just a community hospital and my budget was just a fraction of his organization’s.

    As much as he makes the CIO role out to be sooooo glamorous, I am still happy with my career change! I actually have a life now!

    Love the commentary!! Thanks for participating!

  5. At many organizations VPs and above get a nice car – If I make it, I want an Infinity G37, but mostly I just want to improve the quality of health care.

  6. FormerCIO – what do you do now? Just wondering so a few of us can save some steps and get to the good stuff.

  7. Sorry about the delay in getting back to you all…

    My job now is certainly not glamorous or high powered, it’s anything but that! However it was what I needed in my life when I exited the administrative ranks about 5 years ago. After the pressure of my last administrative job where I built a hospital — yes, built from ground up with 5 am budget meetings, administrative staff meetings each week until 9 pm — I realized my health and sanity (clinical depression) were suffering and I needed a change. Not ashamed to admit it, I am just glad there are treatments for it!

    So I entered the world of consulting…

    This was great — set my own hours, loved the travel, etc. But when I realized that the interior of a Hampton Inn seemed more like my home than my home did — it was time for another change.

    Objectively looking at what I liked about my previous jobs I realized that a lot of what I did in both the administrative side and the consulting side was to EDUCATE people. Educate them on the potential of products purchased, educate them on new technologies to consider, educating on ROI, educating people on utilizing what they had already purchased to the fullest… Hmm, wonder what these things had in common???

    So, I made a career change and now work as an educational consultant for a large hosptial corporation. (wonder who that could be?) My day job is teaching people how to use the systems our corporation has purchased to improve patient care. It is not so much about “push this button to do this” but to take a look at how they can better utilize the system and extract the data entered into the system to provide information. (Data by itself is not Information!).

    I concentrate in the technical areas of data extraction, operating systems, security and interface education. I get to come in the morning, do my job, and leave work behind when I exit the door. My pay is not in the stratosphere, but I do get paid well for my work and actually make close to the pay from my last administrative job. I will say that my HOURLY RATE is the highest in my career when you actually calcuate pay divided by hours worked!

    Sometimes I really do miss being on the front lines of healthcare in an actual hospital and being able to influence the use of technology but then I think of everything that goes with that and am happy with my life now. When I miss the other stuff more, I may well go back into healthcare adminstration.

    Take care!

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