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CIO Unplugged – 7/1/09

July 1, 2009 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.

Social Networking; Why Every CIO Must Open the Gates
By Ed Marx

As the printing press fueled a transition from the Dark Ages to the Renaissance, Social Networking (SN) will be the transformation catalyst of our century. Johannes Gutenberg invented movable type to improve the production of books, which at the time were handwritten. He altered history. Seeing that SN could have the same power to enhance life as we know it—from personal and private lives to science, business, and culture at large—I have thrown open wide the gates of SN.

As with any type of reformation, new ideas will encounter opposition, even violent reactions. Traditions and the philosophy-of-the-day are challenges to overcome. Sections of the population will fail to adjust; others will dedicate their lives to discouraging and resisting change.

I don’t blame or look down on any who question today’s technological advancements, or changes. SN in particular. Resistance is natural, understandable. Sometimes it comes from personal discomfort—having to learn something new. Other times one is simply trying to make sense of SN in the confines of the corporate structure, assessing benefits, costs, risks and productivity. As with all things new, proceed with caution.

But the operative word is proceed.

I am a proponent of SN for a variety of reasons, both personal and professional. Although I will focus on the professional aspects, I do not subscribe to the theory that there is a distinct separation between the two.

Why SN?

· Training. All over the country we are implementing electronic health records and other disruptive technologies. One significant barrier common to all is a lack of basic computer skills, especially amongst older workers. I speak with many clinicians and I can tell you that those active with SN have an easier time adopting computer related technologies. The fear of the unknown has been removed. So, if it’s FaceBook that helps them to grow comfortable with how computers work then let’s be friends!

· Recruiting. My division reaches out purposefully through multiple SN media. We have already recruited a couple individuals via FaceBook and LinkedIn. Potential candidates see our organization as innovative and our leaders as active with SN. They capture a glimpse of the culture and openness. Our institutional Fan Page has also drawn many, and sharing the benefits of a career with our organization on YouTube and Twitter is also bearing fruit.

· Employee Engagement. Transparency accelerates relationships and engagement. This past week, one of our 18,000 employees reached me through the chat feature of FaceBook. In summarizing her words, this person saw my profile and determined that I was safe to approach. She shared with me some circumstances in her life, and I was able to help her. This interaction significantly exemplified the promise our organization holds dear: “Individuals caring for Individuals, Together.” Since we have moved towards a virtual office environment, SN keeps us connected with one another. We can see what is taking place in each other’s lives so when we do meet, we can skip the small talk about weather and touch on more meaningful subjects.

· Educational Community. Weekly, someone reaches out directly to me for assistance. If asked questions specific to medicine that I can’t address, I connect them to the proper authority. Other times, I’ve assisted college students with projects related to healthcare information technology. On the receiving end, I regularly access information about the latest in our field that helps me develop professionally and add direct value to my employer and customers. I have greater choice and flexibility in how I aide my development.

· Transformation. We need constant input of various sources to enable transformation. The confluence of ideas and innovations is what often lead to a Glorious Mashup. SN is the ideal tool to receive and share a wide variety of information that will lead to the next small and big change. I process and apply what I take in on a daily basis. With SN there are no limits or boundaries.

· Culture. As much as we resist, we have new generations entering the workplace and they are looking for a new kind of organization and leader. SN is an effective venue to demonstrate the transparency, flexibility, and collaboration required to successfully compete for talent.

Fear—the root motivator that causes administrators to seek tighter controls. Choruses for restrictive policies often become the norm. Critics cite loss of productivity, too much openness, and security risks as reasons to abstain. Resistance based on these judgments doesn’t outweigh the benefits. Check what’s happened recently in Iran. Leaders can no longer legislate values or write policies to seek control. People are relying more on influence and leadership than on strict rules and regulations.

The road to SN is frustrated by hedges of fear and hurdles of tradition, thus a CIO needs to lead the way confidently and smartly. Follow generally accepted SN guidelines as you advance through the opposition. Expose the lack of understanding in institutions stuck in conventional wisdom of the past.

Still hesitant? Consider a recent exchange I had with a CIO colleague who works where SN is forbidden. I sent him a birthday greeting via FaceBook; he replied shortly thereafter. How? Via his handheld of course! Even where SN is shut down, people still find ways to engage. The advanced world is moving towards SN. No one can stop it.

Don’t be left behind. Worse yet, don’t let your organization fall behind. Lead the way!

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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