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CIO Unplugged 11/14/12

November 14, 2012 Ed Marx 16 Comments

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are mine personally and are not necessarily representative of current or former employers.


I arrived early to the bar. A bit after five, I was sipping merlot as my first guest arrived. We’d never met.

In fact, I’d never met any of my guests. I had found their contact information a few weeks prior and fired off an e-mail invite. I had no idea who, if anyone, would show. We had little in common, so what should I expect from them?

Our connection? Their CEOs sat on the board of my healthcare system.

I was totally rookie my first year as CIO. My first leadership endeavor was the selection and deployment of an electronic health record. What did I get myself into? I had to guide us through the biggest transformational challenge in the 140-year history of our organization. No pressure!

The guests I had invited all showed. We moved to our private dining room. I was now sitting with seven Fortune 250 CIOs.

I asked them for advice. Although they couldn’t relate specifically to the challenge of the EHR, they had significant experience in other transformative enterprise projects such as ERP. I wanted and needed to learn from their experiences.

Yes, experience is a decent teacher, but other people’s evaluated experience is even better. I had no margin, time, or grace to learn on the job. Unbeknownst to them, they were my lifeline.

The modest dinner cost delivered significant returns. I gleaned more that evening than I ever could have from a library or from endless webinars. I applied their golden nuggets of wisdom and avoided common pitfalls inherent to enterprise projects. Their willingness to share below the surface launched my organization and team down the track of success.

Moreover, these relationships are as important today as they were 10 years ago. Yes, I have maintained these connections. I recently met my friend Tom Lucas (Sherwin-Williams) for breakfast at the Society of Information Management national meeting. Just as I had back in Cleveland, I peppered him with questions, listened, and learned. I needed to talk with someone outside of healthcare, and Tom was there for me.

What I’ve learned: the more I reach out, the more goals I achieve.

I want my direct reports to have similar interactions with their non-healthcare peers. In a post two years ago, I shared how my team routinely collaborates with non-healthcare companies. This summer, we met with the IT leadership team of Kimberly-Clark. The meeting was pretty amazing, at least for us. We shared strategies, challenges, ideas, and opportunities. We commiserated and consoled.

In complete learning mode, I asked questions and took notes throughout the day. I was absolutely humbled. As a result of this interaction, we adopted many of their leading practices, including the following:

  • Launching an internal mentoring program
  • Deepening our mobile strategy and consumer-centric apps
  • Developing a more robust communications capability
  • Optimizing our business intelligence

I was schooled and happy. But I have to admit my remorse over the fact we received more than we gave.

Secondary benefits continue: relationships. We have now expanded our network to three non-healthcare companies. My direct reports are genuinely acquainted with their peers in these organizations. They have friends they can call on to give them fresh perspective and to help elevate their capabilities and performance.

Healthcare IT lags behind other industries such as financial services, entertainment, logistics, and retail. This is one way we are closing the gaps.

What I’ve learned: reaching out turns weakness into strength.

What are your approaches to identifying and closing your technology gaps? Find a company you admire and reach.

Post a response and I’ll send you the generic agenda we use for these peer-to-peer meetings.

Ed Marx is a CIO currently working for a large integrated health system. Ed encourages your interaction through this blog. Add a comment by clicking the link at the bottom of this 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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Currently there are "16 comments" on this Article:

  1. Hello Ed,

    Thanks for sharing this information. Very interesting and helpful for my current organization.

    Please do send a copy of the agenda. I look forward to receiving it.


  2. Ed,
    Fantastic reading for me, especially since reaching out is a weakness. I want to print this and stick it on my wall: “the more I reach out, the more goals I achieve.”

    well done.

  3. Ed,
    once again you amaze me with your ability to address a challege / weakness in healthcare IT in a way that many, myself included, would not have considered.

    Yes, please share your agenda and thank you.


  4. Ed, great article and perspective on how we all can and need to continue to learn from outside our silos. This was very insightful. Please forward me the agenda. Thank you,

  5. Hi Ed. Great idea, love the notion of sharing across industries. there’s much commonality that can be found, strengths to be emulated ,and pitfalls to be avoided. I’d like a copy of your agenda, please.



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