At Health IT Summit, CIO David Chou Challenges Leaders to Think Digital Transformation

Feb. 28, 2018
David Chou, CIO of Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, told attendees at the Health IT Summit in Raleigh that they need to be change agents, helping to lead healthcare into the digital age

In the morning keynote session at the Health IT Summit in Raleigh, sponsored by Healthcare Informatics, and being held at the Sheraton Downtown Raleigh (Raleigh, N.C.), David Chou, CIO of Children’s Mercy Hospital (Kansas City, Mo.), challenged his audience to “think digital” in a big way, in the face of an emerging healthcare economy filled with challenges and opportunities.

Chou’s full title is vice president / chief information and digital officer at Children’s Mercy Kansas City, the only freestanding children’s hospital between St. Louis and Denver. He has served in numerous different executive roles in healthcare, from CIO at AHMC Healthcare in California, to senior director of IT operations at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi (where he led the creation of a hospital in Abu Dhabi from scratch).

In his keynote address, entitled “Health IT Leadership in the Era of Digital health Innovation: Stories from the Field,” Chou told his audience that “We hear the buzzword all the time: digital transformation. In fact,” he said, “it’s one of the most overused terms in the last few years. But what are we talking about when we talk about digital transformation? Who leads it? And where is it going?”

David Chou

Chou broke the concept of digital transformation down into four areas. “Think of digital as using four core technologies,” he said. Those are mobile computing, cloud computing, data, and the social media space. “In terms of mobile, that is the platform of choice now in terms of rolling out solutions. Meanwhile, when it comes to cloud, are you thinking of cloud-based solutions? And if you are, will you be using a private cloud, a hybrid cloud, or a public cloud? Then there’s data. Every one of you is trying to be a data-driven organization; and data and analytics will be a big part of digital. Meanwhile, the last area of consideration is the social space. How many of you took Uber from the airport to get here?” he asked the audience. “You’ve probably rated your driver. And maybe you’re rating your doctor as well.” Social media interaction will become increasingly important going forward, he said.

Surviving? Thriving?

Chou then broadened out the conceptual framework around digital transformation. He noted to his audience that 52 percent of the U.S. corporations on the Fortune 500 list in 2000 are now gone—“acquired, merged, or bankrupt. Meanwhile, 55 percent of Fortunate 500 companies were losing money in 2015. And,” he said, healthcare organizations are all being disrupted by digital.” He told an anecdote about showing some twentysomethings a photographic image of a floppy disk—and having them believe that it was the photo of something created via 3D printing. That, he says, shows how quickly things are changing now in the world.

One very important element in all this, Chou told his audience, is for CIOs to understand that digital strategy and IT strategy are not the same thing. “Start thinking about digital and digital strategy. That’s a lot different from an IT strategy,” he emphasized. “It’s really about creating new business processes, or redesigning existing processes using technology. And that’s a very different role from the traditional CIO role. I remember years ago when I was in data processing,” he recalled, “and people didn’t even know what a CIO was. Now, we’re asked to create new business models. That’s a very different thought process. I would challenge you guys to think about that.”

So, he said, “How do we use information technology to help us win? That’s the current CIO role. But now, think about how our business might survive and thrive in a digital world? I call that the CIO 2.0” role. “And where do you start? You’ve got to understand your organizational DNA. Without understanding that, you really don’t know how fast your org can move. Are you considered a market leader?”

Citing research, Chou said that, across industries, experts see only 5 percent as “market leaders” in their fields. “Apple, Google, Microsoft, they want to be the first movers on everything,” he said, with regard to the 5 percent of business organizations normally considered “market leaders.” The next category, composed of 15 percent of business organizations, is comprised of the “’fast followers’—they’re closely watching the market leaders. That’s a good place to be as well.” Still, he continued, “If I had to guess, I would guess that every one of you here would fall into the third or fourth buckets, most into the third. The third group is ‘cautious adopters,’ and they compromise 50 percent of the business organizations in the world. They’re looking carefully at solutions, making sure they’re OK. When they feel safe, they roll out those solutions,” he said, speaking of strategies and technological adoption.

Meanwhile, the fourth and final group, “laggards,” makes up a full 30 percent of business organizations. “Are you the last organization in your region, or nationally, to roll out a regional telehealth solution, for example?” he asked. “That’s a very dangerous space to be in.”

Chou challenged his audience to think about these dynamics. “So how do you start on this digital journey?” he asked. “First, ask what kind of organization you are. And what are you focused on, if not innovation? Cost? Most are business organizations are focused on cost. And how do you innovate in a digital world, if you’re mostly focused on cost? And who should lead the innovation? Gartner did a survey where they found that the CEO should lead the digital transformation, followed by the CIO. But that’s changing now, some people believe the CIO should be leading it.”

By way of illustrating the challenges today, Chou reported that “I spoke recently with a CEO who was looking for his CIO to be a digital transformation leader, and his CIO wasn’t that. Think about that in terms of your role. Are you merely keeping the lights on, or really thinking about the digital world?”

Meanwhile, Chou said, “Consider the ‘I’ in ‘CIO.’ My job is to influence.” In other words, “CIO” should really stand for “chief influence officer,” in the context of leading one’s organization forward into digital transformation. “So, aspiring CIOs, you need to think about what that means for you, since you can’t control everything. And, for my part, I want to be the chief influence officer.”

Emerging issues

When it comes to what areas he thinks CIOs should really focus on in the next year or two, Chou says, “I see four issues for this coming year. First is building digital capability for the coming healthcare [system]. Second is IT security. Third is creating a digital experience for internal stakeholders. In that regard, everyone hates IT help desks. We simply have to create a new experience. And, in that context, are there possibilities in terms of social collaboration, where people could post a problem to the community for suggestions? And how do we staff the help desk? Do we know how to staff it correctly for fluctuating levels of demand? And the fourth one is [optimizing] our contact center—the first point of contact.”

Meanwhile, Chou noted, surveys have found that 90 percent of CEOs believe that the forward evolution of the digital economy will have a major impact on their industry; yet only 25 percent say they have a strategic plan in place to address that evolution, and fewer than 15 percent are currently funding and executing a digital transformation plan. CIOs and other healthcare IT leaders, he concluded, need to shape their future. “You have to create the change,” he told his audience. “You have to move forward into the new healthcare economy.”