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Health Plan CIOs: Essential Elements for Success


The technology infrastructure of many health plans today could be described as costly, fragmented and siloed. Rather than focusing on the customer experience, growth and transformation, these plans are responding reactively to business needs and market shifts.

The technology infrastructure of many health plans today could be described as costly, fragmented and siloed. Rather than focusing on the customer experience, growth and transformation, these plans are responding reactively to business needs and market shifts. However, we are seeing innovative CIOs at health plans transforming their traditional operating models to leverage technology that enables the strategic goals of the enterprise while dramatically reducing costs.

A major focus on this journey is establishing a future technology foundation that supports a digitally enabled enterprise. This requires a leader who can assess the current organization's technology; create a roadmap that is business-aligned and clear; build a groundswell of support; and then implement and innovate. Equally important is the significant culture change associated with this shift. This may also necessitate the need for additional talent to enact the roadmap. A high priority is ensuring appropriate security safeguards are in place alongside service delivery and financial stewardship.

Health plan CIOs who are asked to embark on this journey are guided by the principles of improving their members' lives through products, services and reducing costs. These leaders optimize and leverage cutting-edge technology motivated by improving health outcomes for their members. Experienced CIOs at health plans are passionate about improving healthcare, possess deep knowledge of the healthcare landscape, are stewards of their members' time and money and are able to build and lead their teams to advance and innovate technology that is aligned with the business of their health plans.

Core Priorities

In our work recruiting for these positions, we have found the core responsibilities of a successful, forward-thinking health plan CIO to include the following:

Operational Concerns:

  • Mentor, recruit, retain and develop high-performing, actively engaged IT leaders and staff; create a positive workplace environment; and foster a culture of collaboration.
  • Maintain effective and collaborative relationships with senior leaders, operational leaders, clinical leaders and external partners/stakeholders.
  • Partner with those clinicians and leaders that oversee the data ecosystem and analytics strategy.
  • Implement technologies that enable a mobile, flexible workforce while improving collaboration capabilities and employee productivity.
  • Evaluate and recommend opportunities for technology to advance member and provider experience, regulatory requirements and organizational efficiency.
  • Ensure the organization's systems and data are secure and consistent with regulatory requirements and organizational standards; provide updates on the status of the security program to executives and Board members.

Strategic Concerns:

  • Develop and oversee implementation of the system-wide strategic plan for long-term information systems resourcing, including capital requirements, financial performance targets and timelines.
  • Ensure alignment of the IT function with the plan's business strategies including in the areas of growth, innovation, health outcomes/health equity, consumer engagement and digital transformation.
  • Develop, monitor and communicate metrics to measure IT services; identify areas of continual improvement and develop strategies to raise the bar for new technology.

Necessary Skills

Some of the ways we are seeing CIOs improve their subscriber's experience is buying over building, organizing data into actionable insights and knowledge, investing in digital transformation and talent, and being agile.

Health plans are seeking dynamic executives to lead information technology that will evolve and grow with the needs of their members. Their mandate is to focus on the customer experience, value-based care, new products and services.

We believe the critical qualities for these leaders are as follows:

  • Collaborative and team-oriented: They have the ability to communicate effectively and build relationships with diverse stakeholders; they also must connect with those around them and build high-functioning teams
  • Strategic and analytical: CIOs are much more strategy-focused than in the past, and much of that relies upon careful analysis of organizational claims and patient data
  • Possessing an executive presence: With their responsibilities raised, CIOs must have the confidence, calm demeanor and gravitas to gain the respect of peers and staff across the C-suite to the front line
  • Risk tolerant: Health plan CIOs must demonstrate an appropriate sense of urgency about affecting change quickly rather than waiting, and show a willingness to take calculated risks as appropriate
  • Emotionally intelligent: Most of all, CIOs need to be humane and accessible to those team members under their guidance; they must be good listeners, thoughtful and show the ability to put others first
  • Intellectually curious: Health plan IT is a rapidly shifting landscape; the CIO must show a passion for exploring trends and bringing forward technologies that will help shape the future of their organization to meet the shifting needs of the industry

Today's health plan CIOs must possess technical knowledge of their field, but more importantly they must show the personality to innovate, engage others in change and take leadership in creating market advantages for their organizations.

Hillary Ross is a managing partner and leader of WittKieffer's Information Technology Practice. Zachary Durst is a senior associate in the practice. WittKieffer is a global executive search firm dedicated exclusively to organizations that improve quality of life in health care, education, the life sciences and the not-for-profit sector.

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