How To Be Smart About Your Services And Solutions?

James Freed, CIO, Health Education England
James Freed, CIO, Health Education England

James Freed, CIO, Health Education England

 How do you strike the balance between operations and innovation among your IT staff?

Innovation is a type of change, often disruptive, always significant. But its change articulated as ‘continuous improvement’ that really interests me, and how we leverage as many people as possible to contribute to that change. 60 percent of ideas for improvement come from the frontline – those people actually are undertaking the key customer facing roles of the business, my interest is how we support those people to run with those ideas. Providing a healthy culture that supports idea generation is only the beginning. We need to quickly sort the ‘wheat from the chaff’ and provide effective support for staff, regardless of the value of the idea they have proposed. We need to stop ideas that are unlikely to realise value quickly and support ideas into practice for those likely to generate value.

As a manager and a leader I’ve been inspired by those who demonstrate their values clearly. I am taken with the motto of Christine Asbury, CEO for Warwickshire Care Services who has articulated the value of “the standard you pass is the standard you accept”. Everything is everyone’s responsibility – if you see something you can improve, it’s your duty to improve it.

I encourage all my staff to do the right thing. As a CIO of a healthcare support agency I ask my team to do what is right for the patient and the taxpayer and then, to quote Keith McNeil (Chief Clinical Information Officer for the Health and Care system in the UK) “proceed until apprehended”.

  ​As a CIO, you are a leader; you are no longer a technician. You need to act as a facilitator, ambassador and promoter, and you need to listen and never stop learning  

What organizational structure allows for the best relationships between IT and its business partners?

True partnership, broadly in three areas: System ownership - We’ve learned a great deal in the last 12 months building TIS (the Trainee Information System) - our in-house system to manage the movement and progression of trainee doctors and other healthcare professionals. What we’ve learned is that the systems we build or buy to support our business functions need to be owned by that business function. We now have Medical Deans leading on decisions to accept and roll out specific modules, business managers making decisions about functionality and users involved daily in design and usability decisions. It is a well-liked system!

Governance – we hold ourselves to account by what our users think of our ability to meet their needs. 

Our core governance group is made up of business partners and informatics leads and our governance model is based on whether our business partners’ visions for the future of their functions are met by the services we provide. We take a joint responsibility for progress.

Change – Change and improvement is everyone’s business. HEE established an innovation program, training hundreds of people in ideation and refinement techniques. We have developed an innovation pipeline to pick up those ideas involving data, information, knowledge or technology. We effectively hold the hand of the idea owner to make sure it fails fast or succeeds well. It’s a partnership. We encourage a culture of experimentation, so the fact that someone suggests an idea is something to celebrate, even if that idea is unsuccessful.

What according to you are the top technology trends that are gaining steam?

I’m going to cheat and answer this question very broadly. The first trend I’ll pick is the move to supporting a ‘culture of digital’ across an organisation, Janet Hughes of DotEveryone describes exactly what this is in her blog (https://medium.com/doteveryone/ what-a-digital-organisation-looks-like-82426a210ab8). In short, it is a culture that celebrates experimentation, is able to quickly sort the wheat from the chaff, values user needs and a service mentality and is true to its core values

My second is old for software developers, but will be massive when it becomes a social movement for innovation more broadly – GitHub. The concept of committing ideas to.  a central knowledge base for anyone to use, providing they update and recommit to the knowledge base, is game changing. It’s worked for software, I want to see it work for healthcare best practice.

Finally some genuine tech – in the world of (healthcare) education, intelligent Augmented Reality (AR) is a real paradigm shift in the delivery of job learning. Being able to watch surgery in real time with instruments, anatomy, contraindications and vital signs identified as an overlay will have a massive impact on the efficacy of training.

Are there any other interesting insights you would like to share with us?

Digital is still exponentially increasing. Moore’s law still applies. And the gap between the capabilities of technology and our ability to exploit it grows with every passing second. You have to leverage as much brain power as possible in order to take advantage of that. The more this happens the more it becomes necessary to work with others, outside the department, even outside the organisation. A culture of collaboration and shared ownership of wicked problems, not top down diktat, will be the thing that helps us tackle the intractable in future.

What would be the advice that you could impart to a fellow CIO that looks to embark on a similar venture or professional journey along the lines of your service and solutions?

Firstly, as a CIO, you are a leader; you are no longer a technician. You need to act as a facilitator, ambassador and promoter, and you need to listen and never stop learning.

Secondly, don’t be afraid to give others the responsibility of ownership of elements of your information strategy – change is hard, but people aren’t afraid of change, they’re afraid of losing control – give the business the freedom to own a change and it’ll be adopted much better than if you led it. That may require you to swallow your pride!

Finally, make the head of Organisational Development your new best friend. Work with them to provide a culture that celebrates experimentation, continuous improvement and learning, encourage hierarchy-free collaboration. Encourage every member of staff to use digital tools to do stuff better! 

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