Johns Hopkins’ CIO On Making IT Serve Health Care

Q: How have you leveraged the Web to provide information to your constituents?

Probably like everyone else on the planet we are trying to empower the people we serve more and more by giving them the tools they need and most of them are browser based…I think health care is absolutely behind the curve and we’ve been late adopters of some of the Web-based technologies we are now using more and more to give access to technology and faculty and students so they can access systems using a browser. We’ve been a late adopter primarily because of our focus on security and privacy and we want to make certain as we deploy technology they are appropriately protecting an asset and intellectual property.

Q: What is occupying the bulk of your attention right now?

Probably two things that are almost equally consuming: one is our focus on patient safety so I have a number of projects that are funded initiatives related to patient safety. If you think of clinical decision support and making sure the physician has all the information he or she needs at their fingertips when ordering medicine, making sure they know of an allergy or are already on another medication — so clinical systems to support patient safety is very, very high on the list. I already mentioned security and patient confidentiality. That’s probably right beside patient safety. That consumes a lot of my time and energy. The second thing is our student information system. As a university we have not done a great deal over past five to 10 years in this area and we are in the process of deploying a comprehensive student information system. It’s a big deal and it’s very comprehensive. It’s really the empowering stuff — letting the student apply, register, schedule, get grades online, get their curriculum online. They will have full and complete access to improve their life at Hopkins. It’s like a student portal; understanding what people expect, how to get it to work, all that. The administration and faculty component are equally important components. They need to be able to enter grades online, that’s the other half of the student view.

Q: What’s your view on implementation of new technologies and bleeding edge versus a more conservative approach?

One of our core values in IT at Johns Hopkins is science and innovation. I think that’s probably the toughest core value for us to attain or achieve or sustain because in the real world we all live in budgets that are not unlimited or infinite so we don’t have slack resources to explore emerging technology, yet it’s a critical piece of what we owe to the institution. We need to explore emerging technologies. I’m a bit more conservative than my colleagues. Our challenge is to be incredibly fiscally responsible. So I try to make sure our staff stays in touch with all of the newest and greatest emerging technologies but we don’t broadly deploy bleeding edge solutions until they are proven. I encourage staff to learn what they can; we have every tangible commitment to innovation, but we don’t deploy less than proven technology broadly. We may pilot [new technology] with a small subset of the population. I think that’s part of our fiscal accountability and fiscal responsibility.

Q: How large is your IT department and what skills are you in most need of right now?

If you look at the entire shop it’s about 400 people across the university and health system. The skills I need most right now are project management skills. With the dotcom bust a few years ago there are lot of bright programmers and engineers and we have been successful in recruiting talent in the technology areas but project management and all the skills associated with that — leadership, motivating, providing direction and good discipline project management–have not been as successful. It’s not as easy to find the discipline you need in managing a department where there is insatiable demand, when the faculty is as driven as they are and as demanding as they are. It is easy to quickly sit down and write some code and satisfy a demand. That’s gratifying. So there’s a temptation to do that in an environment like this that’s very fast moving and embracing change. But to do it in the context of a plan or in support of a strategy takes more time. It’s not necessarily sustainable so we’re making sure there’s somewhat of a disciplined approached to the deployment of mission-critical applications.

Q: Which of your skills has served you best in managing IT?


Q: What advice would you give someone in IT who is looking to advance the same way you have?

My advice would be spend every bit of energy you have trying to understand the business needs of your organization and the business strategies, where your organization really wants to be and then work with the best of the best to design the right technological solutions to meet those needs.

Q: What keeps you awake at night?

It probably varies from night to night…it’s a little bit of that fiscal responsible how do I make sure I’m demonstrating value to the institution, and my staff. What do we need to do next and communicating to our customers we’re doing the right thing. How do we make sure we’re listening and responding appropriately? I also lay awake wondering about staff development and how to keep them energized, informed and aware of what’s important.

Q: What do you do in your spare time?

Hike. It’s my escape. My husband and I love to do it and we hope that before we die we hike the entire Appalachian trial. That’s what we do for fun.

If you know of a CIO or CTO who would like to be profiled, please contact Esther Shein at [email protected]