By Steve Cochran, CTO, Global Healthcare Exchange
How would you describe the role of a CIO today?
How would you describe the role of a CIO today?
There is no question that the role of the CIO has been elevated. CIOs today have a seat at the executive leadership table, providing the much-needed bridge between technology and business value. Not long ago, the CIO represented just another operational cost center. The adage “no one was ever fired for buying IBM” is a classic metaphor. Today, the role of the CIO is increasingly strategic. Technology is at the heart of business efficiency and innovation, the twin goals of any business: do it increasingly better while creating breakout products and services. The technology choices that CIOs must navigate present an unprecedented opportunity, as well as a challenge. Getting the timing right for adopting new technology is a significant responsibility. For example, the decision to actively move to the cloud and away from a traditional infrastructure has an operating impact on the company. The capital and operating models change, and it requires a move from a fixed cost to a variable cost model. Few organizations are prepared for such a transition. CIOs are in a position to provide the technical expertise that companies need and connect that counsel to a company’s business objectives.
How can the CIOs make their business counterparts think differently about the importance of IT?
You must demonstrate the value of IT not only to the organization, but also to your business counterparts in finance, marketing, and sales. At GHX, this was precisely the position I found myself when I joined the company five years ago. My charter was to build a new technology platform for the GHX ecommerce exchange that enables the delivery of supply chain products to a large percentage of hospitals and suppliers in North America and Europe. I laid out my vision, how we’d build it, how it would enable us to build solutions for our customers faster than ever before and the incredible value it would deliver to customers. My pitch fell flat.
"The technology choices that CIOs must navigate present an unprecedented opportunity, as well as a challenge"
What turned heads though was the impressive cost efficiency this plan would deliver on a grand scale. This attracted the attention of the financial side of the business. The new technology was a way we could create margin, value and momentum for the company. During our many discussions, we moved from focusing on the size of the platform investment, which would initially limit the number of commercially viable improvements we could make the product, to an understanding of the long-term benefits of this investment. Moving to the new platform would allow us to develop new products at a rate that was previously unheard of. It can be challenging to convince the front end of the business that the back end of the business can really help. Our job is to illustrate the difference between the importance of now and the opportunity of tomorrow, and how technology can deliver measurable financial value.
As the technology sphere evolves, what are some of the latest trends that are gripping your mind?
At GHX, we rebuilt the company’s ecommerce exchange using Amazon Web Services and other advanced tools for a truly cloud-based platform. Today, we are reaping the reward of that investment, and the experience has changed the way the company views the value of technology. I’m interested in commercial stacks of technologies, particularly as we continue to design and develop solutions away from the hardware. In a few years, we will only need to write the business logic and the rest will be available via these commercial stacks. The challenge, if we start using a significant amount of third party or open source software, is security. The security issue is one I’m watching closely.
I am also intrigued by blockchain, the underlying technology for bitcoin. It is still a technology looking for a home, but it is definitely on my watch list.
Which growing or future technology innovation are you personally excited about?
I am excited about the continued evolution of the concept of platforms. We are seeing new innovations in Amazon Web Services—new sets of tools, new extraction layers—almost every day. It is quite exciting because it allows us to create business value faster. The rate at which we can continue to develop and build value-added applications is accelerating at a rate that is unprecedented. It becomes easier to do.
It was not long ago that significant energy had to be invested into the hardware infrastructure, the network infrastructure, how to think about interfacing applications, and how to develop security perimeters. Today, all of this is accessed through software tools provided as part of the available platforms. Previously, constructs for deploying software in a consistent and reliable fashion had to be created. Today tools and containers are readily available to make the software deploy and operate reliably. Our world of software and IT is one that is becoming more focused on delivering business value rather than simply providing technology to the business.
How can the evolving technologies help GHX to overcome the challenges?
GHX made a critical shift five years ago when it decided to re-architect the underlying technology of its ecommerce exchange. I believe that CTOs and CIOs are at a critical transition point in regards to evolving technology. During the last few years the industry focused on cloud and virtualization, but approached IT and development in the way we had before. We cannot afford to do that any longer. The fundamental model is so different than it was just a few years ago. If you do not make that transition you are going to get left behind from a competitive standpoint.
With CoreX, our new cloud-based ecommerce platform, we addressed the challenges we faced—scale and speed, security and resiliency. What we found was that the world of virtualization and elastic scale has overcome scale challenges. The ability to scale out horizontally has overcome speed challenges. The resiliency that is built into the public cloud infrastructure has overcome disaster recovery/business continuity challenges. The tools that are available for encryption and our ability to build for audit have overcome many of the security challenges. Things that used to take tons of energy, specialty skills and ‘know how’ are just becoming part of the platform and are more available to use. It means you can specialize and focus on the value proposition you intend to deliver rather than how to get all of the underlying components functioning properly for a good reliable platform.