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Should healthcare CIOs have a distinct qualification?


Even at 41 and with a wealth of experience, scrapes, victories and mishaps behind me, I am under no illusion as to the magnitude of the task I face in trying to eventually convince a person, board or panel to take a punt on me and make that leap from Deputy to Chief Information Officer.

So it was interesting to be in the crowd (if that doesn’t make it sound a little too Rock and Roll?) at the EHI Live event in Birmingham earlier this month, where debate raged on the need for professionalism and qualification at CIO level – especially in the Healthcare setting of which we were all a part of.

Whilst the viewpoints of attaining a qualification, a rubber stamp to show you know your digital onions are laudable, there was a part question, part statement from the floor that struck me: Are we not at risk of employing qualified CIOs who lack the skills and knowledge of a generation that came and succeeded long before any qualifications existed?

Well, are we?

I’ve done many things in my working career, from presenting to a global board where English (and spending money) was not their first language, to interviewing a DJ in a hot tub – but I’ve never been sat in front of an Oracle salesperson discussing impending price rises and spiralling licensing costs, having to make the call on whether to pull the plug or not. Likewise I’ve yet to oversee the roll out of a new platform – making judgement calls on who gets access to what and when and dealing with the issues that decision will create. 

I’ve not been part of the process; I have been part of senior teams and discussions where my view and experience has contributed to the final decision being made – even when there were times that I was in the “48%” and democracy was overruled. I’ve also been part of the 99% and still been on the wrong side of a call, but that’s a different matter entirely.

So where does a Deputy go to align themselves in terms of modern thinking? Is a qualification, like the CHIME Certified Healthcare CIO that was discussed at EHI Live, an important part of a Deputy’s arsenal – like the coaching badges in football – that are needed before an interview panel can take them seriously? Or is it more important to be scarred and haunted by the pound falling and suppliers circling like vultures with the latest contract you’ll need to sign, or else you’ll lose access to the key systems your business needs to function?

Or is there even another way?

Is it knowing when to apply that experience and insight – or even, when to apply for that qualification, and what we then do with that qualification once we have it. One example given EHI Live was how we need a CORGI registered and approved engineer to fit a gas oven, but there is no kite mark needed at present for a CIO responsible for the data, systems and infrastructure required to support the essential healthcare needs of millions. This has to change, right?

Well, yes. But as someone with PRINCE2, MSP and finalising a block of study at the Cranfield School of Management I know that in certain regards, the qualifications are seen as must haves – but occasionally disregarded when key stakeholders are put off by the bureaucratic procedures when exception reports and gateway reviews are proposed. Differing attitudes to paperwork in a, one size doesn’t fit all setting.

So where do I go? Well, look at me as a sponge. Slightly drier behind the ears, but willing to listen and learn whenever and wherever the opportunity arises. From my own learning curve, potential CIOs in healthcare settings will inevitably feel like 90s hairdressers. Whenever I ask which current IT and digital leaders I should look to, the one name that comes back is Rachel (Dunscombe and Murphy). I don’t so much want a Rachel, as should aspire to be one it seems.

There we have it. I need a haircut, a qualification and years of experience managing all of the ups and downs of IT delivery, whilst being able to tackle the disruptors that will inevitably change how CIOs need to work in the future. No one said it was going to be easy.

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