Leadership and the Digital Journey

By Leslie Clonch, VP & CIO, Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children

Leslie Clonch, VP & CIO, Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children

I have the privilege of serving as part of an outstanding organization and team at Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children in Dallas, Texas. Founded in 1921 by a group of Texas Masons, Scottish Rite Hospital is a world-renowned leader in treatment of orthopedic conditions such as scoliosis, clubfoot, hand differences, hip disorders, sports injuries, and fractures, as well as certain related arthritic and neurological disorders, and learning disorders, such as dyslexia.

Defining the Digital Journey

Almost four years ago, Scottish Rite Hospital began a “digital journey”, which we defined as an ongoing series of focused projects and initiatives to support our goal of creating a secure digital environment where our patients, families, caregivers, and colleagues can both use and benefit from digital products and services we provide. The definition of a digital journey will vary by organization, so outlining and documenting how it contributes value and risk to organizational mission, culture, goals, and priorities is an important exercise and good way to initiate the “digital journey” conversation. So, if your organization is considering a “digital journey” of its own, the insights and experiences noted here and below may be useful.

Planning the Digital Journey

At Scottish Rite Hospital, planning our digital journey began by validating new organizational needs and opportunities against current strategic goals and operational priorities. Our keywords were “ongoing” and “focused,” as many worthwhile digital opportunities were identified, considered, and deferred with an understanding that “not now doesn’t mean not ever”. The resulting digital roadmap clearly outlined our definition of success, how it will be measured, and which programs and initiatives to start with.

"Our keywords were ‘ongoing’ and ‘focused,’ as many worthwhile digital opportunities were identified, considered, and deferred with an understanding that ‘not now doesn’t mean not ever"

Cultural impact does not generally receive a lot of attention in a typical planning cycle. However, the Hospital’s culture is of special importance to our organization. Consequently, guiding principles like “on-premise” and “self-sufficiency” were emphasized over the potential use of external resources to support our IT environment. So, we made a point in our digital planning cycle to reconsider many of these established views by, as an example, asking questions like:

“Under what conditions and to what extent will we embrace digital product and service offerings like cloud-based delivery models?” Although digital offerings like Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Software as a Service (SaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS) have made great strides in improving reliability, flexibility, and initial cost, there is still a significant effort required to understand and outline organization-specific value and risks by adopting these options.

A key leadership lesson learned during our planning process is that the value of building a digital environment is as much about organization engagement, discussion, and agreement or disagreement, as it is about the digital products and services being delivered. This process is a powerful way to reaffirm the importance of organizational commitment, accountability, and ownership.

In addition, here are a few suggested guiding principles to help with planning a “digital environment”:

1) Most digital environments are built from multi-year plans that are inextricably linked to organizational plans, priorities, and budgets. Organizational and IT resource planning should be a reflection of these plans.

2) Build a formal business case for each initiative outlined in the digital plan.

3) Manage risk and increase the probability of success, by focusing on foundation and pillar (projects and initiatives which support future initiatives) first. Build from the ground up.

4) Be pragmatic and flexible. Consistent incremental progress is success.

5) Organizational priorities and resources can and will unexpectedly change. Plan for that.

Leading the Digital Journey

Focused leadership significantly improves the likelihood of delivering a valued digital environment. Consequently, and particularly at the beginning of the journey, strong oversight through a formal governance process, and frequent, timely feedback should be a priority.

A key leadership lesson learned is the pace at which our digital environment continues to evolve (in scope and complexity) is proportional to the pace at which our understanding and use of digital products and services grow. As we learned more about what is digitally possible, the scope and complexity of what we asked for grew. Furthermore, the pace with which we expect these new digital tools and services to be provided will grow as well. Managing expectations based on the digital plan is a key leadership deliverable.

Benefits from the Digital Journey

At Scottish Rite Hospital, our digital journey benefits can be categorized into two distinct areas of emphasis, commonly known as digital optimization and digital innovation.

Digital Optimization

Simply stated, work in this area emphasizes planning and implementing digital products and services to build and/ or augment digital infrastructure and associated workflows which support it. Digital opportunities with significant, tangible benefits to Scottish Rite Hospital include virtual computing, cloud computing, application hosting, information security, managed services, and telecommunications.

Digital Innovation

As the name suggests, work in this area emphasizes identifying and implementing new and innovative ways of using digital products and services to enhance clinical and business workflows, and patient experience. Digital opportunities with significant, tangible benefits to Scottish Rite Hospital include patient compliance with treatment regimen, provider collaboration and workflow efficiency, infection prevention and control, graduate medical education, and clinical research.

An additional, particularly noteworthy benefit is abroad organizational acknowledgement that digital barriers to clinical and operational improvement(s) are eroding, given a well-constructed and supported digital environment.

Finally, a leadership lesson learned is while our digital journey continues to help us address and prepare for some current and future operational changes, it will never be complete. Diligent ongoing review and focused renewal will be vital, as emerging technology models, like Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), and Machine Learning (ML) become even more practically established, enabling us to develop new, innovative ways to deliver patient care and increase operational effectiveness or efficiency. Thus, continuing our digital journey will help ensure Scottish Rite Hospital’s digital environment is readily able to integrate digital opportunities like these.

It is my hope that these experiences and suggestions prove helpful to you in planning for and leading your organization’s digital journey.