“It is essential to understand the A-Z of business”

by Sohini Bagchi    Nov 22, 2012

Vishal Anand GuptaIn an exclusive interaction with Sohini Bagchi of CXOtoday, Vishal Anand Gupta, Joint Project Director HIMS and Manager Systems at the Calcutta Medical Research Institute (CMRI) explains the changing role of IT heads in the healthcare sector in India and that it is essential for them to have a thorough understanding of business in order to expand his role beyond the realms of IT. Excerpt.

How has the role of IT head or CIO changed in the healthcare industry over the years?
If I have to express the changing role of the CIO in the healthcare industry in just one word from what it used to be even half a decade ago, I would say the role has become more ‘strategic’. However, technology and operational excellence still continue to be his primary focus. In the current business scenario, the CIO’s role is gradually shifting from managing implementations and projects to developing and advancing the infrastructure. With the change and complexities occurring in the healthcare industry in terms of technology usage, communication, regulations and expansion, the CIO is also expected to act as a change agent, adding new hats to their roles to accommodate the emerging needs. The CIO in the healthcare sector will continue to play an important role in areas such as cost reduction, articulating the need for accurate information and helping patient and hospital staff gets access to this information.

Is there any significant difference between being a CIO of a healthcare group and that of manufacturing or a retail company?
From a CIO perspective, there may not be a huge difference as the key job is to manage information. However, the very set up of the healthcare sector is different. In a hospital, it is about dealing with lives and minutes of downtime can cost you millions. This raises attention to the quality of details and there is certainly pressure to meet the highest level of performance. This makes the job of an IT head in the healthcare industry even more challenging. The other important difference is that the healthcare sector in India has gone through less of realignment in terms of IT when compared to many other industries in terms of technology usage and adoption. Most hospitals deal with manual data maintenance and outdated infrastructure that leads to a greater chance of inefficiency. Here you have to deal with a bunch of people who are just unaware of the basics when it comes to technology, unlike in certain sectors where change management is an integral part of corporate lifestyle. The CIO should be agile in areas such as applications, policies, management and governance to run the information systems effectively in his hospital.

What are some of your key priorities when you start work in the morning?
Experiencing life in the world of healthcare IT, supporting hundreds of doctors, faculty, and thousands of patients is indeed challenging but fun. It’s a learning process. My first priority as IT head is to ensure that the lights are on and this will always be my priority in a healthcare setup. I ensure that my team is aware of their priorities they need to work on and that can drive business value. The next thing is I should know the business priorities as I have to deal with my key business stakeholders and articulate the value the technology can bring to business. We have reduced our carbon footprint here by switching to Atom PCs. There is often an ambiguity about the role technology leaders play in a company like ours. On one hand, we ensure that the technology machine runs perfectly while on the other hand, we have to play the role of a strategic business leader in the company. I would also rate communicating with peers and managers to articulating business goals and translating them into reality. On a day to day interaction with stakeholders, it is important to understand A-Z of business, so that we speak in the language of the business and gain the trust and confidence to get things done. Finally, i get charged up in the morning after having a cup of green tea (smiles).

What in your opinion would be the top three technologies that will dominate the healthcare sector in India in the coming days?
Mobility is definitely one of the key trends dominating most sectors including the healthcare industry. There will be an increased adoption of tablets and smartphones in the hospital IT system and these devices are helping doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers increase efficiency while on the move. Secondly, cloud computing and virtualization technologies will also be in great demand as most organizations have already started to virtualize servers and storage. As cloud technologies mature and security catches up, more hospitals will likely to move more and more systems to the cloud, so they can focus on their core business objectives. Clinical data analytics is another area that hospitals will start to focus on as big data becomes more mainstream. Using clinical analytics, healthcare professionals can understand the recovery rates for different procedures as well as monitor real time signs and symptoms of patients even from a remote location.