The Old New Competitive Weapon

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It was sometime during the spring of 1985 when I had the chance to meet in Boston with the person who coined the term CIO. Bill Sinnott was at the time was one of the only Chief Information Officers in the country and from his vantage point at the Bank of Boston he had written an intriguing book on the subject. I had the opportunity to interview Bill for a business journal I published that was devoted to that emerging audience, and recall that his prediction at the time was that information would eventually become the ultimate competitive weapon.

How true that notion has become in the ensuing years.

Fast forward to the current business climate and in outpatient imaging we find ourselves in the midst of an incredibly competitive and complex marketplace, becoming more so each day. Lately I have been thinking about Bill’s prediction and how it applies to our radiology world and guess what? The one thing that will ultimately contribute to the success of your radiology practice or imaging center is how you use information as your ultimate competitive weapon. Although this sounds new to some, it has to do more with radiology’s time in the cycle of application of business innovations.

Here is a case in point. Is your IT person someone who your management team would feel comfortable with as an ambassador or spokesperson for the practice to the referring community? Can he or she articulate the business implications of the data and information that you acquire, manipulate, and depend on? Does your IT department have a vision of how the information within your practice can be packaged and utilized as a true management tool? Is IT within your organization viewed as a high level enterprise that is truly contributive to the business—communicative, leadership driven, proactive? Is there as much discussion about the application of a robust informatics structure to the practice’s commercial benefit as there is to data storage and retrieval?

The evolution from garden variety IT department (help desk, network administration, hardware and software expertise, etc) to a true CIO model is a big leap for many imaging organizations that I visit around the country. Clearly those that have made this investment in talent and business infrastructure are those that seem to be having less anxiety about the transformation of the business model to one that favors communication and the meaningful use of information. The emergence of and continuing influence of the Society for Imaging Informatics Management (SIIM) and the role played by those who are attentive to the business side of information are indicative of the growth in sophistication and scope of today’s radiology information leaders.

If you are living with yesterday’s IT infrastructure then you are at a serious disadvantage in more ways than you might imagine. It is not just about being behind in technology and the ability to capture and access data and images, it is rather more serious than that. The product that we offer in radiology is first and foremost the information itself, that which is contained in the report and accompanying images. You are your information, and the quality of your interpretation and consultation will be judged not only by your report’s contents, but how and when it is delivered.

Although CIOs have been around for twenty years or so in many large corporations and hospitals, they are late in arriving at many radiology practices that view informatics more as a task-based process than a critical and integral part of the overall management of the enterprise, one in which being able to communicate inside and outside the organization with all levels of stakeholders is key to the strategic positioning of the practice. And, a good CIO can be a true asset to the practice’s marketing program.

As we move toward an uncertain 2007, you will need all of the competitive weapons that you can accumulate in order to thrive in an increasingly demanding and competitive arena. My suggestion is to arm your organization with a CIO.