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6 Lessons From a ‘Rent-a-CTO’

Leadership Voices Column_VMware RADIUSIT efficiency matters. This is especially true in an industry like healthcare, which is rapidly consolidating, working to improve customer experience and reduce costs.

Healthcare providers face increasing pressures to comply with regulations, integrate operations after mergers and acquisitions, and move to value-based care. Patients expect more too, particularly higher quality and better patient care at a lower cost. That’s where digital transformation comes in. Often, though, organizations don’t know where or how to start.

Michael Feld, VeritechIT

By Michael Feld, Founder and CEO, VertitechIT

That’s why healthcare organizations hire what I jokingly call a “rent-a-CTO.”

More and more, healthcare organizations hire interim chief technology officers (CTOs) and chief information officers (CIOs). We work on an interim basis with our healthcare clients to:

  • Develop IT strategy
  • Lead organizational change
  • Expand the positive effects of IT transformation—to both patients and the organization

I’m currently filling this role for a major provider in Chicago. And I’ve done this same job for several other large hospital networks across the U.S.—all with a similar goal:

Overcome institutional challenges, while cost-effectively building and executing on the vision.

Here are my six best practices for leading this digital transformation for healthcare, which I share now in the hopes it can help you on your journey.

1. Start with a Clear Vision

IT organizations can’t move forward without a clear vision for the future. This may sound obvious, but many healthcare organizations are held back by siloed teams. Each of these have ?a narrow view of its own role and a lack of accountability around achieving larger goals.

One of my first priorities is establishing a clear vision and mission that can be communicated and translated into policy across all IT teams. Sometimes this conversation starts with the CEO or CFO, but leadership at all levels must buy-in and get involved to get all teams aligned.

2. Create a Collaborative and Efficient Culture

IT leadership also needs to cultivate a culture of collaboration. This sometimes means restructuring teams, creating new roles or reinforcing the need to work together across silos and disciplines.

At the start of rent-a-CTO engagements, customers often site lack of budget as a main obstacle to progress. Then, as silos come down and the culture shifts, it becomes clear that inefficient use of resources is the real villain. And suddenly, there’s some budget relief. In fact, the majority of three-year digital transformation work we do can be accomplished by simply reallocating existing budgets with little or no new capital expense.

3. Own Your Future

Our rent-a-CTO/CIO approach is immersive, which is very different than hiring outside consultants.

Most consultants are paid to tell teams what they’re doing wrong. Then, they can swoop in, file reports and make those IT departments dependent on them for implementation.

From experience, the most effective path is joining the team as advisers, confidants, strategists and innovators for hire. When companies are looking for outside help, they should engage bridge builders who can identify skills gaps, find and hire the right people. They should help establish the right organizational structures and processes to execute on the communicated roadmap and vision.

4. Organize Around Strategic Initiatives

Driving change around a strategic technology initiative, such as cloud transformation, is an effective first step to turning vision into policy.

A focus on broader technology initiatives brings together specialists across disciplines—such as networking, security and application development—to pursue common goals. Working this way requires broad and deep expertise in areas such as:

  • Assessing IT infrastructure
  • Establishing big data governance
  • Conducting merger and acquisition due diligence
  • Delivering IT managed services

This is where an interim CTO adds real value. We play a critical role in formulating big-picture strategy, as well as day-to-day operational execution and identifying the needed skill sets.

5. Build Out from a Private Cloud

In an industry like healthcare, moving workloads completely to public cloud doesn’t necessarily make economic sense. It’s too costly based on usage patterns. Instead, many of our clients are better served by building out a robust private cloud that can be extended to leverage public cloud services and applications.

Flexible, integrated IT infrastructure spanning compute, storage, networking and security provides a digital foundation for future growth and IT transformation. For example, one of our clients is connecting its private cloud to an outside carrier. This strategy will support a population health initiative that encourages patients outside the hospital to take their medications and follow through on lifestyle changes. The ultimate goals are better health outcomes for the patients and more recoverable revenue for the provider.

6. Leverage IT for Competitive Advantage

For organizations to survive and thrive, they need to leverage IT as a business differentiator. Healthcare is no different. IT leadership needs to look at infrastructure investment in terms of strategic vision, growth plans, funding and personnel resources.

In the short term, an interim CTO helps condense project time frames, lower costs and clearly define cutovers to client staff for continuing operations. In the long term, our model helps clients define growth plans, funding and personnel decisions, and achieve strategic goals like lowering costs and improving patient care.


Michael Feld is a “Rent-a-CTO” and CEO of VertitechIT, a member of the GPMF Holdings healthcare ecosystem, a unique collection of information technology consultancies committed to using technology to improve the delivery of care. He can be reached at mfeld@vertitechIT.com.