How to stay ahead of the curve as a CIO

A couple of years ago I found myself as a finalist in a ‘contest’ to become the CIIIIIO of the year in the Netherlands. To be a ‘single I’ CIO and deal with information systems only was apparently no longer enough to be the digital leader of the organisation. This is true for all industries, and even more so for a healthcare CIO. And here’s why...

Van Lambalgen

As a digital leader you need to inspire, integrate, innovate, and implement, in addition to being the leader on information. There is no doubt that this is a challenging role. And a role that has evolved very rapidly. Let’s make sure it does not become an impossible role. As a CIO I believe you are very well positioned to make the difference and guide the organisation towards the future. The five "I" model helps to outline what is important to become or remain successful.

I am the CIO at Leiden University Medical Center. As a University Medical Centre we have a mission to advance knowledge about health and healthcare (research), apply the new knowledge to progress healthcare situations (top referral care) and educate people to take a place in this field (university-level and post graduate education). It is a very dynamic environment with different and often conflicting requirements. The single "I" CIO is no longer a viable position. There are simply too many roles you have to play in this very complex environment.

The most germane advice is that as a CIO you are no longer the only one who knows about IT. That is true for both the IT department and the ‘user community’. In a University Medical Centre the majority of people are highly educated professionals. Students do bring new knowledge and an experimental mind into the equation. Incorporating that huge body of knowledge, experience and new thinking can make your job more complex and a lot easier, while being more rewarding at the same time. A typical reaction in the past was to ignore that body of knowledge, or even forbid the use of new technology and new ideas. A stable and predictable environment for healthcare was the only goal. It is still critical, but no longer the only goal you have.

How do you achieve that position?


There is no more powerful instrument to show your leadership as a CIO in making the future happen and getting people involved, than a good story in which you tell the organisation of the dream you have, in other words describing your overall objective. So develop your story about the future with enough ‘what is in it for me (as a user)’ examples; in a language that is familiar to your audience. But make sure that the story resonates, and show where it adds value to the organisation.


Nowadays in most situations many (medical) departments will be involved in treating a patient, and most patients will be involved in (clinical) research projects, one way or another. Information is the factor that holds it together, and as a CIO you are ideally positioned to integrate individual departments into an overall process. But integration is also about your involvement as CIO and your department in ‘their’ clinical and research departments. Integrate with them; get to know the processes and the ‘why’ they do their job and what makes their job difficult.


A stable environment is critical in healthcare. The CIA (confidentiality, integrity and availability) is looking over your shoulder. And rightfully so. IT is fully integrated in every aspect of healthcare. But at the same time we see changes in the environment and opportunities in new technology or new processes. I find it very relevant to look beyond healthcare and see what happens in other industries. A strong network outside the healthcare environment helps me to fulfil my role as a digital leader. We have been able to secure a small portion of our budget to create a revolving group of people that help build the future. We include students that bring new ideas and new technology, to bring – sometimes with a good old ‘technology push’ – potential solutions we believe in to the organisation on a small scale. If it is successful we can upgrade it based on the proven added value and if it fails it will only be a small failure, typically with lots of other benefits as a result.


Your ability to lead change and make all the ideas, innovation and integration happen, is what ultimately makes the difference. There again, your knowledge of and experience with the organisation is critical. Implementation is not about implementing technology, but about making sure ‘the system’ will work and is being worked with. Success factors are based on knowing the environment, the people and the processes, the risks of change, as well as the opportunity and added value you create. But also where co-operation is the success factor, for example, last year we upgraded our HIS to a next generation. Working in ICT we all know that training of all professionals is the factor determining success, but found it difficult to enforce 100% compliance. But when including line management in the decision and having them embrace the concept, we were able to reach the 100% training goal and thereby made a significant contribution to the implementation goals.


The fifth "I" in the CIO role is still about information, and specifically relates to information technology. Do not forget technology as the enabling factor and stay up-to-date on what is available, what is in use ‘elsewhere’ and how it behaves. Using data in a novel way, with technology derived from big data analyses, we were able to extract real but hidden information from our incident reports. It is also where all the "I’s" come together. It’s important to inspire people to extract real information – hidden but waiting to be discovered – and create an environment where people dare to innovate. Using technology to enhance data by integrating multiple sources. We are now in the last phase, implementing it as a routine function in the organisation.

The above framework illustrates that there are many aspects of the "I" in the CIO role. But the most important "I" should be we. It is a team effort, and my firm belief is that the CIO that builds the best team is the best CIO. It is also the only way to make sure the "I" in CIO does not mean the Chief Impossible Officer.

View Insights 5.4 eBook - How to stay ahead of the curve as a heathcare CIO

Karel Van Lambalgen

CIO and Director of ICT; Leiden University Medical Center, The Netherlands

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