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Sooraj Shah

Contributing Editor

Sooraj Shah is Contributing Editor of New Statesman Tech with a focus on C-level IT leader interviews. He is also a freelance technology journalist.

“CIOs that report into financial directors: are you just a head of IT in disguise?”

Chief information officers (CIOs) that report into financial directors within the NHS should question whether they’re really the CIO that their organisation needs, according to Mike Cavaye, CIO and director of digital at Surrey and Borders Partnership NHS Foundation Trust.

Cavaye tells NS Tech that there has been a shift in the NHS to put CIOs and chief clinical information officers on boards, and this has led to an uplift in conversations around technology and where it sits in the business. As a result, there has been a rise of the number CIOs in NHS trusts compared to five or six years ago, when there were not many.

However, Cavaye suggests that becoming a CIO means different things in different NHS trusts, and that the role was meant to enable huge changes across the industry, rather than continuing the role of heads of IT.

“We’re moving from the place where CIOs were heads of IT who were responsible for delivering an effective cost optimisation programme associated with technology – which was the old school way of doing things. They then added on data and reporting in health, with programmes like electronic patient records (EPR) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) being given to many of my CIO colleagues,” he says.

But just because many CIOs are now doing ERP does not necessarily make them any different to heads of IT, Cavaye adds.

“We’re in the world now where to do whole systems transformation, we need to do digital transformation at the same time, and the role of the CIO is to lead that conversation of building capabilities, and ways of working, agreeing the funding and influence associated with how you completely disrupt the way we’ve done healthcare for the last 15 years – it takes a different type of leader,” he adds.

This means a different mindset as well as skillset –  Cavaye believes the CIO requires a growth mindset and requires the ability to influence and transform the culture of the trust, as well as running the function like a head of IT does.

According to Cavaye, a ‘CIO 2.0’ is no longer good enough for the digital age, and boards need to be educated to realise that CIOs should not only be focused on technology and data but on the transformative role of people and experience to drive empathetic redesign of clinical models – with the emergence of digital clinical services and the delivery of health and wellbeing beyond the walls of institutions.

He believes it’s a role that needs to drive discomfort at the highest levels of maintaining the status quo.

Prove yourself first and then move to the board

According to Cavaye, organisations within the NHS shouldn’t just create board-level CIO roles, instead he suggests that CIOs should build their own credibility, capability and capacity, and then they will deservedly get onto the board.

“You’ll start having conversations with your executive director colleagues but also the chairman and the other senior figures, the organisation then shifts to having a CIO on the board, which is better than a top-down target of having a CIO on the board,” he says.

Cavaye believes that one way of making it easier to define what a CIO is, is to introduce some standards or certification across the board – making it more like directors in HR and finance that largely have the same roles regardless of the organisation.