Written By

Jim VanderMey



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November 13, 2018

Technology is not Transformative

"It's you." doodled geese flying in "V" formation

I recently had the opportunity to speak at the AEHIT/CHIME event in San Diego for healthcare IT executives.  My topic was on the technologies of hype in healthcare IT.

In preparation, I ran across the following quote from the Gartner 2018 Hype Cycle for Healthcare Delivery Organizations.  In it, I read the following quote:

This matrix reminds CIO’s that their recent priorities — EHR’s, enterprise data warehouses and patient portals — have become foundational/commodity (not transformational, as we would have hoped, but surely not passé).” – Gartner

I shouted when I read this.  I jumped up and wrote on my whiteboard:

“Technology is not transformative, people and leaders are transformative.”

It seems so obvious.  It seems so simple.  I’ve heard it before.  But I continue to see companies act as if there is a technology magic wand that will somehow, with the right flick of the wrist and words of enchantment, will transform an organization.

But when you look at the technology implemented in a Proof of Concept (POC), the first organizational unit, the multiple silos, or consolidated in the Center of Excellence (COE); oftentimes the technology has not changed, rather, our skills in using it and our understanding of it has grown.

The real challenge is in taking the technology of the pilot and creating true enterprise impact.  In healthcare we speak of the Quadruple Aim: patient experience, clinician experience, value/cost and quality/outcomes. For a technology to make a difference at enterprise scale, one of these four attributes must be present at a level that’s materially significant to the enterprise.

And going beyond enterprise impact to true transformation, well, very few technologies ever get there.

If an organization is truly transformed by a technology, it’s because leaders in the organization have chosen to reframe the enterprise in context of the new thing, whatever that thing is.  This is Apple becoming a phone company.  Amazon changing the landscape of commerce while also taking their internal IT platform and bringing it to market as AWS.  NYU Presbyterian putting telemedicine in the middle of the Emergency Department to change the patient experience.  These companies re-wove the fabric of their company to align with a new technology.  They transformed.

This was not a product of the technology.  It was a product of the people.  It was leaders.

In last year’s class on Systems Thinking for Digital Transformation, Rob Siegel of Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, a good friend and collaborator with OST, used the below graphic to depict how the systems thinker sits in the middle of the customer framing, value, and partner network. In this way, they are able to transform an organization in the face of a new digital capability.

Virtuous Circle of Systems Leadership in Digital Industrial Transformation

System leadership is especially necessary when moving technology from a center of excellence (CoE) to a level of enterprise impact. It moves the focus off the technology and shifts to how this new digital capability changes the enterprise and brings value at scale.

technology is not transformative infographic

Leadership is required at each stage of the journey:

  • Leadership of ideas.
  • Leadership of technical execution.
  • Leadership of expansion and advocacy.
  • Leadership of standards and control.
  • Leadership of scale to achieve solid business outcomes.
  • Leadership of strategy and vision to transform the organization.

The most dangerous stage for a technology, and the one I see most often, is getting trapped in one of these phases – often the POC (failure to scale to the second example) or in the COE. This is often a leadership problem.

You might need to change leaders to move from one stage to another. If the leader cannot change, they may have been great at one phase, but have behavior or skill gaps between the actualized and aspirational.

Technology is not transformational.  People and Leaders are.



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About the Author

Jim VanderMey is the Chief Innovation Officer for OST. Jim has provided the technical leadership and product strategic planning for the organization since the very beginning. Jim is a technology visionary who sets the long and short-term direction for OST. He specializes in seeing the “big picture” of technology, the computer industry, and the business objectives supported by IT. As OST has gained an international reputation, Jim has taught and spoken at conferences in Europe, Japan, and throughout North America.

Jim attended the Grand Rapids School of Bible and Music as a pastoral ministries major, and went on to manage significant scale applications and infrastructures in the healthcare, manufacturing, and insurance industries. He has served as a consultant to many large organizations such as Herman Miller, Boeing, Priority Health, Magna-Donnelly Corporation, Hewlett Packard, Amway, Meijer, Komatsu, Mercedes, Navistar (International Truck), Flextronics, the US Navy and many hospital systems including Spectrum Health, Bronson Hospital, and HealthEast.

Jim has senior level data center skills in performance analysis and systems architecture, enterprise UNIX, reliability engineering, SAN design and implementation. He is a voracious learner and has held many technical certifications ranging from UNIX and Cisco administration through cloud architecture and design. As OST has grown and diversified, Jim has engaged with clients on product strategy, IT transformation, cloud enablement, CIO-level organizational change management, DevOps and IoT program leadership. Creating value by connecting the Data Center disciplines of the past to the Design-centric disciplines to help businesses leverage technology more effectively is a place of special focus for Jim in his recent engagements.

Jim has been heavily involved in OST’s healthcare initiatives where he has leveraged his decades of experience in healthcare, enterprise applications and systems architecture to design high performance infrastructures for the Epic EHR application and the client systems such as VDI for the access tier. He has also been directly engaged with the OST analytics team on assisting customers in the adoption of analytics to create substantial value and new revenue opportunities leveraging Big Data. In this space the combination of architecture, data visualization and design can be used to develop important new actionable insights.

Jim sits on the advisory board for the computer science/IS departments of Calvin College and Grand Valley State University Computer Science. He is an avid reader of all types of non-fiction and literature and most mornings can be found paddling a kayak, canoe or SUP before work. On the weekends, family and serving with his wife Ann at their church is a major focus.

Lastly, we must confess that some of OST’s peculiar culture is a direct derivation of Jim’s unorthodox style.