by Byron Connolly

‘Days of slothful and inert CIOs are over’: Mater Health’s Thatcher

Jun 19, 20144 mins

The days of the slothful and inert CIOs are over and IT chiefs need to start moving away from being risk-averse if they are to get the attention of their boards.

This is according to Mal Thatcher, CIO at healthcare organisation Mater Health Services, who was speaking at the Optus Vision event in Sydney on Wednesday.

He believes that company boards – which are dominated by lawyers and accountants – are “petrified” and simply don’t understand technology.

“It’s kind of like the member of the family, it might be the crazy aunty who everyone just ignores at Christmas time, [but] you know it’s something that has to be dealt with,” he says.

“Boards think of technology like that, they don’t understand it, they don’t know how to deal with it, they don’t know how to engage.”

To put their minds at ease, CIOs need to go from being geeks to “cool as ICE (immersed, communicative and extensible)”, Thatcher says.

This means they need to understand and immerse themselves in the business, be excellent communicators (verbally and in written form), and extend themselves into problem areas inside their organisations, he says.

“One of the things that strikes me about business today, is that we have lost the art of being able to communicate a message. The ability to put a simple sentence together is what I think some people really struggle to do,” Thatcher says.

He admits that the CIO often gets pigeonholed and stereotyped as propeller heads who know how to keep flashing lights going.

“And they [executives and boards] don’t think of us as people who can add value to the strategy of the organisation,” Thatcher says.

Thatcher says that it’s “time to throw away the old CIO rules”, which are focused very much on IT operations around ITIL and COBIT.

In fact, he believes that although CIOs have ‘oversight’ of technologies being used across the organisation, they should delegate the running of technology operations to the CTO.

“We have to move away from managing IT operations to being an enabler of business value,” Thatcher says.

“Start thinking about how to provide business value for the organisation and how to lead the discussion particularly when you think about things like the Internet of Things and what it’s going to mean.”

Managing risk

CIOs also have the opportunity to be great risk leaders and have the opportunity to assess technology risk that on-one else in the organisation has the capacity to do.

“They can lead the organisation through that minefield of technology risk to get the right outcome. They have to be seen as risk leaders not always saying no to everything.

“BYOD is a classic example – it’s very easy as a CIO to say ‘no, you can’t bring your own device’ but really what they should be saying is ‘the answer is yes but how do we manage that risk?’” he says.

Technology in healthcare

Thatcher was upbeat about the future of technology in healthcare and believes that some CIOs who understand the business need and marry technology to the organisation are the next-generation CEOs.

“The advances in medical technology are phenomenal. Maybe not in my lifetime but in your children’s lifetime, you will able inject yourself with ‘nanomites’ (microscopic robots) that are going to rebuild the meniscus (cartilage) in your knee rather than having to get a knee replacement,” Thatcher says.

“The technology advancements are just incredible and for organisations to deal with that pervasive technology – if you have a CIO who knows what they are talking about, I think they will be the next generation of CEO.

“Or maybe I am just positioning myself for my next role.”

Follow Byron Connolly on Twitter:@ByronConnolly

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