by Ben Worthen

CIO Ones to Watch: What It’s Really Like to Be a CIO

Jul 01, 20063 mins
IT Leadership

What a difference a year makes. Last July, Darren Dworkin was CTO at Boston Medical Center (BMC) and a freshly minted Ones to Watch winner. Today, he’s CIO at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles.

Those who knew him then were not surprised by his meteoric rise. Dworkin’s intelligence and willingness to learn quickly won the attention of his superiors at BMC, where he worked for five years. “Darren was incredibly energetic and confident,” says his former manager, BMC CIO Meg Aranow. “The things he needed to add [to round out his leadership abilities] were political and people skills.”

And during his tenure at BMC he acquired those skills, in part by consistently setting stretch goals for his team and inspiring his staff to achieve them. Dworkin’s nomination for the 2005 Ones to Watch award was in large part a formal ¿recognition that he was ready to take the next step.

The 35-year-old Dworkin caught CIO’s eye for his ability to use IT to solve problems unique to hospitals, including a bed monitoring system and a remote-access portal that lets clinicians treat patients regardless of location. Evidently, Dworkin also caught the eye of recruiters.

In January, he accepted the CIO position at Cedars-Sinai, one of the largest nonprofit hospitals in the Western United States. One of his primary responsibilities there is to install an electronic medical records system. It’s the sort of project that the energetic and confident Dworkin would like to just charge ahead with. But one of the lessons he learned in his rise to CIO is this: He needs to be patient, involve users in the selection process and cultivate user support. Patience doesn’t come naturally for Dworkin—it was the leadership quality he had to work on the most at BMC. “It is not a hard skill to learn,” he says. “I just need to keep reminding myself to do it.”As for his first impression of life as a CIO? “You always think that the position above you has more power than it actually does,” he says. That said, he acknowledges that the stakes are a lot higher for a CIO. “It is easier to take a risk when you are the number two,” he says. “On your way up it is equally important to gain lessons from successes and failures.” Now, as CIO, he doesn’t have the same luxury to fail.

The CIO role is more strategic than the number-two role. This wasn’t a huge surprise—Dworkin has noted throughout his career that the lower you are the more tactical your role is—but, again, it magnifies the consequences of success or failure. And he has to count on the tactical people to execute his strategy in a way he never has before.

“I try to be inspirational, but ultimately I’ll succeed or fail based on the people I have working for me,” he says.