As CIO for Quest Diagnostics, the diagnostic testing company, I not only have to keep information technology operations running, but I also have responsibility to use IT to create competitive advantage and to deliver value-added services and products for our customers. Developing market knowledge\u2014that is, gaining a better understanding of the healthcare industry and our customers' needs\u2014isn't a sideline activity. It's part of my role and it's critical to my company's growth. MORE ON CIO.COM\nAnalysis: What Market Savvy Means\n\nAnticipating Customers' Needs\nA broad and deep understanding of your business, your market and your customers enables you to identify the products and services that will create sustained value for your customers and sustained competitive advantage for your company. Such understanding, along with knowledge of technology trends, is essential to aligning IT and business strategies to drive growth. \n\nAs a healthcare company, we provide services to multiple customers including physicians, hospitals, health plans, employers, insurers and pharmaceutical companies\u2014and of course patients, who are at the center of everything we do. Because we work with all of these constituents, we have a 360-degree view of the healthcare market and its trends. Seventy percent of healthcare decisions involve laboratory test information, so laboratories such as Quest Diagnostics are at the center of many healthcare IT initiatives. We spend a lot of time with our business partners and customers understanding their needs and how technology can have the most positive impact. From Market Needs to Value-Added Services\n\nHere are some examples of how we have used our understanding of customer needs and market drivers to deliver value-added IT services: \n\nWe recognized that online services could make it easier for large numbers of our patient and physician customers to do business with us, and so we identified and developed several new Internet-based services. For instance, thousands of patients visit our patient service centers (PSCs) to have blood drawn for tests. We know that a key factor in creating a positive patient experience is to minimize a patient's wait time in the PSC. So we implemented an online appointment scheduling service. A patient can quickly identify PSC locations that are convenient, schedule an appointment and retrieve driving directions. According to our surveys, patients love the convenience of the online service, which puts them in control of their busy day. \n\nAnother online service is the Care360 physician portal. The portal is used by more than 100,000 physicians to order tests and receive test reports electronically. Recognizing that electronic prescribing would be a major thrust in the healthcare industry to reduce medication errors, we integrated electronic prescribing into our Care360 product. The integration of labs and meds in the Care360 physician portal gives physicians critical information when they need it\u2014and helps improve the quality of care. \n\nOf course, emerging technology is another market force that determines what we are able to do for our customers. Using technology to drive innovation helps us to differentiate ourselves from our competitors. Point-of-care testing, in which the collection of samples, testing and reporting of results occurs within minutes in the doctor's office or hospital, is growing as a practice in the healthcare industry. Quest Diagnostics has recently acquired several point-of-care product companies and is now working to enhance Care360 to interface with these products. This will provide physicians with an aggregated view of laboratory results, whether performed in their offices or our laboratories. Having all of that information available to physicians electronically provides a more comprehensive view of a patient's health, which otherwise would require manual searches through multiple pieces of paper. How to Be a Market-Savvy CIO \n\nOne way to understand the market is to read about products from a range of industry groups, as well as from trade magazines and journals. On the IT side, we have architects and engineers who are responsible for looking at technology trends through similar methods. It can be hard, because we're inundated with so many different sources of information, but it's important to identify three or four key sources that are particularly valuable and try to stay on top of them. We also have people assigned to follow what's going on from a regulatory and policy point of view, and to summarize their findings on a routine basis. \n\nAlso, spend time with your customers and business partners; ask questions, listen and learn. Combine that insight with your expertise in information technology and you are well on your way to being a market-savvy CIO and a generator of growth for your company. \n\nI was fortunate to work in marketing for our healthcare IT subsidiary, MedPlus, before I became CIO. There I was focused on growth and the customer. I brought that perspective with me to the CIO role; therefore, I did not make IT operations my singular priority as most IT professionals do. Additionally, having responsibility for marketing a customer product gave me a strong grounding in three important customer bases: health plans, physicians and patients. My experience gave me greater insight into the opportunities to leverage IT as a growth engine. Create a Market-Savvy IT Team\n\nNo matter how well you understand your market, you will not generate enough ideas for sustained advantage by yourself. But creating the culture and passion to sustain IT as a growth engine is not going to happen overnight. To create lasting change, the IT organization as a whole needs to have passion for its responsibility to drive growth. \n\nAt Quest Diagnostics, we started by creating a new vision for the IT organization that focused on growth, and on how we wanted to be viewed by customers and business partners. We drafted the vision with a small number of staff and then gave the whole organization an opportunity to participate in the process. Then we launched several teams composed of individuals from all levels of the organization who were tasked with driving changes to our IT processes and metrics that would enable us to achieve our vision: to deliver solutions that enhance Quest Diagnostics' value proposition, to focus on creating competitive advantage in the marketplace, and to be recognized for innovation and performance. \n\nAs CIOs, we are in a unique position to use our knowledge, insights and technology expertise to drive growth for our companies. IT is more than an enabler of business efficiency; it provides a competitive advantage. But only if we align IT strategies with growth. This is our obligation and responsibility. It is not a choice. \n\nMary Hall Gregg is CIO and vice president, information with Quest Diagnostics in Madison, N.J., and a member of the CIO Executive Council. Before joining Quest Diagnostics, she was deputy CIO at the American Red Cross.