TechLifeColumbus will be bringing content to the professionals of the Central Ohio IT community in various forms. We believe it is beneficial for our readers to gain insight into what our IT leaders are thinking and their opinions on the future of IT in our region.

TechLifeColumbus has begun its interview series, titled ‘Five Solid Questions with ….’. Steve Gruetter, Director of Market Strategy at Expedient and dedicated supporter of TechLifeColumbus and the Central Ohio IT community, is leading this effort.

This month our series of ‘Five Solid Questions with…’ continues with an interview of Denise Zabawski, CIO of Nationwide Children’s Hospital, a leading national pediatric care facility located right here in Central Ohio.

Question #1: In reference to a past TechLifeColumbus interview of Brian Shea, a well-connected, respected IT leader in our community who credits much of his development to you. He referred to you as a mentor in his interview. What qualities do you look for in the next generation of IT leadership?

DENISE: What I typically look for, is definitely technical expertise. However, that is less important than the ability to work with people. It is the ability to work in teams that is critical – to be able to get along with all your customers no matter how difficult they might be, both internally and externally.

Every once in a while you run into that person with kind of the natural leadership ability and Brian Shea is one of those. He simply picked it up right away – he is a natural leader. So that’s nice if you can find it. But it really is how well they work with other people.


Question #2: You have been in this CIO role for longer than 10 years here in a time where most CIOs last 18 to 24 months. And Nationwide Children’s Hospital is a flourishing organization. Why have you been able to do it when everybody else burns out quickly?

DENISE: I think healthcare is a little different than some of the other industries; I’ve known several CIO’s that have stayed much longer than I have. I think it’s because our organizations are so mission-driven and that healthcare itself has changed so much in the last five years with all the new regulations. Many of the organizations are growing so there are certainly lots of opportunity. I think for myself, and for many of my peers, we have had to deliver on a lot of projects, and when you deliver on projects that can make a pretty strong statement on your ability to lead.

STEVE: Obviously, you’ve got the big growth project going on here. Let’s hear about what Nationwide Children’s is doing now and what is happening here in the next maybe one to three years.

DENISE: We have announced a new master facilities plan with all of the new services and buildings we are going to add and behind them is the programs we’re going to grow. When I started 17 years ago, we didn’t have a master facilities plan. Now, we have a very strategic long-term facilities plan. It is data-based and looking at growth. It’s looking at what we can do for the community we’re in and our population health. The cornerstone is the Behavioral Health Pavilion. Behavioral health for us is very much a mission-driven service line, and there is a great need in our community for these services. There is just not enough providers to take care of kids with mental health issues. We – as a community – want to start reducing the stigma that you have when you kind of do behavioral health ‘on the side.’ It is a real medical issue that we’re going to treat like any other medical issue. That is the cornerstone of the new expansion We will be moving into the first new building,  early next year, which is centered around primary care.

STEVE: So of these projects, behavioral health and primary care and such, how does that come back and affect the IT aspect of the organization?

DENISE: Mainly centered on growing the square foot footprint is an impact, more network switches, more devices, more mobility, more HIPAA records, more everything. And then the other piece of it is; what are the main technologies we need to bring on board. So for the ambulatory building, we’re trying to look at how we can be more mobile – what do we want to bring in from a way-finding perspective? How do we help people find the right parking; how can we help them get to their appointment on time? On the behavioral health side, I think there will be a lot of information and structure around flow and security and privacy that will be new to us. Therefore, we will be working with some new technologies that grow out of both of those buildings.

For wayfinding, we intentionally focused on what is the patient area, the front of house versus what is the back of house. So you don’t want to be rolling kids from surgery through an area where families walk through. So how do you really separate? You don’t want biohazard carts going through your main hallway. It’s like how do you separate the two functions, and I think that alone makes the way finding simpler because we really tried to create this path that is just focused on how the patients and families get from one place to another. And then we figure out in the back corridors how to get to where we need to get to. Our color coding makes plenty of sense – and having it built right into the floor, it can’t get removed.


Question #3: How do you measure the success of the IT organization in relation to the hospital at large?

We have a balanced scorecard, a corporate balance scorecard, and the IT organization is part of that. We also have our quality measurements. We all have finance and human resources measures, but we have particular quality and customer service measures so we’re looking at customer satisfaction based on the support center, the help desk, etc. We do surveys post-project to get feedback on how we’ve done. We look at our effectiveness metrics around how good are we at making changes and not breaking other things. We have metrics around how well we keep the systems up and running and operating well from a product compliance perspective, and that we are following the best practices. To make sure we are following HIPAA standards, we measure ourselves and we bring in external parties to measure us on that as well.

STEVE: It sounds very similar to how Expedient operates. We are measuring the help desk, your, X amount of calls come in. How many answered within a minute? How many had to be escalated? Here is our list of all the best practices around HIPAA, and in our case, PCI. And, of course, you have PCI as well.

DENISE: Another measuring aspect is our huge book of projects. Not just because of the new buildings but also other new features. So we are not just measuring how we’re spending that money down but how successful we are on the projects.

STEVE: Do you also measure the outcomes that you are looking for in the project? Because we all know about the scope creep that will sneak into projects from time to time.

DENISE: For some, we do; for others, it’s a little harder. We lay out our outcomes and metrics at the beginning of the project. What we need to do better is to go back and measuring it 90 days later, a year later. This year, we’d like to target a few that really we feel like it’s important that we achieve the outcomes and then show the measurement and success.

STEVE: Again, we have a level of similarity. We see projects measured in four separate outcomes: Cost control – were we able to do this at what we thought internally and externally? Availability – You have to have an availability SLA to the organization. Is that 100% or is it a combination of 9’s or does it vary per project and application?

DENISE: It varies per project. Our Epic is at 99.99%. We perform better than that usually. STEVE: Agility is one of ours as well – did the client become more agile. And of course, risk mitigation, and I would have to think that’s awfully high on the list here. There are some places where a system can fail, but this is just simply not one of them.


Question #4: Best part and worst part about working in the Central Ohio information technology community?

DENISE: I think it’s great that we’re really growing, really developing and bringing in new IT businesses. It feels like it’s just a thriving, exciting place to be from an IT perspective. We have a lot of startups, doing a lot of cool things and a lot of fun people to talk to about research and innovations. Of course, I think it’s a great community to live in too. The downside is it’s making resources really tight.

It means growth, the economic development for the city which we want, so we just have to do better at figuring out how to bring the talent into the city, how to get kids out of school, get them jobs quicker. I think just maybe we have been spoiled, and now it’s getting a little more challenging. Also, the pool of resource that is shrinking is at the senior-level, experienced staff. They are commanding really high salaries, so it becomes pretty competitive to get them. We have taken some chances with some new hires that we think are just really smart and we think can learn fast and that’s worked out well. Now you have to take all available avenues to get the jobs filled.


Question #5: Professionally what makes you the most happy?

DENISE: It’s crazy, but I just love new challenges, new projects. I mean, I’m constantly stressed out, but when there’s not anything new and exciting going on, I’m like ‘OK, what should I be working on (laughing)?’ Not that I don’t have plenty to do but – and I think that’s what’s kept me here and in healthcare. It’s just always something new to learn, something new to deploy.