TechLifeOhio 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.
TechLifeOhio has begun its interview series, titled ‘Five Solid Questions with …. Steve Gruetter, Director of Market Strategy at Expedient and dedicated supporter of TechLifeOhio and the Central Ohio IT community, is leading this effort.
This month, our feature for ‘Five Solid Questions’ is Brian Shea, Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) for Riverside Radiology and Interventional Associates – and a leader in our community.
STEVE GRUETTER: So first and foremost, you’ve been in this role now for three years. At what point in your career did you decide that you wanted to be a Tech Leader?
BRIAN SHEA: I have been at Riverside Radiology three years; was in the CIO role with Revolution Group – and then prior to that I was with Nationwide Children’s Hospital for seven years. My ending role there was I was their first Chief Technology Officer, a position that they created at that time. So it probably goes back to when I first got into management just prior to going to Nationwide Children’s Hospital.
As a management role, that was kind of the tipping point for looking toward the CIO role, but not completely. I was still very much a working manager at that time, but when I went to Nationwide Children’s Hospital, I came in as a manager. What I really learned, what I excelled at throughout my career – I’ve been doing this now 22 years, grew up through the infrastructure side of things, server, network, that whole side – is that the management aspect is just something I kind of took on and I was good at it. When I moved on in my career, I really kind of learned – more so in my days at Children’s – is one of my stronger suits was managing people. I learned as I bridged that gap (between being a manger and a technical person that my strong suit really quickly became building teams and managing infrastructure-related teams where I was able to take that ability and knowledge that I had.
I think there are people that are good managers – and you don’t necessarily have to have a technical background to be a good manager. However, it helps to have those skill sets. I was fortunate to have the background in what I manage, especially with a staff and higher-level-type engineers that you’re working with because they do feel like you have their back when you’re going to get into conversations with leadership.
Going back to the question of what made me decide I wanted to be a CIO; I actually got more enjoyment out of my career of developing people and growing teams and individuals within those teams and then seeing them be successful because you quickly learn that it’s not just about you – it is about your people. If you make the people around you better and you help them be successful, you are ultimately going to be successful. You build good succession plans by developing people and that’s really what makes it work, what it comes down to it. I’ve always said when I interview folks is that you really see how good your team is when there is a time of adversity.
When things are good, it can be hard to tell what people are really made of. When times are tough, that’s when you really see how good a team you have, and I actually get that enjoyment and pride out of learning, “Wow, the group’s really coming together and the team’s really working well together and they’re doing the right thing.” That is really where I discovered that I wanted to be a CIO or a CTO or C level within an organization and it is due to the enjoyment I get out of that. That’s what makes me passionate about what I do and why I get up every day is making the people around me successful so that the organization is successful.
STEVE GRUETTER: It sounds like you started formulating this when you were at Nationwide Children’s and thinking, “Hey, I’m going to be able to do this and may be real good at it.” Did you have a mentor at that point in time who was coaching you along the way? Was it somebody within the organization? Outside of the organization? Was it somebody who put their arm around you and helped coach you?
BRIAN SHEA: That’s a good question, and that’s a tough question. I’d say that I’ve been fortunate to where I have surrounded myself with good people from within the industry. As you know, Columbus is a small IT community, and you have a lot of opportunity to surround yourself with good, intelligent people. I really got myself engaged in the community and I’ve had people that have provided mentorship in different ways. Be it be from a management perspective on how to do things or a perspective of how to look at things differently, everybody’s wired in a little different.
I would say coming up at Children’s Hosptial, I was fortunate that I worked for Denise Zabawski, the current CIO there. She really empowered me and let me do my own thing and come into who I was by trusting me. Through that trust, I was able to execute, which built more trust. I had a lot of opportunity come out of that, and at that time, is when I got myself engaged into the local IT community even more. Going to the CIO forums, throughout the years, I’ve surrounded myself with great leaders. Being able to bounce ideas off of them and what they’ve done – those relationships that I have formed, in this community, have helped me grow to where I am at and opened many doors for me.
STEVE GRUETTER: We are lucky to have these groups in our town and to have the people who invest the effort to have these groups in town. We’re going to be launching a series here for the IT directors. We want to go down a level to provide an opportunity for the IT Directors to start interacting with each other and building relationships because in two, five, seven years, they’re going to be the next round of CIOs.
BRIAN SHEA: This is a great idea. Being a part of CIO Tomorrow, we are trying to change the focus of that a little bit, for that next level down, because it’s about the development of those individuals that want to be a CIO. It’s about developing and building that team and making the people around you successful so you ultimately have to have a path of how do you develop and grow the individuals that either want to take that CIO route or want to take the architect route. And even then – one is not better than the other by any means. I look at them as pretty parallel. Just one is going more toward the business administrative side while one is maintaining more of that architecture and technical aspect.
STEVE GRUETTER: Obviously you are exceptionally active in the community. You’re giving your time and attending these events. What do you think is the best part about being a part of Central Ohio and the Central Ohio IT community and what do you think is the worst part about being a part of it?
BRIAN SHEA: It’s probably the same answer. I look at Columbus as being recognized more and more as being a highly technical community. I’m involved with a lot of these different CIO forum groups and you see a lot of the same faces for many years. This helps make Columbus a very close-knit IT community. And what I mean by that is it seems like a lot of the IT leadership that I have seen has been in Columbus – maybe for different companies – but all here within Columbus. Ultimately, we have a small IT community. You don’t burn bridges in the IT community, from a relationship perspective, for sure. You never know where you’re going to be and who you’re going to work for in the future.
What has been more interesting for me to see, is that we are starting to see some newer faces in the CIO forum groups. We will need to replace those who will eventually retire, so I am concerned if we are engaging more people. Are we developing more people? That are here locally? So when I say it’s almost the same answer, again to me, is that since it is such a tight-knit community for me, I think that it’s that you have the people that know it comes down to your capabilities and your word and people realize that really quick, and it is something that you don’t want to lose in the City of Columbus, is your integrity and trust. In the City of Columbus you could go just a couple of people away from anybody and you hear about everything. That’s why I think, it goes back to the trust, the integrity, all those things because that’s what you have here.
STEVE GRUETTER: We’re going to go into more technical aspects here. How do you measure the success of your IT organization?
BRIAN SHEA: I personally measure the success of my team based on how we act in a time of adversity. I think that’s very true, and I think a lot of leaders will tell you the same. That’s really when the rubber hits the road, right? I think building that aspect is your culture. I’ve always been very honest as a leader. I think people have the troubleshooting gene or they don’t. What that means is that you could be thrown into a situation and it could be technical, it could be administrative, HR related, whatever, but you have a methodical approach.
One of the things I always say to the team is, what’s the methodical approach? You need to be wired to jump through the steps. Here’s the problem, let’s look at the obvious things, what has recently changed. I think you either have the customer service or you don’t. Some people, I think you can learn to get better, but I think some people are wired that way. You want to help people. We’re not here to just do IT, right? We’re doing it for a purpose. We’re making organizations better. We’re making people better. We’re making customers better.
For me, judging the success is, as I said, how do we act in a time of adversity? But how does that help that team really evolve together? So how I really know when all cylinders are running is when something pops up. Let it be a problem, let it be a new request or whatever it is. If I can walk over to my management team or I walk over to the staff and they’re already working on it, that tells you that you are on that same wavelength. Your guys are all hitting on all cylinders. You are on the same page about what’s going on.
When your team handles change well, when you don’t really hear the negative, when you don’t feel like it’s a continual negative blanket, as compared to a group that is seeing progress, you’re getting stuff done, that’s when you know your team is gelling and that you have built a successful team.
STEVE GRUETTER: Nearly all the projects that we’re seeing come across are falling into one of four buckets – agility, availability, cost control or risk mitigation. When you are looking at your project sheet, when you’re looking at what you want to accomplish for 2016 and 2017 – those projects you need to get done and get done right – do your project align in the same manner? Or it something else entirely different, being where the business is at?
BRIAN SHEA: I think in this age, you’ve got to be very adaptive and agile. I wouldn’t say anything is in any one bucket. I would say that you have a plan, and as a leader, you always put together, “Here’s my plan of what we would like to do for this project,” be it infrastructure advancements or replenishment or a new product that you need. But then, the real life really kicks in. Your business changes and maybe you’re adding new customers and your priorities change. Of course, new business is always priority number one, and to continually increase revenue is a good thing. But at that same time, how do you mitigate risk? From a security perspective, making sure you’re doing the right thing.
STEVE GRUETTER: Being in healthcare, that is always going to be a pinnacle priority.
BRIAN SHEA: Right. You want to make sure that you’re not creating new holes or creating risk that doesn’t need to be there or you are mitigating existing risk. So it’s a balancing act. I’d say that’s where you have to be adaptive as a leader. I think you have to be very open to change in direction and in strategy.
A good thing I’ve learned is that time management is critical. You have to manage those buckets. These things you set as your foundation of what you want to do and these other things are continually coming at you and you have to continually change. You don’t change your principles. You don’t change your core values. But you have to be willing to adapt to what is happening in your current market, whatever your business is, you have to adapt and evolve as things are coming at you. And they are changing every single day. I think it’s hard to say are any of these things in any one bucket, all of those aspects are important. But it’s a balancing act.
STEVE GRUETTER: You’ve got your foundation. You’ve got the core values. What are the key outcomes that you look to accomplish during a project?
BRIAN SHEA: In the patient care environment, in a healthcare environment, patient care is the number one priority. And then from that – and being on the private practice side of things – are the physicians. How do we make sure the physicians have what they need and the tools they need to be able to take care of the patients? In a safe, secure, fast, manner?
STEVE GRUETTER: I see where you are going with this. IT is aligned with the business and you’re thinking of the business outcomes, you’re thinking of the business projects and you’re thinking about all those aspects. It might be healthcare, but it’s still business.
When we speak with partners and clients, through the means that we have, we ask about what are the outcomes they are looking for. It’s a different set and it’s a different goal in mind based on who we speak with. We look to learn how they’re trying to drive the business. You’re talking about patient outcomes and the healthcare professionals that you employ have everything that they need.
BRIAN SHEA: Some of that comes from my past history – I consulted for a long time. There’s a philosophy of many great organizations out there – if you look at how do you make your end user or customer them better and make them successful, ultimately everything you build off of, all the IT technical applications, it all comes together.
That is a hurdle for many IT organizations and many individuals within IT. And sometimes they lose sight, you know, of what is the bigger picture. And that is the goal, of not only IT leadership but leadership of an organization, to help send that message down of what are we trying to accomplish. The organizations that do really well are the ones that have leaders that have executive leadership that ties with IT leadership and they get to how they help each other for that common goal.
STEVE GRUETTER: — How do you see technology changing, and what’s it going to mean for your role? What do you see that you think is the most important aspect of what’s coming out there?
BRIAN SHEA: I think partnerships. Everybody says cloud and what does cloud mean, and there’s a thousand variations of that. I think what is critical is when there is a thousand things coming at you, and every day priorities are changing, how do you work smarter not harder? How do you leverage the partnerships? There may be technologies that you need or that may help you and your organization, and how do you adapt those?
For instance, in your business, you provide infrastructure as a service. And looking at that and going back to the betterment of the business, how do I get the business to where it needs to be? Does it make sense for me to make some of these partnerships to build infrastructure in the cloud? Where does it makes sense versus me doing that?
I look at office products that way. There are certain apps that I look at that way. You come in, you flip the light switch, and you want the lights to come on. You come in, you want your email to work. Do I necessarily have to be the email provider for that anymore? With your firm and the other cloud providers out there, there’s things that are there that are already built that they have levels of redundancy and security. I couldn’t build a data center like Expedient has in the same effective way and have everything that you guys have from a redundancy perspective. It’s too damn expensive. We have to work smarter together, and every project that comes in, we should use it as kind of a litmus test of what makes sense, or should it feed it to an outsource partner? Should I have my IT staff doing that or does it make sense for me having staff focus on something else because that something else might have more value?
I’ve seen this when I have interviewed folks. Some people are very scared of the change that it is happening now. The ones that are going to survive and where you’re going to be successful is the ones that can navigate this – the navigation of what is coming and building the strategy of where you go. How do we leverage these tools and where your value is really going to be to the organization? We need to make our organizations more successful and have better outcomes. That’s where I think the people need to be developed and learn as the next level of leaders. I look at this as another opportunity to add more tools to your tool belt to be able to accomplish things for my organization.
STEVE GRUETTER: Last question, and it’s my favorite question to ask: Professionally, what makes you the most happy?
BRIAN SHEA: When I feel like I add value. Personally, I love when I feel like we successfully finished a project or there was a problem and we figured it out and, and we figured it out as a team together. Because I can tell you sometimes it’s difficult when you pull together a lot of intelligent people into one room and they try to solve a problem and you’re off in a thousand directions. How you know when you have a successful team, is when you pulled those individuals together and they actually come together to a consensus and actually fix the issue at hand and we see that it resolves a pain point. It could be a pain point for one individual user; it could be a pain point to an entire organization. When you fix that and you can see the eyes of the individual that you resolved it for light up and say – “Thank you! You took care of this for me.” That adds joy for me.
I’m a passionate person. I’m passionate in what I do. And I think I have the drive in wanting to do good things. I’m not happy with the status quo, and I’m an individual that I will become bored if people just want the status quo. So what makes drives me as a professional every day is breaking that status quo. I enjoy this stuff, and ultimately, I’ve reached that point in my career where I like helping and I like sharing, and if anything adds any value, that is great.