Disrupting Healthcare with IT

Dan Sheehan, SVP & CIO, DentaQuest
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Dan Sheehan, SVP & CIO, DentaQuest

One business segment in the healthcare industry revolutionized by technology is customer service. Technology is empowering our clients and customers while also allowing us to innovate and build functionality that we can extend to them. It is crucial that we extend our services and make it hardware agnostic, user-friendly, simple and easy to do business with us. DentaQuest’s mission is to improve the oral health of all and in order to do this, we need to ensure we’re reaching our clients and customers efficiently and effectively, even through technology and at the digital level.

The Role of IT in Transforming DentaQuest

At DentaQuest, we are seeing a shift from the traditional IT role of developing and maintaining systems to becoming a disruptor driving digital transformation. Doing this provides significant value, predominantly through the development of new, online services and enhanced client experiences. Demand continues to increase, and there is even more pressure to deliver business value more quickly and at a lower cost, so we can’t spend six, nine or 12 months on projects.

"Our mission is to improve the oral health of all and in order to do this, we need to ensure we’re reaching our clients and customers efficiently and effectively, even through technology and at the digital level"

At the same time, the CIO’s role is continuing to change. I see it now in my role at DentaQuest, and I saw it when I left Dunkin’ Brands as Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer in 2012. It’s crucial that the CIO has a seat at the executive table and works hand in hand with senior management and the board. Almost all areas of our business utilize and rely on technology to execute and improve processes. I need to understand all of our functions, left to right, to help drive and inform our growth objectives and our digital transformation. All of our business strategies include digital transformation, and I look forward to leading them.

The New Role of IT at DentaQuest

IT is no longer a separate entity within the enterprise. It has become an integral part of the business and in our work to improve oral health and elevate its importance to overall health. With the digitizing of business, it is no longer best practice to sell products, offer services and integrate customer service without having an integrated, comprehensive platform. For DentaQuest, reducing our enterprise architecture of standalone solutions to an integrated platform has started this transformation. It is very rewarding to assist the business in understanding how true collaboration is done.

At the same time, I have to ensure we incorporate a process so that our business leaders understand IT’s capacity. This requires discipline and a communications vehicle so that we help educate senior leaders and allow the business to make decisions on the demand IT is going to address.

Led by our CEO, our business leaders meet monthly to review any new demand, gain updates on existing projects and make decisions on addressing demand per business events. As one of the leaders that makes these decisions, I can tell you that we have a disciplined process to make sure the business is setting the priorities. We also communicate weekly to all directors and above on project status, investments, capacity and what projects are in queue. The feedback I have received from all lines of the business is amazing–comments like, “Wow, did not know there was this much investment,” “Thank you, now I understand where my request is,” and many more. These remarks are music to my ears. But once the priorities are set, it’s all about execution.  

The Role of a CIO When it Comes to IT, Business and Security

With cyber attacks becoming more frequent and evolving while the industry is continuously digitizing, cyber security is an ongoing top priority, especially as it relates to customer’s Protected Health Information (PHI). To best inform our evolving knowledge and processes related to cyber security, we hired an information security officer (ISO)–who reports to me–so that we are doing the most to protect our customers’ important information and privacy. Working hand in hand with our audit, compliance and technology infrastructure teams, the ISO has developed a strategy to further improve our security. He is also tasked with engaging the entire enterprise on security awareness through ongoing training, presentations, new processes and policies.  At DentaQuest, we are continuously strengthening our infrastructure, practices and procedures while also educating all aspects of our business on the importance of cybersecurity as it evolves and changes.

Advice to a New CIO

•Make sure you are sitting at the executive table and have direct access to your board.
•In the healthcare industry, understand the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and Personally Identifiable Information, to incorporate them into your IT and business practices.
•Develop relationships with all the functional leaders, understand their business processes and how the company makes money.
•Ask questions—not only does this help build your understanding, but it opens up communication and dialogue while developing culture. This way, you’re listening to what is critical to the business.
•Understand your department, their roles, responsibilities, strengths and weaknesses. Talk to all levels to understand what is working and what is not working, so that you can understand patterns, issues or opportunities. Once you develop a vision, make sure to over communicate it.
•Establish a disciplined prioritization process to manage the business demand of IT versa its capacity.
•To help prioritize your time, understand the business cycles and key dates – budgets, sales cycles, deployments and new initiatives.
•Remember that people come before process and technology. As a CIO, your focus needs to be on people and relationships first, process second and technology a distant third.
•Be prepared to move fast. There is lots to learn and plans to build, including developing your digital strategy.
•Hunt down the issues. This means not just the ones everyone tells you about, but more importantly, the ones that no one recognizes.

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