How the CVS Health CIO stays afloat in a sea of information

How the CVS Health CIO stays afloat in a sea of information

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CIOs today, in staying true to the title chief information officers, are bombarded with information. Constantly vetting what’s relevant and what’s not, and avoiding shiny object syndrome is just a part of the job and, in fact, I’d say it’s one of the more challenging aspects of being an IT leader.

Whether it’s the stuff you want, like scheduled publications by credible sources, or the hundreds and hundreds of solicitations that you get but don’t want, you’re just swimming in a sea of information.

Innovation at scale

Now, in fairness, the way I filter through them is a luxury that not everybody else may have. Because we’re a Fortune No. 7 company, and managing an extremely large enterprise, one of the key relevance filters for me is scale. If I were the CIO of a smaller company, there are pieces of information or technologies that could absolutely be very relevant to me in a smaller environment. But in my environment, the number one reason why a technology or a capability doesn’t materialize isn’t because of a functional defect or gap. Rather, it’s because of either the supplier’s or their technology’s inability to scale in our environment.

I’ve learned this through trial and error, and I’ve gotten to the point where a quick analysis of the technology can tell me whether or not it would stand up to what we could throw at it. That’s now my primary filter, and quite honestly, it filters out a lot.  

It doesn’t mean that there are not great ideas that we sometimes have to pass on. We keep an eye on those, because one day, they may mature to the point that we could use them successfully in our environment. However, because of our size, we have to look for what I call “innovation at scale.”

Solving the big problems first

Beyond scale, we also look at the business challenges we are trying to address: what are our near-term priorities; what investments do we need to make that align with our priorities; and what emerging technology innovations do we need to keep an eye on that may meet our future needs. If you were to draw a grid, one axis would be time, and on the other axis would be importance. I’m most focused on the things that are really important to us in the short to medium time frame.

This is often where things get tricky for CIOs. Even if you look at technologies and solutions in terms of the problems you are trying to solve, the question becomes – how do you know what order to solve the problems in?

My advice aligns with my methodology for problem-solving. You isolate them one at a time, and you work through them. When I’m faced with a multivariate problem, I tackle the most difficult piece of the problem first; because if you can’t solve the most difficult problem, then it’s going to be a showstopper. It doesn’t really make sense to spend any amount of time trying to solve the easier aspects of a problem if you aren’t successful addressing the larger issue.

At the end of the day, the most difficult problem that a partner has in being relevant to CVS Health is scale. So we always try to solve the hardest problem first. If they pass the scale test, then we look at the time horizon and the relevancy to the work that we’re doing. This is how I personally stay on top of the constant influx of information and determine what’s truly relevant for my organization.  


Steve, Thanks for the insight

Steve, Thanks for the insight. This helps CIO's in their decision making process but also helps vendors with an understanding of how their product will fit in an organization. If you have a solution that solves the most critical business issue, then you have an opportunity, otherwise, your just noise.

Steve, Thank you for insights

Steve, Thank you for insights shared. As you rightly laid in context, a pragmatic approach to mastering information agenda is the ability to handling scale to innovation and focusing on tough problems on value chain.

Stephen Gold is Executive Vice President and Chief Information Officer for CVS Health. In this role since July 2012, Gold is the company’s senior technology executive and has responsibility for all information systems and technology operations, including information technology strategy, application development, technology infrastructure, and business and technology operations.

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