I recently met the President of Romania's National Health Service. Romania is an interesting place, what with Count Dracula, Nicolae Ceausescu and Vlad the Impaler being high profile 'old boys'. With the recent European Union border relaxation, the media has been stirring the xenophobia pot by suggesting that Western Europe will be overrun by Romania's 'worst'.
Romania's concern lies more in losing its best, with an estimated 11,000 healthcare professionals having departed the country.
The National Health Insurance House (NHIH) in Romania is in the process of undergoing a high degree of automation and integration in respect of its business processes and IT systems. As well as having consolidated 42 regional systems it has introduced an e-prescription system to handle payments to medical providers and drug suppliers. It is soon to introduce the concept of the e-card which will integrate a further 22 million citizens into the system. E-healthcare in Romania is becoming an exemplar for best practice for the wider world.
It is uplifting to hear that despite the opportunities to earn more money in the private sector their IT professionals remain loyal to NHIH. They recognise that these are not just IT projects but a key element of Romania's path to true democracy. These new systems will provide greater transparency and better governance over health related spending. These professionals have put the interests of their fellow citizens ahead of their own.
Perhaps this is something we need to instil in our own IT professionals. What became apparent to me is that when IT people have passion they no longer think in terms of IT projects but focus more on the subsequent service and associated organisational transformation; whatever it takes to make it a success.
How many of us have tried to tiptoe away from our post-UAT responsibilities now that the exciting development phase is complete? In my own case several decades ago I was more preoccupied with building the system as per the specification than whether it would be of any use once it went live. Possibly this was because back then the subsequent management would be carried out by the client.
But again users want IT services and not projects. When IT professionals are passionate they will engage more closely with the users and be genuinely concerned that what will be delivered will be of value. This mind set takes the IT professional into the realm of business and cultural change. They will focus not just on the technology is to be delivered but how both the organisation and the individuals need to change. This dramatically increases the strategic relevance of the IT function. Try stopping such IT staff from being involved in business transformation.
As a CIO you need to ask the question how passionate do you feel about your clients? I am not talking about users as they are your partners. How passionate do you feel about your organisation's target market?
In some cases you may need to look at the bigger picture to create the spark, particularly if your market is overpaid fund managers or value-free estate agents. If you are still struggling then I suggest you review your economic goals and decide which markets are likely to give you a better emotional return.
If you are not emotionally committed to your organisation then neither will your staff. Look around. Are you presiding over an army of soulless cyborgs just 'going through the motions'. If you are unsure then perhaps try this little experiment. Arrange for a random sounding of the fire alarm. Implore your staff to leave the building without hesitation. Now walk around their physical and virtual desktops and examine how many are engaged in client enhancing activities. A low number tells you that there is an issue. And unless you are new to the organisation that issue is you.
So regardless of where you and your IT function are emotionally, I believe your role is to create a customer-centric esprit de corps and maintain it. It will fuel you to fight your corner at board meetings because your genuine interest is on the clients. Very few CxOs will challenge demands that are in line with creating market loyalty.
In turn your people will be inspired by your assertive leadership style and so too will mimic your behaviour as required. Business transformation takes place one person rather than one process at a time.
Coming back to my visit to Bucharest; while Romania may be lagging behind in respect of their political maturity, it is likely that the mind set of their IT professionals will make them a force to contend with in the digital economy.