Chalk one up for rogue IT

Doctor develops an EMR system that’s saving his organization a bundle

I met a rogue last week … as in “rogue IT.” You know, where non-IT people go off and work on systems and apps formally outside the CIO’s purview, often establishing huge shadow operations with underworld overtones.

But this guy was pretty respectable — he heads a medical department at a major teaching center hospital, and his impressive 20-page résumé shows he’s been widely published in his medical field for decades. (I was referred to him as a patient so I Googled to see if he was some young whippersnapper).

What caught my eye on his resume was a single incongruous line: ‘also developing electronic medical records — using Java, Oracle, and Unix.’ When I finally met him, he elaborated: “The hospital was doing it for inpatient, but not outpatient, so I just took it upon myself. It’s crude, but it works, and hopefully IT will go back and make it pretty later with a Web-based front end.”

Wow, I thought — that’s dedication. This guy could be playing golf on Wednesdays and barking orders to the medical residents but instead he’s working overtime trying to jury-rig a better records system for patients? That’s a doc I want on my team. But more important, he’s the kind of rogue that IT needs to embrace and support — someone powerful enough to communicate the importance of IT to colleagues who may be reluctant to change, in a hospital culture that’s probably pretty set in its ways.

Interestingly, when I mentioned a nearby hospital chain that also had a big EMR (electronic medical records) project going, he said, “Yeah, but mine is small potatoes compared to them — they’re spending millions.” I laughed to myself because the other company is actually spending billions. Either he didn’t know that or he misspoke. But my takeaway was, there’s lots of ultra-smart people working on this problem, and each person has a couple of puzzle pieces but doesn’t necessarily fully know what the other players are doing. It’s a thousand flowers blooming. IT better get good at gardening.

Mailbag Dept. Several readers asked about the book I mentioned two weeks ago, which detailed what life was like in 1855. It’s an out-of-print book called Everything and the Kitchen Sink; How the First Century of Industry Created Our First Century of Good Living, and there seem to be several copies available — cheap — at Alibris. Beware that the book reeks of the ‘all-progress is good’ philosophy that typified the 1950s. Reading it in hindsight, the whole industrial revolution thing doesn’t exactly seem carbon neutral. But hey, I don’t want to go back to the dark, either.

Another reader e-mailed asking, “What’s with the sexist headline?” referring to the quote in my recent column about Gartner’s New Year’s resolutions for CIOs. One (which I paraphrased) was, “You also need to get more women in the mix, because IT needs to be more collaborative.” Men can certainly be collaborative, but I thought Gartner’s implication — that it thought women were better at collaboration — was worthy of passing along. In my experience, IT, more than other corporate functions, is very meritocratic — compared to, say, finance or sales where the right school tie or club membership might punch a ticket. You see women and minorities becoming CIOs and top IT managers a lot because they’re simply the best person for the job, based on what they can do. And that’s how it should be.