Innovation means putting people first

Source: NHE March/April 2018

Chief information officers need to act as carers for innovation in order to help build a digitally literate workforce, writes James Freed, CIO at Health Education England (HEE).

As CIO for HEE, I recognise the pressure of being seen as an expert in all things digital. There’s sometimes an assumption that you know your organisation so well that you can predict what its business model should look like and the technology it needs to succeed.

CIOs have a big role to play within organisations; it often puts pressure on them to have all the answers. But I’ve come to believe that it’s not just down to us to find the solution to our organisation’s digital problems: I think the answers can and have often been found by those working across the entire business. 

We need to recognise that CIOs don’t have all the answers. Instead, it needs to be an open dialogue with the people delivering change and those who it affects. We need to try and create a trusting culture whilst developing people’s skills, knowledge, attitudes and behaviour, allowing organisations to solve problems together.

HEE is already leading on a programme of work which reflects this collaborative approach to digital working. Building a digital-ready workforce aims to bring people together in a culture that recognises the need to innovate and the role of digital in that innovation.

Our aim is to support everyone in the NHS to be comfortable with digital technology so that they can contribute to this transformation and, as professionals, deliver quicker, easier, safer care at the highest level of quality.

The NHS Digital Academy is making waves in helping the workforce become digitally ready. It’s the first-ever nationally-funded programme of world-class training, offering specialist IT and development support to 300 senior clinicians and health managers over 12 months. The aim of this work is to help create and shape a new generation of CIOs who can drive this digital transformation across the entire NHS.

Even with these tools and programmes of work, we still recognise we need to work with our professionals, such as nurses and doctors, to identify exactly what type of support they need to become experts in their digital field. Their needs will drive the work we do with our leaders and digital champions to make sure all barriers to learning are removed, and that our services can be provided in the right way.

I believe it’s our own staff who can be leaders for digital transformation; they are the professionals who work day to day with technology and data.

I attended the HIMSS Digital Leaders conference where a presentation included statistics around those who come up with ideas, consistent across all industries. The presentation highlighted that 60% of ideas come, unsurprisingly, from the people who undertake our business activities on a day-to-day basis. They come face-to-face with patients and service users, they know where our processes have issues, and they come up with the ideas on how to improve them. I believe that CIOs have a valuable role in opening the door for these ideas to be tested and where a good case study exists and needs to be adopted.

A CIO has the ability to consider the digital readiness of their organisation’s staff and how a move towards being digitally literate can be delivered. I think we need to act as carers for innovation. We need to give our businesses the capability, culture, language and tools to discuss improvement which can help achieve change. HEE’s Building a Digital Ready Workforce programme is already making big steps towards achieving this goal.




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