This content is part of the Essential Guide: 2015 MIT Sloan CIO Symposium guide: Digital disruption
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Chief innovation officer is chief interlocutor at TrustNetMD

During a recent MIT Sloan CIO Symposium panel discussion that touched on the duties of the CIO in a time of digital disruption, audience member Richard Singerman approached the microphone and asked a pointed question: How do CIOs do it all?

"The CIO has to be managing risk, has to be doing legacy transformations, has to be keeping up on the financial impact with his MBA (that I guess he got on the side), and he's got to be a peer to the CEO," Singerman said. "This sounds like a lot for one person."

Singerman is co-founder and chief innovation officer at TrustNetMD, a software company partnering with the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health to build a social learning tool for the healthcare system. He explained to the panel that hospital systems have tried easing the burden on CIOs by introducing CMIOs, chief medical information officers, who act as liaisons between "the front line positions and the CIO," he said. As the chief innovation officer at TrustNetMD, Singerman provides a similar function.

SearchCIO caught up with Singerman at the MIT event to talk about his role as a chief innovation officer and why TrustNetMD decided against a more traditional CIO role.

In part two, Singerman discusses what "failing fast" means for CIOs.

You're the chief innovation officer at TrustNetMD. What are you responsible for? What are you in charge of?

Richard Singerman: I'm like the chief flag waver. I'm very fortunate that, prior to being with TrustNetMD as a co-founder, I was with Ascension Health, leading innovation initiatives nationally for Ascension, which is the largest Catholic hospital system in the U.S. It's about a $15 billion dollar hospital system now, almost 100 health facilities across 20 states. And when I took that role as their head of innovation advancement about a decade ago, it was really quite wonderful. And the CEO said, 'Richard, I don't know what a culture of innovation means, but I want you to create it.' And so we got to greenfield that.

Basically in a nutshell, we put together a program for scanning innovations, looking at the two- to ten-year future of innovations, sharing those innovations. How do you share the knowledge internally so if the hospital in Indianapolis is doing something really smart, how do we share that with a hospital down in Texas so they're not reinventing the wheel? And then how do you incubate those ideas that you find are really good? So how can we move them along quicker so that there can be more adoption.

So you're chief innovation officer and TrustNetMD has a CTO, but there is no chief information officer. How do you fill that void?

Singerman: At the conference today, we heard that the role of the CIO is about a 100-hour a week job. We heard that CIOs have to be both facile with translating technologies into economic impact at the board level, and yet they also have to be able to hire a team to manage legacy transformation projects, and they also had to manage things like cyber risks, security, privacy. That's a lot on one person's

In healthcare, what we've done is basically we've divided up that role. We have a CTO or a VP of engineering. He's familiar, intimately, with all of the technologies for the different software, the security protocols and platforms. And he's also a user interface design guru.

My role is to interface between that technology team that he represents and our customers in healthcare. Because I have a technology background and I've worked in a hospital environment and understand the needs of the hospitals, I understand the technologies, things like the clinical technologies, the cardiac technologies, the imaging technologies -- my background is in radiology types of work. So I can speak the languages of both worlds.

I can understand what our end docs need from a user experience point of view, and I can talk to our technology folks and I can come up with mock-ups back and forth and say, "Okay, here's what I think they're saying they need, let's see if we can implement this."

So then, you've almost bifurcated the CIO role.

Singerman: Right. And believe me, there's plenty to do. So yeah, in another world, I would probably be a CIO. In this organization, we purposely don't have that and it is bifurcated, that's put very well.

Let us know what you think of the story; email Nicole Laskowski, senior news writer, or find her on Twitter @TT_Nicole.

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If your company has a chief innovation officer, how is the position defined?