Lonnie Johnson is CIO of KVC Health Systems, a leading behavioral healthcare and child welfare organization. KVC has 33 locations in Kansas, Nebraska, Kentucky, and West Virginia and conducts training around the world. Johnson has been with KVC for 17 years where he has held various IT positions. He was recently promoted to CIO of the organization. We caught up with Lonnie to learn what tips he has for IT leaders aspiring to become a CIO.
Capriza: As you have moved up in the organization, what personal philosophies have helped you grow?
Lonnie Johnson: I think it’s important to remember what it’s like to be on the front line as a user of technology. I talk to employees and to customers. It’s the only way to ensure that a technology doesn’t cause a user angst when they go to use it. I remember my experience as a customer for technology or even for when I go to have my car serviced. How people care about end user needs is imperative. As a CIO, I also never forget what it’s like for the database administrator or application developer when they are working on a project. I came up from the trenches: developing, coding, project managing. I can’t forget the stress that goes along with the projects. So my rule is to never be separate from the team.
C: Is there a secret bullet for being successful in IT?
LJ: You need to really understand how users use technology. Consumer technology is far more pervasive than it was when I started in IT. Take millennials, they do everything on a phone. I can’t assume they will like what I like. So I have direct engagement with them, I survey them to make sure that we address the way they engage. We’ve instituted a mobile workspace for our employees – one place for employees to find all the relevant mobile apps they need to do their job. They don’t care about the back-end system, they just care about the modern enterprise solutions that will make their work easier and faster. Another example is with our customers. Many of our customers are kids. So for them, we are instituting social technology that will track their moods and allow them to journal thoughts. We can then use that data with sentiment analyses so we can learn how they are feeling. We can also integrate that information with our data to help with treatment plans. Knowing how users use technology helps inform our roadmap which then helps us perform as a company.
C: What changes have you made to your IT organization to keep up with the times?
LJ: Technology supports everything every employee does everyday. When there’s frustration, anxiety, friction, it slows the go to market roll out. So a few years ago, I made the shift for IT to be interwoven in the business. We are transitioning to business relationship management. We have some individuals that report to the technology team but they physically sit in the business area that they are aligned with. They attend the business unit’s meetings, they think like a member of the business unit, and they serve as an advocate for technology. We are moving from project management to business relations management.
C: Was there a pivotal moment where you shifted how you lead or how you think about IT as it relates to the organization?
LJ: About three-four years ago we were drowning in tickets, which made us less service-oriented to the business than we needed to be. We were our own worst enemy at times. So we did a few things: first, we deployed ITIL to help manage our resources needed for change, problems, and deployment. Then we transferred from waterfall to agile. We were able to turn the corner in how we respond to our business partners. We meet with them about every two weeks, give them a piece of the project and capture thoughts, rather than waiting until the hole project is complete. This reduced pressure and we’re able to manage expectations.
C: How do you keep innovating?
LJ: We have a company culture of being teachable, wanting to grow. For our business unit, I instituted a mandatory “growth and innovation” initiative where the tech teams devotes 10% of their time to researching innovation, enhancing processes, or personal professional development. We invest in ourselves and our processes. We also attend industry conferences. Even if we use 5-10% of what we learn at a conference, that piece can catapult us into the future – past our competition. I work with leadership to ensure that the budget has room for professional development.
C: What advice would you give to IT leaders who aspire to become a CIOs?
LJ: I recommend reading “Speed of Trust,” by Stephen Covey. He delves into the philosophy that to increase speed at which an organization moves, or a product is being built, rests on the trust of the team. In today’s business environment, speed is necessary and therefore trust is imperative.