Transforming IT with a Purpose

Senior Vice President and CIO Steve Betts underlines the importance of explaining and communicating the “why” behind a transformation.

To execute digital transformation at scale, technology teams must be properly equipped with the right skills and expertise, but also a shared purpose that drives the work they do. In his CIO Stories presentation at Gartner Symposium/ITxpo 2017 in Orlando, FL, Steve Betts, senior vice president and chief information officer at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois, Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas, said that when it comes to managing technology innovation and driving new ways of collaboration, it is important for employees to understand the “why” of the transformation.  

“In driving a transition, you don’t get the flexibility of time to stop delivering,” Betts said in his talk on lessons learned during his transformation journey. “When working in a team focused on change, IT leaders must learn to balance transition efforts and also continue to deliver on business commitments.” These commitments can vary for every organization, but for Betts, this means bringing new healthcare solutions to his company’s members.

Managing change with the team

Shortly after entering his role, Betts sought to understand the IT team and its perceptions to determine how the department functioned. Betts quickly learned that the core systems that served the company so well for many years were no longer flexible enough to meet the demands of a rapidly changing healthcare industry.

He discovered a hierarchical structure that constricted innovation and limited the empowerment of employees. To get an even deeper look, Betts used relationship-mapping software to understand how employees worked together. The tool produced a relationship map that identified employees who had the strongest relationships within and across departments, enabling Betts to partner with these employees to help shape the future of the organization. Understanding these relationships was important for Betts to consider through the change journey.  

One of the biggest challenges Betts found was securing the right talent while transforming at scale. With many open positions, newly hired external talent and brand-new roles, he explained that success required close partnership between IT and HR. He stressed the importance of working with HR to supplement their capabilities and capacity to support the transition.

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Defining the purpose

Most companies have a mission statement, but for Betts and his team, it is integrated in their day-to-day work. Employees ‘bleed blue,’ meaning they embody the organization’s mission to stand with members in sickness and health. “It’s not a sticky note on the side of your desk, its core to our work,” Betts said.  

Starting with a purpose enables Betts to drive the transformation in a way that would resonate with employees. Within the IT department, “our responsibility is to unleash the power of that purpose through technology,” Betts added.

The ripple effect

Bold statements of change, which Betts refers to as those that are widely noticed and create momentum in the workplace, set a clear picture for others to follow.

Betts reorganized where and how employees worked by securing 140,000 sq. ft. for new, collaborative digital lab space that provides modern technology tools and groups of desks rather than cubicles. The goal was to create a more cohesive space to bring people together and facilitate idea sharing. This change was first met with hesitancy and underutilization, but quickly gained momentum, with 80% of employees assigned to the floors agreeing that the new workspaces improve collaboration. Over time, people saw the positive energy and ease in their ability to work as a team in the new collaborative space. “When you walk in, you think, yes — this is different,” Betts said.

Where scale gets real

Shortly after starting the transformation, Betts shared that he spent a Sunday afternoon handling several personal matters for banking, making purchases and paying bills using his mobile phone. However, when he went to use his company’s app, he saw a need for improvement. This spurred an email to the team and subsequent meetings to address the issues with the app and plan for updates.

With a focused approach using extreme programming development methods, the team reduced the time for implementing changes from 14 months to 14 weeks to 14 days. This early example proved that working differently could make an impact for members, and it created excitement throughout the organization about the transformation. Since that time, the new ways of working have fundamentally changed the team’s ability to move at speed while maintaining its focus on the organization’s purpose of meeting the needs of its members.

Betts said that the company has moved to the ‘the end of the beginning’ and celebrated small successes to gain momentum along the way, but he noted that the journey is not yet complete. “These transformations are not for the faint-hearted,” he said.

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