By Peter High, published on Forbes
Within Tom Miller’s first year as Chief Information Officer for Anthem, an $85 billion health benefits company, he took a trip to Silicon Valley to better understand where smart money was being spent in healthcare. He has called the experience “mind blowing.” The innovation that he saw in areas like mobile care, the internet of things, and digital led him to conclude that the industry and his company were on the cusp of being disrupted. Rather than wait for others to bring the disruption to Anthem, he decided Anthem would be the source of its own disruption.
With the assistance of a small ecosystem of partners, Miller opened the Anthem Innovation Studio in May of 2016. In the 10 months since then, the team has already developed a number of innovative ideas. Miller’s penchant for seizing opportunities to disrupt are not limited to the companies he serves but he has also disrupted his own career in some ways, spending the first dozen years of his career in Sales and general management roles before disrupting his career and moving into IT roles that have been his mainstay since. We cover all of the above and more in this interview.
Peter High: Could you take a moment and describe Anthem’s business as well as IT’s role in it?
Tom Miller: Anthem is a healthcare provider that serves around forty million consumers. Our goal is to provide quality, affordable healthcare for our members. We offer services in a commercial space under the Blue Cross Blue Shield banner and Medicare and Medicaid Services in our government line. IT’s role is to deliver enabling capabilities to ensure that healthcare is both accessible and affordable and that our that our provider partners are able to engage with us in a way that makes it easy for them to do business. IT also provides thought leadership on how the advancement of technology is shaping the industry. We want to ensure that our business remains relevant and that we are competitive as the business of healthcare continues to unfold.
High: You have been with Anthem for nearly three years now. Prior to that you had a variety of roles within Coca-Cola. You were the Chief information Officer but you also spent time in sales. Please reflect on your unusual career path in and out of IT and what you have drawn from this broad set of experiences.
Miller: I spent my first twelve years in sales and general management and then gradually moved deeper and deeper into IT roles until I became the Chief Information Officer for Coke Refreshments, the North American bottling business, and several groups of the North American company of Coca-Cola. The first thing that I learned was that you simply have to know the business. You need to know what matters at a macro level — what the main service offerings are, the products, the core systems, and the customers’ needs. You also need to know what matters at a detail level. You cannot be in all the details, especially with the pace of technology change today, which means that you need to know what is relevant in terms data, systems, customer service, environments that you are managing, and response times. Knowing the fundamentals of the business is one of the keys to success, especially being able to transfer that understanding from one industry to another. The second thing is that you must operate from the basis of a strategy, especially in the world of technology. There are so many things coming at you all of the time, you must be able to sort them out and make sure that they are relevant to an overall strategic plan that you are running. I think of the IT strategyas being a meld between what IT needs to get done and what the business priorities are that are guiding that. As long as you are operating from the basis of a strategic plan, then you are in a position to add value in whatever industry you are in.
I have learned a number of other things as well. You need to be able to make decisions without all of the facts –that is a hallmark of leadership. You need to be able to communicate with confidence. When you are managing big budgets and big teams for a big business, the ability to communicate with confidence is critical.
High: Historically, the CIO position has been more tactical. You are focused on developing and executing strategic plans and inspiring your team to follow this lead. With the fast pace of change in IT, how do you ensure that the strategic plan is a stake in the ground but not planted so deeply as not to be malleable when circumstances change?
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