Blue Shield Of California’s Digital Innovation Has Been Driven By One Of The Most Experienced Tech Execs Around

July 31, 2021
BY Peter High Founder and President of Metis Strategy
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Blue Shield of California is an 83-year-old nonprofit health system that earns roughly $20 billion in annual revenue, but it caps its net income at 2% of revenue. As a result, the company has returned more than $650 million to customers and communities through its history. With 4.5 million customers across the state of California, the company has a mission to create a healthcare system that is worthy of employees’ family and friends while being sustainably affordable. The pandemic has transformed the way in which the company interacts with customers. There has been a digital relationship with customers that has deepened since March of 2020. Blue Shield of California has focused on being holistic and personalized while being high-tech and high-touch.

The leader who has catalyzed much of this change is the company’s chief information officer Lisa Davis. In her role, she runs information technology as well as the company’s data and analytics organization, while setting Blue Shield of California’s technology strategy.

Davis draws upon an unusually deep reserve of experience as a technology leader, having spent 26 years at the United States Department of Defense, rising to the post of CIO at multiple divisions of DOD. She was also a CIO at Georgetown University for nearly three and a half years. After that, she joined Intel, first as a technology leader, and then ran a $9 billion business for the company. All of this was prior to joining Blue Shield of California in February of 2020.

Davis has seen the past 16 months of the pandemic as a remarkable driver of innovation and change. By way of example, she referenced telehealth, which has been an area of focus for Davis, and an area of tremendous growth for the company during the pandemic. “Prior to the pandemic, there was a lot of consternation and a belief that telehealth wasn’t wanted by consumers and wouldn’t be leveraged or used by our members,” said Davis. “In fact, the pandemic showed just the opposite. Telehealth has soared almost 500%. We are seeing better health outcomes, and [in many cases] our members prefer telehealth appointments to having to go into the office.”

Davis also notes that an area that the healthcare system in the United States has lacked historically has been a holistic approach to personal health. The pandemic has underscored the need for the healthcare ecosystem to work more closely together to serve patients. Davis referenced Blue Shield of California’s Health Reimagined program as an example. “Imagine an experience where providers, members and payers have access to the same data; that we’re making decisions that are best for the member or the patient because they have all of the providers sharing information from a single electronic health record,” said Davis. “[We aim to make] decisions based on [information that is] holistic and personalized to that member.”

Davis believes that the best way to serve providers, members and payers is to re-orient the IT function to be more tied to the rest of the organization. She and her team have spent the last year developing a new operating model for the information technology function centered around portfolios and products.  “We spent the last year changing our operating model to align against and support the key lines of business and key horizontal functions within the company,” noted Davis. “We have created seven different portfolios: three to support lines of business, four to create horizontal functions such as Medi-Cal, commercial business, senior markets, customer care, and marketing. Corporate services [is] a horizontal function and a large complex horizontal function [is] our Health and Growth Solutions organization, which has a big need around data and analytics capability.”

The portfolio teams have a variety of roles associated with each burgeoning partnership across the organization, including a portfolio leader, a solution delivery lead, solution architects, business architects, security personnel and data and analytics team members. Davis believes that this mix and the stronger partnership increases IT’s business acumen. “[This model creates a] basis of trust and a foundation with our business partners to improve collaboration, understand the opportunities that [they are] trying to solve, the capabilities that we’re trying to bring to market, so that those teams are connected hip-to-hip, working together to ultimately accelerate capabilities and services that we want to bring to market for our members,” said Davis. “That has laid a foundation [toward] being a cloud and data company that is required to support this new digital experience and vision of Health Reimagined that we want for our members.”

Davis joined Blue Shield of California only a couple of weeks before the company went into quarantine. As such, she became a test case for onboarding virtually, and she drew several lessons about how best to lead a team without the benefit of getting to know them in person. She has added more than 150 people to the IT team since the beginning of the pandemic, infusing the team with new talent at a time of great transformation, giving her ample opportunity to test those lessons.  The first lesson in leading during these most unusual circumstances is to lead authentically. Davis indicated that it is necessary to “listen more, to understand where our employees are [personally and professionally], to understand the capacity for change that they can handle, to be connected to what all of our employees are dealing with.”

Second, she recognized the sanctity of communications. “I’m a firm believer that you can never communicate enough,” said Davis. “That engagement and trying to stay connected, keep the video on [on video conference calls], trying to find that connection with the employees has been extremely important in navigating this change.”

Third, she models perseverance with the team. These are uncertain times, and it is difficult to predict what opportunities or threats might be around the corner but being steadfast in moving the organization in the right direction remains paramount.

Davis draws strength that helps her persevere through her diverse set of experiences, and she understands that there is more that is common across those experiences than is different. “One of the beautiful things about being a technology leader is no matter what sector that you’re in, our challenges are all pretty much the same,” she noted. “We all address those technology opportunities at a different place, at a different maturity level. Our stakeholders are clearly different, but the technology opportunities and how we leverage technology to support mission or business outcomes doesn’t change.”

Peter High is President of  Metis Strategy, a business and IT advisory firm. He has written two bestselling books, and his third, Getting to Nimble, was recently released. He also moderates the Technovation podcast series and speaks at conferences around the world. Follow him on Twitter @PeterAHigh.

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