A Techwire Q&A with an Outgoing CIO/Deputy Director

"My immediate advice for any successor is to understand the mission of the organization. It’s a health-care-facing mission, which can be different in terms of how to deliver value with data and technology services."

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The award-winning chief information officer for the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development (OSHPD) is leaving state service at the end of the month – 26 years after he took his first job in California government.

Scott Christman has led IT for OSHPD for more than five years, leaving the office with better integration of data and technology. The agency is also on the cusp of at least one very ambitious project, and Christman — who won a California CIO of the Year Award in 2016 — is satisfied that he’s set the stage for his successor to succeed.

Christman’s last day with the state will be Dec. 31. After starting in state service as an analyst in 1993 with the Employment Development Department, his path has taken him to OSHPD, then to Esri, then the state Department of Public Health (DPH), then Adventist Health, then to the California Health and Human Services Agency, then UC Davis Health System, then back to DPH, then back to CHHS, and then back to OSHPD, where he has served as CIO and deputy director.

His next step will be working for Slalom, leading the firm’s data and analytics operation and selling to both the public and private sectors.  

Before moving on, Christman agreed to a question-and-answer interview with Techwire:

Techwire: In your five-plus years as deputy director and CIO of OSHPD, what one project or initiative are you proudest to have led?

Christman: I am most proud of our work on the integration of data and technology services for OSHPD. Organizing our IT services and health-care data programs under one division positioned us to respond more effectively to emerging legislative priorities around health-care cost transparency. This has proven to be the case with Senate Bill 17 (2017) that required OSHPD to stand up a new program collecting prescription drug cost increase data and making it publicly available. Likewise, OSHPD is currently planning for a large, new cost transparency program to collect and report on health-care payments, again expanding our data and analytics portfolio.

Techwire: Are there one or two things you wanted to accomplish but didn’t get to?

Christman: We have envisioned a number of projects to improve the data life cycle across our programs and reduce technical debt. Those projects are captured in our portfolio but have had to wait as we prioritize the delivery of legislative requirements. But some of the data life cycle improvement work is slated to begin next year, including modern data warehouse and master data management initiatives. I will be excited to see the progress unfold as a fan of the work.

Techwire: Talk to vendors: What should they be watching for on the horizon with OSHPD? Any big RFX’s around the corner?

Christman: There are a series of small, incremental projects supporting data life cycle improvements that will include the need for professional services. The planning for a new Healthcare Payments Data (HPD) program, as required by Assembly Bill 1810 (2018), will be competed in 2020. The HPD is a larger project, but we wouldn’t expect any solicitations until 2021 with all the necessary approvals in place.

Techwire: The majority of your public service career has been related to health-care IT and management, and both of your masters’ degrees have a health-related element. Where does your interest in health science come from?

Christman: I spent the first part of my career preparing analytics with economic data and employment statistics, before joining OSHPD where I developed the interest in health-care data and analytics. IT systems are an important enabler necessary to manage, analyze and transport health-care information where and when it is needed by decision makers. It was apparent that the actionable information more widely available across health-care environments will improve outcomes for patients, and we’re all patients at some point. I believe it’s a place to make a difference and consistent with public service.

Techwire: Looking ahead: Will you have any input in the selection of your successor?

Christman: The recruitment and selection processes around Career Executive Assignments are fairly regimented under state policy. But I have briefed OSHPD leadership on the current portfolio and priority projects in process by our Information Services Division. I also outlined the requirements and expectations for a successful candidate in this particular role, which looks a bit different than other CIO posts because we integrated health-care data and analytics programs under the division.

Techwire: Do you have any advice for your successor?

Christman: My immediate advice for any successor is to understand the mission of the organization. It’s a health-care-facing mission, which can be different in terms of how to deliver value with data and technology services. OSHPD has built confidence and trust with stakeholders internal and external to state government. We want to continue to earn that trust with responsible management of health-care information and technology. And trust the senior management team that will continue to lead OSHPD data programs and technology services. It’s a great job and a great team; the best team that I’ve ever had the privilege to work with.

Techwire: What will your role be with Slalom? Will you be relocating?

Christman: I will serve as Slalom’s Data and Analytics leader for Sacramento, responsible for driving thought leadership and direction while delivering innovative data solutions to our many clients both in private industry and the public sector. Slalom is a purpose-driven consulting firm that helps companies solve business problems and build for the future. We work with companies to push the boundaries of what’s possible, collaborating every step of the way. Our clients come to us to find new ways to accelerate innovation, do more with less, get to market faster, create experiences their customers love, and build operational muscle for sustainable results. I will continue to live and work in the Sacramento region.

Techwire: Tell us a little about your personal life — family, hobbies? What do you read to stay abreast of IT?  

Christman: I’m 49 years old. My wife, Lydia, recently retired from state service to spend more time with our family. We have a daughter and a grandson who live with us in Elk Grove. I try to spend as much quality time as possible with my family when not working. We enjoy travel and live music. I read The Economist, Gartner, Healthcare IT News, Data Science Central and Healthcare Innovation.

Dennis Noone is Managing Editor of Techwire. He is a career journalist, having worked as a reporter and editor at small-town newspapers and major metropolitan dailies in California, Nevada, Texas and Virginia, including as an editor with USA Today in Washington, D.C. He lives in the Northern California foothills.