The Road Less Traveled

By Lorraine Charles, ATLANTA TREND™

An IBM instructor once told Cigdem Delano, “whenever presented with two different opportunities in which one is familiar and the other takes you outside your comfort zone, choose the one that is not comfortable—that is the one that will cause you to grow”.  A quick glance at Delano’s professional bio will show that she took those words to heart.  After a successful 18-year career at IBM, Delano chose to work for the state of Georgia.  Later she was recruited by Morehouse School of Medicine (MSM) to be their CIO, where she still leads today.  This may seem like an unlikely career path for someone with a respected track record at a Fortune 10 company, but after even a brief meeting with Delano, it shows that it has “made all the difference.”

 

The Journey Begins in Medicine

When Delano was a junior at Newnan High School, her father was a physician and had high hopes that Delano would follow in his footsteps.  

“I had no stomach for it,” says Delano.  When she was 16 a family friend needed a small cyst removed from his finger and Delano’s father asked her to keep him occupied.  “At the first sight of a little bit of blood I had to excuse myself!”  

Delano’s early exposure to her father’s medical practice would have an influence on her, however.  

One year later, when she was a senior in high school, Delano began attending Georgia Tech in a joint enrollment program. “It was there that I discovered computers”, says Delano.  Before graduating she had an opportunity to meld her newly discovered passion for computers with her father’s passion for medicine.  For her senior thesis, Delano designed and programmed a Patient File Management System for her father’s practice.  

Upon graduating from Georgia Tech Delano immediately began working for IBM, starting in Systems Support.   Conscious of her Father’s unfilled hope for her, Delano used to joke with him, “you take care of patients and I take care of computers—because I get calls at 2:00 AM, too.”

Now, after two years as Morehouse School of Medicine’s CIO, Delano reflected, “it was only recently that I realized I have come full circle with my father’s dream for me to have a profession in the medical field.”

Changing Paths

Delano’s path at IBM quickly took her in a direction away from health care.  She spent many years in IBM’s Project Executive program, where she was responsible for managing solutions for marquee customers and global business partners.  Among her accolades, she managed over 100 people, budgets in the tens of millions of dollars, delivered a solution at a 35% profit margin, surpassed revenue goals by 25% and received a 94% customer satisfaction score at the completion of a major implementation.

In 2000, Georgia’s General Assembly created the Georgia Technology Authority and assigned their first CIO to ensure the state’s IT infrastructure was stable, protected and well-managed.  Looking to run the Authority like a corporation, the newly assigned CIO approached IBM for guidance.  Among their recommendations was the suggestion that Delano aid their efforts.  Soon after Delano became the CTO.  

Delano was excited about the new opportunity.  “It gave me an opportunity to give back to the community and do what I love—solve problems through technology.”

In a seven year timeframe Delano and the Authority were able to successfully implement many solutions; including, improvements to the Child Welfare System, a state-wide student information system and the relocation of critical state systems to a state-of-the art, Tier IV data center.

The transition from IBM to state government was a huge change for the 18-year IBM veteran.  The culture was extremely different and the youth of the organization felt like working at a “start-up” company.  When Delano joined, the organization consisted of 30 people, but during her time there it grew to 700.  The fast growing organization lacked many processes, too.  The differences in the work environment proved to be good for Delano though.

“You have to be flexible and adaptable when working for the government.”   The divergent environments taught Delano how to make things happen in either environment.  “How you make things happen in IBM versus the government are completely different.”  

Delano commented that the main component to completing initiatives within the government was maintaining good relationships. “Technology is black and white, but the culture of the government is not.  Working for the government requires a lot more selling—even with things you have known to be true for years and years.  The way you sold was important too—it had to be about the relationship and a give and take mindset.  Your success was more dependent on your relationship than the results.”

The Journey Returns to Medicine

Delano’s success with the Georgia Technology Authority led to another unexpected recruiting call.  A former co-worker at the Authority went to MSM and suggested they shortlist Delano for their open CIO position.  Delano accepted and it turned out to be an ideal job.

“I was used to large organizations and was ready for a smaller environment that allowed me to get closer to the technology and the people.  I was also interested in being a CIO to test out what I had learned and apply it in a more intimate environment.”  By accepting this new challenge, Delano went from managing over 600 IT associates to a team of 25—truly a “road less traveled” decision for many executives.  

Delano was also attracted to the opportunity to work in a transformative setting.  MSM had put many challenges before their technology group, as the school’s mission is to improve the health care of the vulnerable and underserved--particularly in urban and rural areas.  It’s quite a challenge when one considers the lack of sophistication of health care systems in even affluent regions.

MSM’s IT department is looking to implement many improvements and new solutions.  Among their goals is an initiative to implement integrated IT systems with partner hospitals and providers, such as Grady hospital.  An example of one such system is an Electronic Medical Records solution.  Additionally, all of their solutions will be compatible with the Health Information Exchange (HIE)--the technology highway that is being facilitated by the Federal government.

Through a Federal grant, Morehouse School of Medicine is also creating a Regional Extension Center for physicians in urban and rural areas.  The medical school will provide them with various IT support services, as well as serve as a procurement vehicle to help doctors make technology choices for their practices.

Additional active projects include implementing solutions to MSM’s Research, Clinical, Patient Billing and Administrative areas.  These initiatives involve automation, creation of data warehouses and computations and analysis, which will bring efficiencies to researchers, clinicians, educators and school administrators.

 

Secrets to Success

Having worked for a for-profit Fortune 10 company and a non-profit state government agency and higher learning institution, Delano has gained a unique perspective on success.

1) Maintain your passion.  IT is a thankless job.  It’s like a utility service at times—people expect things to be up all the time.  You have to love technology because of what it enables--whether it aids people in their everyday lives, the government or business.

2) Never lose sight of the importance of interpersonal relationships.  Managing relationships is a whole other dimension to IT that must be carried through.

3) Be Flexible and adaptable.  You have to know how to get things done in any environment.

4)    Surround yourself with a strong team.  You may lead, support and run interference, but it is your team that delivers.

5)    Get out of your comfort zone.  Take on challenges that extend you beyond your comfort zone and realm of familiarity and cause you to grow.

Atlanta Trend would like to thank Cigdem Delano and Morehouse School of Medicine (MSM).  Though once affiliated with Morehouse College, MSM has been an independent entity since 1981.  MSM was recently ranked #1 in a first-ever study of all US medical schools in the area of social missions.  The results of the study were published in the June 15th Annals of Internal Medicine.  For more information about MSM, please visit their website at www.msm.edu.

 

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