The Barbie Syndrome

In my 10+ years as a CIO it is painful to see how many IT purchases turn into shelfware. It is difficult to keep management focused on realizing the benefit of investments made.

I believe this is human behavior. I have tried to create an analogy so our business leaders can see this behavior in ourselves. In my attempt to change our culture I have begun to preach about the “Barbie Syndrome.”

Barbie SyndromeAs a father of two girls I have observed that when they are in a toy store they seem to forget the closet full of Barbies® and accessories back home. The Barbie on the store shelf is always more desirable than the one in their closet. Like those girls, we seem to think that the systems we don’t own are much more appealing than those we already own.

Unlike those Barbies, new systems are not ready to use out of the box. These systems require a great deal of coordination during implementation to ensure they begin useful life without negatively impacting operations. Just as importantly they require a great deal of effort after implementation to ensure that they provide the benefits that were envisioned when they were purchased.

I am not looking down on my co-workers. I am guilty of this as well (and there isn’t anyone there to remind me that I am under the influence of the Barbie Syndrome). I have purchased a couple of systems over the last few years because I thought they would be the quick answer to a problem. Of course it was just software and I still had to do all of the hard work I was trying to avoid.

Too often we are lured to purchase new systems, somehow forgetting the closet of systems that we already own that are awaiting our attention.

I realize I am not using the word “syndrome” properly. But the phrase reminds me of the Pepsi Syndrome skit from Saturday Night Live, so I am sticking with it.

CIO Junkets

Truthfully, I have always enjoyed the perks of being a CIO. Having the second most capital to spend (behind construction) gets you lots of attention.

One way that vendors show their attention is to take you some place to talk business. As a CIO you have lots of opportunities to eat good meals and then get a case of short arms when the check arrives. Ethically I don’t have a problem with this, if it isn’t abused. I am probably treated to 10 or so vendor dinners a year. Sometimes it is a burger at the pub, but often it is a steak at Lombardi’s.

Some of the offers I receive are unbelievable. I don’t understand how any CIO can ethically accept some of the junkets that we are offered. Recently, I received an invitation that tops them all. Avaya (the telephony vendor) sent me a letter from the Chairman and CEO offering to fly me and a guest to Germany to watch the World Cup. This was the real deal. As the letter states (see attached) this is going to be a first class junket. Just, not for me. The mailing alone was impressive. The letterhead was the best paper I have ever seen (living in the Paper Valley I notice things like that).

As I get more offers I am going to post them here to show folks the lengths a vendor will go to get cozy with a CIO. If word gets out I suppose I will receive a lot fewer offers.

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I could spend all day long participating in phone surveys. So, I don’t usually do any. More and more the surveyors are offering some incentive like a gift certificate or a donation to the hospital’s foundation. I appreciate that they value my time, but that generally isn’t going to change my mind.

I participated in a HIMSS Analytics survey today. This is the first survey that I have been subjected to in over a year. I consider HIMSS Analytics to be a respectable name, but this was a disaster. The surveyor had no understanding of the topic and had a difficult time reading her script. Worse, the questions were very poorly constructed.

They asked me which database platforms I used (SQL Server and MEDITECH MAGIC). Then they proceeded to ask me to rank other DBMS platforms on a number of different criteria (reliability, manageability, performance, etc.). Well, I don’t use those – so why would I have an opinion? The survey also asked me to rate the DBMS of my top three clinical applications. These are all MEDITECH applications so I answered the same questions three times.

I suspect that the survey was sponsored, I would guess by Cache.

One third of the way into the survey I lost respect for the methodology and began answering questions while reading email. That survey won’t be worth the paper it is printed on.

One more thought about surveys, I would much rather complete an online survey than a phone based survey.