Six months after Michael Hailye showed the leadership at Embassy Management his achievements with mental health and substance abuse at Phoenix House Foundation, an opportunity presented itself. Now a CIO at Embassy, Hailye spoke with Pulse Q&A’s Chief Marketing Officer Ras Gill-Boulos on his early days in behavioral health, machine learning and the strategic side of being a CIO.
*This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.”
Ras Gill-Boulos: Today we have with us Michael Hailye from Embassy Management, who’s the CIO there. Michael, why don’t we jump right in by having you tell us a little bit about the company, a little bit about your position and all the different roles that you’ve had leading to this role.
Michael Hailye: Good afternoon. I’m glad to be here and share a little bit about my background and knowledge. I’ve been the CIO for Embassy for about three and a half years. It’s a part of a group of companies where the parent is called Embassy, but within that parent company are behavioral health sub organizations. So we have clinics for children with autism. We support individuals in their homes who have intellectual disabilities. And we also do job training for persons with and without ADD in the community. We also do a little bit of training, job training, coaching, things like that. So it’s a variety of different types of behavioral health support within the greater health care community.
I’ve been in behavioral health for about 11 years now and really started to understand the domain, the business and what’s critical in this area as well as all the different technologies that support it. Prior to that, I did consulting at EY for about seven years and was in a previous CIO role within these 11 years in behavioral health. At EY, I spent a lot of time with Fortune 500 companies, Fortune 1000, a variety of industries. So I crossed over technology, retail, manufacturing and healthcare. And as we’ll talk a little bit more, there are similarities in the way each of those industries of work. And then of course each of them has their particular needs and drivers.
Prior to all of this, I was a US air force officer and served for five years in logistics as well as being there in the early days of IT. That’s where I kind of got into networking and some other things. And if you really want to go far, far back, I’m an engineer by training, so I did mechanical and aerospace engineering and did a little bit of that early on as well as some software programming back then.
Gill-Boulos: We’ve interviewed a bunch of CIOs who all started out in the aeronautical space doing engineering and moving on from there. Tell us a little bit about how you decided to join Embassy Management as the CIO. And what does it mean to be a CIO for a company like Embassy?
Hailye: I was with another behavioral health organization Phoenix House where we helped individuals with mental health treatment and also substance abuse treatment. While I was there in my first CIO role, I implemented an electronic health record system and a BI platform. We used Tableau and implemented an integrated data analytics and reporting system for senior management, all the KPIs for the company.
I was then approached by the leadership of Embassy; the CFO, COO, and a couple other folks. They wanted a look at the electronic health record we were using. So I hosted them for a day and showed them how we did it. I introduced them to my team, looked a little bit at analytics and we had a great time.
Six months later, I got a call from their CEO saying and we got talking. She actually lived in Pennsylvania near where I was living at the time and I was kind of ready for our transition. We had got a new CEO in at Phoenix House and I wasn’t too keen on continuing on with the new leadership. There were some differences that I saw there from our previous leadership, so I decided to move on.
Gill-Boulos: It’s always really fun how that happens. One meeting and an encounter basically snowballs into the next opportunity. I’d like to take that and jump into some of the questions that we’ve had on our platform from other CIOs as well. Having had the consulting and accounting company background, what does it mean for you to run a tech organization like a business?
Hailye: First of all, you have to understand your organization’s business. There are some universal things that every business has. Your revenue cycle, your expense cycle, your support departments, leadership, management, the basics, those are all general. And then you dive down into your domain. I’ve learned a lot in the last 11 years about health care but also behavioral health. There are some very critical things that can make or break an organization–such as the quality of service. Quality of care is just so important. Data privacy is critical in that area.
Once you understand the kind of organization you’re at, then you have to understand how it fits into that. It’s funny to me as, even today, many IT organizations are still run in a manual way to a large extent and here we are trying to automate it. So what I’ve tried to do is break down IT processes into more automated processes and systems, using the same analytics in terms of our KPIs. In other words, how are we doing, how fast are we closing tickets, how many security issues are we having, what are the root causes? Project management is another process that has to be really understood.
And then we make sure all our team members clearly understand our processes. So we’ve been building for a while now what we call our IT operations book. In the old days, that was literally a binder with a lot of sections. Today, we use SharePoint. And we’ve made it basically a living electronic document where all our procedures, links to outside vendor information, is all in one place. And then all of our data from our ticketing system, from our various applications, feeds our own analytics, and we can see how we’re doing it on a regular basis. So it’s just applying basic business processes to the business of IT.
Gill-Boulos: And how are you teaming with business leaders across the company?
Hailye: That’s critical. I learned that way back in the consulting days. It’s about relationships and building trust and taking the time to sit down with your CEO, COO, your CFO, the marketing director, HR director, and just having a conversation, introducing yourself, your background, what you care about, what do they care about and how are they using technology?
Many times they’ll say to me, “I don’t really understand it. We use this software. We use these processes. I have this data, but I don’t really understand what’s going on behind the scenes.” So one thing I’ve tried to do is explain a little bit more about the technical side without getting technical and using analogies and other things like that to help people get over that hump. Once you do that, and you also listen and say, “How do you run your business? What are your processes?” I take that and then I relate it to the software and the infrastructure we’re using and try to figure out what’s going to work or what needs improvement.
Gill-Boulos: And do you think that your role as a CIO is becoming more strategic? The CIO role today is becoming more strategic, moving away from just the operation side of it.
Hailye: Absolutely. Every business, even your small businesses, are more and more reliant on technology communication. Just to go off on a tangent for a moment, generally I see three types of CIOs or IT leaders. And this is just my opinion. I try to make things a little bit more simplified when I look at systems. You’ve got your legacy–I call them your technical CIO. Some of them have been around for many years. They really understand infrastructure networks. Some are great communicators and some are not. Some are more kind of stay in their office and keep things going every day. But their limitation is that they may not be that interested in the actual business processes or understand it or have the time or inclination. So they’re marginalized, and they tend to be the CIOs that are in the back office making sure the phones are on, the network’s working and the servers are running. But that’s all, and the tickets are being responded to. But the business leaders don’t go to them to get ideas and innovate and talk about new things. That’s the legacy CIO, the technical one.
I also see another type of CIO called the business CIO. Very smart, they come from business domains typically. So they might come from a finance, marketing, or even one of the other business areas. They have strong knowledge of the business itself, typically MBAs or COOs, those kinds of backgrounds. But some of them lack technical understanding and so they can only have a conversation with their own staff and their own teams. They’re not able to dig into issues and pose ideas and even challenge when necessary. Technical people are sometimes tricky. They’ll say, “Oh, no, that can’t be done.” And if you know the technology, you’ll ask enough questions, and you’ll figure out that it really can be done. You have to try something different. But the business CIO sometimes can’t go deep enough to get to the solution.
And finally, the CIO that I think is most effective, is the integrated CIO. They have the business background, they have technical knowledge, and they bring it together. They’re able to translate, go back and forth between the two. They can dig deep with their own teams and challenge them. And that’s where CIOs have to go.
Gill-Boulos: As you look around in Washington State, among CIOs that you know, how would you think the CIOs divide up today? Are most folks technical, business, or have you seen more movement with integrated CIOs?
Hailye: I still communicate with colleagues. They’re back on the east coast. I spent many years in New York, work in New York. So the CIOs that I know are mostly from the east coast. I’m starting to understand and learn the community here. I really can’t give you a percentage but I would say that I still see mostly technical CIOs in my conversations. Even the technical CIOs are starting to understand how critical it is if they want to have a job for another couple of years and how critical it is to understand the business process. So they’re getting pushed towards understanding the business domain.
Gill-Boulos: So I know that you are in Washington state. How basically as a non-Valley CIO or CTO do you keep up with what’s changing with new technology?
Hailye: Everything’s available online these days. I attend webinars and I do meetings like we’re doing now. I talk to other CIOs, other colleagues, other business people. If you have a computer and a web browser, you can find out anything.
Gill-Boulos: As a non Silicon Valley CIO, what do you do to keep pace and keep up to speed with what’s going on in the Valley. What is the change of technology like in the Bay Area?
Hailye: I see the Valley as where the most innovative bleeding edge technologies come from. Eventually they come out into the rest of the industries in the nation. But typically, they’re starting with these highly technology-driven companies.
I attend conferences typically in the behavioral health arena. There’s an organization called OPEN MINDS out of Pennsylvania that leads the integration between business and technology in behavioral health. And I’ve been attending those conferences for the last 10 years. Typically, there are two or three around the country per month. So I try to go to one or more. And the last two I presented with our EMR vendor. We’re working with a vendor to rebuild their system to fit our industry better. And so we’ve been doing a pilot and so I presented with them.
And then there’s many other resources online: webinars, meetings like this where I can get an understanding of what’s going on. And then it’s a matter of seeing through to what is really the value of some of these new technologies. So I’ll give you two examples. There is a movement now that I think has finally matured with what’s called fifth-generation languages, software development, 5GL. Sometimes people call them low-code or no-code development. Some of the bigger companies are Microsoft Power Platform. So that’s PowerApps, Power BI, and Flow. You might’ve heard of Pegasystems who have been around for a while and then Appian.
And there are very interesting platforms. This opportunity for rapidly developing software has been a dream for 30 years. I’ve seen the early generation platforms, but I think it finally matured in the last three to five years. And you can now develop what I would call reliable enterprise platforms using this technology. I think you still need to know coding to fine tune what you’re building. So I think the low-code platforms are ideal because you can rapidly build them but then still get into certain areas and code where you need to. So we’re using the Power Platform over the last year and a half and we’ve built several quality tracking systems, maintenance work orders, and some other things that have really helped the organization run more smoothly.
The second area that I think is huge is the machine learning underneath the larger auspices of artificial intelligence. Machine learning to me is not that new because in engineering they’ve been doing that for many years. You look at data. You analyze it. You optimize. You try to figure out what it actually is telling you. But from a healthcare perspective, if you can apply machine learning in a way that looks at quality of care and then analyze it, it starts to really tell you what are the drivers that are improving your quality or detracting from your quality, as well as bringing in larger amounts of data. So using IoT devices and monitoring people’s rooms, looking at their environments, the room temperature, water temperature, all sorts of things like that. When that finally starts streaming in and is used effectively, it’s going to be huge for improving quality.
The flip side of that though–if you have a conversation like that with a COO or a director of a healthcare organization–many of them at first are going to say to you, “What about privacy? How are we going to deal with that aspect?” So you have to be ready to answer that question.
Gill-Boulos: And how do you answer that question today?
Hailye: I would say first of all, you have to be on a platform that is airtight. You’ve got to prove that the data at rest is encrypted. The data in transport, it’s encrypted too. Authentication is dual level authentication et cetera. So number one, it has to be a secure platform where the data is stored. Then you could start discussing individualizing the data so that you can still analyze it without knowing who specifically that came from and then, when it’s needed, the ability to take that information and apply it to individuals and improve their own care. So it’s levels of comfort and understanding.
Gill-Boulos: I have one more question that a lot of people on the Pulse platform have been talking about. How do you set up an IT organizational structure to make sure that you are on top of business priorities? What does your IT organizational structure look like today, and how are you thinking about it as you’re setting it up?
Hailye: It’s not that complicated. I think you need to have your senior IT leaders talking to the business leaders on a regular basis. Starting with me as the CIO, I’m out there meeting with my CFO, HR director, president, head of marketing and just having conversations with them. It could be breakfast. Could be lunch. It could be a short meeting during the day. It could be just stopping by and asking how things are going.
So it’s having those conversations and then periodically more formal reviews of KPIs and, of course, being involved in all the strategic business meetings and the board meetings. Then my applications director, I ask him to also talk to the directors but more focused on, is the software delivering what they need, what are the issues, how fast are we delivering, and what’s coming up, what’s new?
And then on the infrastructure side, which is a little bit more challenging because they’re not as plugged in to the business processes. I set up a system where the infrastructure director has a priority list with each of our regional directors: an IT priority list. Then they review that on a regular basis to say, “Are we hitting your priorities on this list?” It’s about having that routine communication.
Gill-Boulos: It seems as if the way that you’ve structured it is as a CIO, you’re focusing on what the business problems are and plugging in to each and every one of these businesses. And then your directors, whether on the application side or the infrastructure side, each are managing what their domains are. And how are you hiring beneath that? How many other folks report up to the directors? What does the organizational structure look like for you?
Hailye: So we’re regionally organized, so our infrastructure folks sit within one of five states, so Washington State, Idaho, California, Nevada, and New Mexico. And in each of those states, we have individuals who wear multiple hats. They do have to do networking, help desk, and hosting management. So that’s geographical. Our software team and data analytics team sits in our head office in Spokane, Washington. And interestingly enough, I actually work out of our second largest office in Tacoma on the other side of Washington state. Every other week I go over to the Spokane office to meet with the rest of the leadership team and the rest of my team. I think the CIOs today can be virtual and still get the job done using Zoom and other things like that.
And how do we hire to get the right folks in place? Communication skills are huge. Number one, can they explain something to you, whether it’s simple or complicated? Attitude is unbelievably huge. If you have one person with a bad attitude, it just throws a wrench into the whole system.
Gill-Boulos: I hear you there.
Hailye: And then finally, technical skills. Technical skills are tricky because I’ve found over the years that a person can interview very well and even present on their resume as being very technical. What we’ve started to do though, I started this years ago, is give them just a short online technical skillset test in their domain. And I surprisingly have found folks that just couldn’t complete the test. They interviewed well, their resume looked great, but when they finally had to apply their skills, they couldn’t do it.
Gill-Boulos: One last question, Are there any specific enterprise tools, software products that you’re using right now that you’re excited about that you want to tell the community about?
Hailye: Yeah. As I said earlier, I’m pretty excited about Microsoft’s Power Platform. Are you familiar with that at all?
Gill-Boulos: Yes, we are very familiar with that.
Hailye: I’ve worked with that now for about a year and a half. It’s got a little bit of a learning curve to it. It’s interesting, out of the box, you can build some very simple apps, but as soon as you start getting more complicated, that’s where there’s a gap, and you have to learn how to really implement it properly to get to the next level. But I think it’s extremely powerful. It’s cost effective because it’s essentially included in your Office 365 environment platform. So that’s one area I’m pretty excited about.
Gill-Boulos: That’s awesome. Thank you so much for joining us Michael in this AMA. And we’re just looking forward to hearing more from you and more about what’s next for you.
Hailye: Thanks for bringing me on.