Many organizations struggle with the ability to pivot quickly. Their operations run just fine until something changes—a crisis like a global pandemic, for example—and their current model no longer works. That’s where enterprise planning comes in, according to Christian Aboujaoude, chief technology officer at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California. Above all else, he says, technology leaders need to consider this: recognizing the ever-increasing rate of change in technology, are the solutions you’re designing now only suitable for now?
“It’s imperative for organizations to plan solutions that have the capability to scale and evolve,” he explains. “Building a solid, scalable foundation is always important, whether there’s a pandemic or not. As long as you’ve done that, you’re on the right track.”
Aboujaoude is an IT professional whose two decades of experience includes data centers, IT disaster recovery, server platforms, and vendor management. He seems incapable of burning out—a trait he attributes to his own curiosity and continued fascination with the technology space. It’s an attitude that has paid off for the evolution of Keck Medicine during an extremely challenging period for healthcare.
A Strong Foundation
Aboujaoude says Keck’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, from a technology standpoint, has been bolstered by the fact that it was ahead of the curve in enterprise planning and cloud integration.
“This might be different from some other organizations, but I think we were already so far down the road on our cloud adaptation journey when the pandemic began that we were able to continue to evolve without being challenged with hardware needs and other concerns on that front,” he says. “We had resources and environments relatively stood up prior to the pandemic, which helped us accelerate the migration of our users and patients without impacting operations.”
That acceleration still required a huge investment by the IT team, and Aboujaoude says the bevy of cheat sheets and educational material the team rolled out to aid the migration—along with “how-to” documents and YouTube tutorials for users—was extensive. But while there were some major changes, the team found that many of their existing systems were able meet new challenges.
Aboujaoude believes the road map that the IT team had in place was critical to weathering the last two difficult years. In a period of high stress, it’s incredibly easy to lose track of just how teams, departments, and organizations found themselves in uncertain circumstances. A road map doesn’t just guide the journey to avoid potential obstacles, it also helps drive growth and evolution toward a technological destination. While that destination is never fixed in the world of tech, the vision and journey have to be planned and ready for alteration as necessary.
It’s a complex metaphor, but Aboujaoude has a simpler explanation. “Think about your PC. It wasn’t just built to run an Internet browser; it was built for so many different things. If you want an organization that can scale and expand, you have to build enterprise solutions that can spread across your organization and accommodate challenges like the pandemic.”
While many technology departments found themselves seeking out new vendors, new partners, and new answers for questions they hadn’t had to ask themselves before, Aboujaoude took a different approach. “I didn’t add any new vendors to my portfolio,” he says. “What I did was capitalize on the existing relationships with our major partners like Cisco and Microsoft to continue to build a scalable environment and infrastructure that is resistant to being derailed by events like the pandemic.”
A Constant Challenge
When it comes to the visionary thinking required of IT leaders, Aboujaoude says that people who are just beginning their careers may need to continue to challenge themselves to develop the skills that enable them to look beyond the present moment.
“I think I struggled a lot before I learned how to do this,” Aboujaoude admits. “Someone who has just started in the space may not understand what enterprise planning really means. The idea is that you are able to envision and take action that will ultimately translate into less resource requirements and less impact and pressure on your team in the long run. If you’re thinking about today, think about today three or four years from now.”
It’s a skill he’s worked to build out with his team, and one that is imperative when implementing enterprise-level solutions. The team development, telehealth services ramp-up, and continued challenges of building a best-in-class technology organization in a pandemic environment don’t seem to weigh all that heavily on Aboujaoude. While he acknowledges that his department has been extremely busy, Aboujaoude welcomes the challenge. “It’s important that we are always engaged and working hard to push things forward,” he says. “As long as 30 to 40 percent of my day offers me the chance to tackle something new, it lets me know that I’m continuing to push and challenge myself. I love helping people, and I haven’t gotten tired of it after twenty-two years.”