The value of the CIO as anthropologist with Jason “JJ” James


This week I’m joined by Jason “JJ” James who is the CIO for Optima Healthcare Solutions. JJ is also the author of the upcoming book “Make IT work: Practical IT guide to mergers and acquisitions.”

In our conversation, JJ outlines how the CIO is similar to an anthropologist and must be a study of human tools, culture and development. We also discuss JJ’s perspective on how innovative technology is impacting the healthcare industry. During our conversation, JJ details his perspective on data including data toxicity and the value of data over time. Closing out our conversation, JJ talks about why hype is valuable and the role the CIO plays in the changing landscape.


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Podcast Episode

Episode Transcript

Tim Crawford:               Hello, and welcome to the CIO In The Know podcast, where I take a provocative, but pragmatic look at the intersection between business and technology. I’m your host, Tim Crawford, a CIO and strategic advisor at AVOA.

Tim Crawford:               This week I’m joined by Jason JJ James, who is the CIO for Optima Healthcare Solutions. JJ is also the author of the upcoming book, Make it Work: Practical IT Guide to Mergers and Acquisitions. In our conversation, JJ outlines how the CIO is similar to an anthropologist, and must be a study of human tools, culture, and development. We also discuss JJ’s perspective, on how innovative technology is impacting the healthcare industry. During our conversation, JJ details his perspective on data, including data toxicity, and the value of data over time. Closing out the conversation, JJ talks about why hype is valuable, and the role the CIO plays in the changing landscape.

Tim Crawford:               JJ, welcome to the program.

Jason JJ James:              Hi, Tim. Thanks for having me today.

Tim Crawford:               JJ, you’re the CIO at Optima Healthcare Solutions, and in a space that’s really interesting, and going through a lot of change today.

Jason JJ James:              Absolutely. So, when you think of healthcare in the space we operate in, which is post-acute care, which is everything outside of the hospital, there’s so much happening in that space. I think about my own mother who is in assisted living. That’s the space we operate in. She needs care, she needs additional care, but it’s not care that would come from a hospital. And it’s also not care that would come from perhaps myself. That ability to have physical therapy, that ability to be transported, and ensure her medicine is being given to her.

Jason JJ James:              As we look at an aging populace, more and more care will brought into the post-acute care space. Being able to serve the elderly that’s outside of the hospital.

Tim Crawford:               I love that. I’ve often said healthcare is probably the most ripe industry for disruption by technology than anything today.

Jason JJ James:              Absolutely. It was also one of those areas that I hadn’t worked in previously, and when I was approached to work in healthcare I was reluctant. I believe I told the CEO, as well as the executive recruiter, “Why are you coming to me? My entire background’s been built on transformation. No offense, but healthcare’s where innovation goes to die.” And they laughed and they said, “Well why do you say that?” I said, “Well in my experience, and this is not derogatory for all the CIOs that work in healthcare, but one of the things I often see is compliance leading to complacency.”

Jason JJ James:              I’ve supported data projects that were FISMA, and NIST, and PCI. Data is data. The compliance piece is important and obviously we focus on securing patient data above all else. But at the same time, I was not going to let complacency fit in with compliance. So when I gave that message and said, “Look innovation can be brought to bear. I would only be willing to do this if I could take all the transformation, all the enterprise experience and bring it to bear in healthcare in a way that could revolutionize the business.” They said, “Okay. That’s why we want to talk to you.”

Tim Crawford:               No, that’s great.

Jason JJ James:              And so here we are today.

Tim Crawford:               So before we dive into technology fitting in healthcare, I want to set the stage first because you have a really interesting background and perspective on the modern CIO, and the concept of the modern CIO as an anthropologist, and how the role of storytelling fits in. So maybe we could start there and kind of delve in to your perspective.

Jason JJ James:              Sure. So when you talk about anthropology, anthropology is the study of human culture, tools, and development. That fits perfectly in when we talk about the modern CIO, or the modern technologist. If you think about the tools that are empowering our lives, that become the daily aspect of our lives, they could be compared to, maybe not in a primal sense of hunting and gathering what ancient man did, but last night I used my smartphone as I held my four month old child and ordered DoorDash, and had food show up at my door. The idea is I still use those tools to empower my daily life.

Jason JJ James:              Think about the first time you held a smartphone and how that felt. That convergence of technology with this personal adaptation and how it fit into your life. I mean, think about how it fits in our modern lives. Even as a guy, we go in the bathroom, we used to read the shampoo bottles. Now we don’t have to do that because of the smartphone. But the idea is, it is now a part of our lives. And if you are a CIO where you understand the tools that are being used, you’ve got to understand that they’re being consumed by humans.

Jason JJ James:              So what does that cultural adaptation of that tool look like? How do you use it? When we talk about user experience, it’s about getting people excited. It’s about getting them passionate. It’s about getting them to adapt and adhere to the tool they’re using. So when we look at anthropology in a modern sense, we’re in this new dawn of anthropology where our tools are evolving at such a fast rate of human development. They’re affecting laws, and how cites are built, and how we collect data, and how we share data, and how we move from place to place.

Jason JJ James:              How often … You travel quite a bit, I travel quite a bit. We book our travel through our smartphones, our tablets. I haven’t spoken to a travel agent in the last decade. But we’ve used our tools to adapt to that and it’s a really interesting aspect.

Jason JJ James:              So as a CIO, you have to understand the human condition. How are humans going to use these tools? How is it going to fit in their lives? For us, from a healthcare perspective, how will it serve humans? How will it improve their overall healthcare plan?

Tim Crawford:               And if I think beyond just the tools, it’s not just about the tools, but it’s about the people too.

Jason JJ James:              First and foremost, it’s always about the people. Without that, we have nothing. This idea of, you know, humans thought of the tool that they would use, they refine the tools that we use, they adapt to the tools that they use. At the core of everything we do is a human element. We can’t forget that.

Jason JJ James:              We talk about user acceptance. User acceptance is a fancy way of saying human acceptance. I want everyone from a CIO to understand let’s put aside the technology for a moment and focus on the human use of the tool.

Tim Crawford:               What about the people that helped you get to this point? As you think about understanding the anthropology of IT, which is a concept that I as well have actually presented on for several years, but if you think about the concept of the people and you think about the people that have helped you get here, how has that impacted you?

Jason JJ James:              I was just talking to a group the other day about that. I live and work in metro Atlanta, but I grew up a couple hours south of here, small town in Alabama called Opelika, so right around Auburn University area. I am the first generation never to work in a cotton mill. And so at 15 when people were mowing grass and working in a textile mill, and working in a grocery store, I was laying out LANtastic networks and doing PC upgrades.

Jason JJ James:              I’ve always been drawn to technology, but early on when I started looking for people that could help me, and mentors in technology, they were far and few between. What I was finding at the time was that many of the technologists that I knew, they were holding on to that knowledge close to the vest, like it was some magical thing and they knew where the dragon was hiding the gold. And they knew the spell to let him release the gold. It was just one of these things they just didn’t want to share.

Jason JJ James:              I got really disappointed at the time. So I turned to my father, who was not a technologist, he was an HR director, and I said, “Dad I want to learn more about this but I’m just not finding those opportunities.” And he said, “Well why don’t you go and find people who you trust, respect, and admire their career, regardless of industry and ask them for their insights.” So I did.

Jason JJ James:              I continued that journey. I moved to Atlanta 19-1/2 years ago, when even then I was looking at people who were successful in their career, who were passionate about what they did, regardless of what they did. I have a lot of friends that work in the film industry. Atlanta’s a huge film market. In fact, the majority of the blockbusters filmed within the last couple of years here, were filmed here. I will speak to those friends and people successful in those industries.

Jason JJ James:              As I ascended from director into VP, I started looking for more CIOs that were willing to really share insights. One of those CIOs that was really receptive of that is a person you’ve had on your show, and a person we both know mutually very well, and that’s Jay Ferro. Jay at the time …

Jason JJ James:              By the way, little side story because I go off on these weird tangents. He and I just shared the stage earlier this week for a event where we sat down and had a fireside chat, and discussed technology and digital transformation. What was interesting about that, Jay reminded me as part of that, that he and I met four years ago this week at the Masters. We had both known each other and knew of each other, but didn’t know-know each other. Jay and I became friends during that event, and started hanging out and discussing ideas more. And Jay asked me to come work for him at EarthLink.

Jason JJ James:              Jay has a great eye for talent. And I say that because apparently he’s found this great talent to really make him look good. I joke with him about that, but at the same time I’m like, “Holy hell, that is brilliant.”

Tim Crawford:               To be clear, Jay’s not the talented one. It’s the people that he brings to work for him that are talented, that makes him look talented.

Jason JJ James:              I can neither confirm nor deny, but I will say he does find people that make him look good and can his job. Maybe that is a talent, so I-

Tim Crawford:               If you want to learn more, listen to episode five of the CIO In The Know podcast.

Jason JJ James:              That’s right. I joke with Jay, but he’s been great. He’s been a great mentor, he’s been a great friend. When we were working together at EarthLink, there was so much I learned from him. He has an amazing track record. You can’t deny it. The last six lieutenants of his, their next role was CIO.

Tim Crawford:               That’s awesome. That’s awesome.

Jason JJ James:              When I got the opportunity to take this role, which was my next role after working with Jay, I called him. I said, “Hey bud. Just to let you know, you know that track record of five? It’s now six.”

Tim Crawford:               That’s awesome.

Jason JJ James:              And he was extremely supportive.

Tim Crawford:               Let’s get into the meat and potatoes of the technology conversation a bit, and healthcare. I want to get your take on innovation and how it’s hitting healthcare because this is a hugely disruptive opportunity, in a good way. And that has to do with the IoT and edge. Where do you see these fitting in to helping both the industry, but also the patient?

Jason JJ James:              Well, it’s long overdue, and it’s long coming. What you’ve got is a aging populace that there’s so much information that can be gathered on the patient and patient improvement. So when you look at edge and IoT, one of the things that you see happening is the disruption is coming by gathering more of that information. So whether it be blood sugar monitoring, fall detection, blood pressure monitoring, and being able to report on that in real time and analyze that, is providing massive patient improvements.

Jason JJ James:              Let’s take the Apple watch, for instance. It was the first smartwatch to be approved by the FDA for echogardiogram. So people are noticing abnormalities in their heart just from a smartwatch and reporting it to their doctor.

Tim Crawford:               Wow.

Jason JJ James:              There’s a couple instances you can look at and people have, it saved their life. So what we’re seeing is that same kind of data being brought to bear within hospitals, within doctor’s office, and it will continue to occur. As we start to get the younger baby boomers and the older Generation X that are a lot more comfortable with technology, they want data that can be gathered from them in a way that is less painful.

Jason JJ James:              If you think about collecting that data at home, there’s less needles involved, there’s less procedures involved, and it can be fed to healthcare environments. Edge is important because the ability to transmit that faster, be available, secure that information, and get it back and forth from patient to doctor, will continue to improve.

Jason JJ James:              If you look at all these IoT ed end points, which the smart devices would be, it’s feeding data at an alarming rate. If you’re in a large, metropolitan area you could have thousands if not tens of thousands of patients’ data being collected and fed to you on an ongoing basis.

Tim Crawford:               That’s actually something I wanted to ask you about. When we look beyond just the devices themselves, and IoT, and edge, and how that will provide a lot of new opportunities for patients, which from a personal standpoint, I love that concept because needles is actually one of my big fears.

Jason JJ James:              Me too.

Tim Crawford:               You know, everybody has fears, whether it’s spiders or whatnot. Needles are mine. So I like the idea of that, but I’m also concerned about data and privacy. We talk about this concept, I call it the buzz phrase, not the buzz word but the buzz phrase, of data is the new oil. Is it? Or is there a downside, especially when you think about things like healthcare data and patient data?

Jason JJ James:              Absolutely. It’s both. We have to balance this idea of data being the new oil as in data being the new wealth. And the flip side of it, which is data toxicity. This idea of capturing too much data, data you don’t need, data you’re not going to use, retaining data than longer than you need, putting the patient at risk, putting just personal data at risk, and at the same time putting undue burdens on the infrastructure resources.

Jason JJ James:              Most organizations … I’ve yet to go in an organization that didn’t contain multiple files. Meaning you’ve got the same database replicated a hundred times because someone made a copy, and another person made a copy, and another person made a copy. So that puts of course, and undue burden on the IT team. It puts and undue burden on the infrastructure. But at the same time, each one of those become a risk factor. It becomes a risk factor in the sense of each one of those could contain personal data that could be exploited. Each one of those could contain data possibly that’s not even necessary.

Jason JJ James:              One thing if you look at, whether it be HIPAA or PCI, it’s you only gather data that should be relevant. Having too much of that can become, to my point, toxic.

Tim Crawford:               If you think about toxicity is a concept for a moment, is this a matter of we then need just a new truck load of policies? Or is this more about governance? Or is there something else that helps kind of guide us through this? Because it seems like just having a black and white discussion about this is data you need, this is data you don’t need, this is how you protect it or don’t protect it, that seems a little draconian and challenging.

Jason JJ James:              Right. It becomes challenging. I don’t know if the fact is it becomes draconian, because when you look at the flip side of it, which becomes risk to the patient, it becomes risk to your own organization should that data get breached, but it also becomes this idea of you’re retaining data as a legal risk. So anytime within any organization, data can fall under e-discovery. The long you contain data, the longer you serve data, the more it can be brought into scope. That’s not a reason to do it.

Jason JJ James:              The reason to do it is just the sheer protection of personal data. So when we look at this, it takes more than just policy. And especially when we talk about the emergence of IoT. Because data’s going to be collected at such an alarming rate, policies perhaps won’t contain it all. It has to be automated in a fashion that you create a data lifecycle. How is data born? How does it live? How does it age out? And how does it die? Much like the patient, continuing this idea of it ages with the patient and eventually fades out. But this lifecycle has to be brought to bear from a responsibility standpoint.

Jason JJ James:              When we talk about just the protection of data, containing too much, especially if an organization’s not using it, there’s always information that will be generated by IoT and other systems that companies analyzing big data, looking at analytics, can use. But even with that, it has to be brought into a scope that’s manageable and also serves the patient the best.

Jason JJ James:              But the same is true and can be applied to the enterprise. How much data becomes too much data? And when does data become a liability instead of a potential source of income?

Tim Crawford:               Yeah. I think this is a challenge, even for those outside of healthcare that might be listening.

Jason JJ James:              Absolutely.

Tim Crawford:               This is a challenge because you’ve got data policies in place, but they aren’t necessarily adhered to, which creates a liability in its own right. Because now you’ve got data that’s outside of the policy that starts to negate the value of the policy, from a data discovery standpoint, should you have to go down that path.

Tim Crawford:               But then the other piece is, you get the proliferation of data just because people don’t know what the value is, or there’s a perceived belief that it’ll be more valuable in the future than it is today, so let’s hold on to it.

Jason JJ James:              Right. But in doing so, obviously the longer you hold onto it, the greater the risk. Not only from the risk of losing or compromising personal data. I mean, let’s take off the healthcare hat. That data could be personally identifiable data, which could be a risk. And at the same time, the idea is it leads itself to a host of other exploits, not only within your own organization, but that personal data. And at the same time, a legal risk.

Jason JJ James:              I encourage everybody at spring, it’s time for spring cleaning. Go back to your infrastructure team and say, “Hey look: what are we storing? How are long are we storing it?” Be aware of that. That might be one of those projects that you move into an organization and you just don’t think about. But it’s there and the risk is there.

Tim Crawford:               Again, maybe from a personal standpoint, I talk about needles, but on a happier note, one of the things that I actually find liberating, and I don’t see this happening as much within enterprises, but when I personally go through and do a little bit of digital detox, a little bit of digital housekeeping to get rid of that old stuff that might be sitting around, kind of collecting dust, if you will. Collecting digital dust, if you will. And maybe that’s a cultural thing that we need to infuse more within the enterprise process.

Jason JJ James:              The question is, do you equate it to the modern philosophy of, do you hold the data, does it bring you joy? If not, let it go, so to speak. I’m not that minimalistic, especially when it comes to data. But at the same time, start with … To your point, start with your own system. Start at home and do that digital housekeeping.

Tim Crawford:               Yeah. So if we look a little further out and we think about the crystal ball of innovation, and I’m going to ask you to look at your crystal ball, we think about things like artificial intelligence, and there’s a lot of conversation about AI, and AI’s going to solve so many problems that we have today. And driverless cars are going to be the wave of the future. How much of this is reality? And how much of this is potential in terms of the impact, specifically to healthcare and patients?

Jason JJ James:              Well I think what we’re seeing right now, some of it is hype. But hype is important. Hype makes us understand that the idea is possible. Whether it’s there yet or not. So let’s take the hype. There’s nothing wrong with that. The reality is, it’s coming. If you look at …

Jason JJ James:              Let’s talk about driverless cars for a second. Every major automotive manufacturer is spending over half a billion dollars investing in driverless cars because it will change society. I think about my own daughter who’s four months old today, she may never own a car. It just may be a service, much like Lyft or Uber, or things we haven’t even foreseen, that she can call and demand.

Jason JJ James:              Where I get excited about that is how it plays into healthcare. I think about my own mother. She’s in assisted living. I do a lot of the care in taking her to the doctor, and making sure she gets where she needs to go. Having driverless cars means it could pick her up, drop her off. Think about that from a patient, healthcare perspective. You have a lot of patients that live in areas where public transit is lacking. And I would say unless you live in New York City, every city in America has lacking public transit. The elderly have a hard time arranging, getting to the doctor. Some don’t drive anymore. Some can’t drive anymore. So bringing that to bear allows them to get there.

Jason JJ James:              If you look at AI for example, that will touch every part of our lives. You’ve got people that are really scared about it because they can’t foresee what that means. If you look at a researcher at Showa University in Japan, he’s using AI to more accurately identify and early detect colorectal cancer than traditional physicians have been able to do in the last 10 years. You’re talking about months to a year earlier. That saves peoples’ lives.

Jason JJ James:              But if you take the whole AI approach and people get really scared about what that means, it’s because they can’t foresee how it will change. Would it eliminate their job? It might. But if you go back to the 18th century in America, really early 18th century, 90% of Americans, their job supported the farming industry. If you move into today, that’s less than 2%. But if you’d go back in time and told the economists of the day, “Hey by the way, 88% of your jobs will be done in 200 years”, it would’ve scared the hell out of them.

Tim Crawford:               Absolutely.

Jason JJ James:              There would have been panic. They would have thought Armageddon is nigh. So the idea is, we don’t know what jobs it will create. We don’t know what services it will create. The hype that is today will become the reality of tomorrow.

Tim Crawford:               I had this conversation on the previous episode where we talked about how innovation and technology over the years has disrupted the jobs and workforce. The examples of that, one was the automobile. Going from the industry of horses and drivers to automobiles. And then another was the assembly line. And then a third, and probably something that you directly think about, your family could apply to, is the tractor.

Jason JJ James:              Right.

Tim Crawford:               Think about the disruption that the tractor brought to farming, and how that changed things. But in the wake of all of these innovations, and all of these disruptions were an increase in jobs.

Jason JJ James:              Absolutely.

Tim Crawford:               And an increase in opportunity. I feel like we just haven’t had that part of the conversation yet, but I think that would be a great piece to go with.

Jason JJ James:              Yeah. I think it goes back to the idea, people are afraid of what they don’t know. I am very optimistic about-

Tim Crawford:               Great point.

Jason JJ James:              … the future. I don’t think AI is going to be this Thanos, so to speak, that comes and wipes out half the population. I think what it’s going to do is become this new, innovative driver in our economy and our culture from an anthropological perspective that enables us and frees us up to do things that we’ve never done before.

Jason JJ James:              If you even look at the low hanging fruit with automation and orchestration when it comes to AI, even within the data center you talk about provisioning, and monitoring, and reporting. That will probably be done from an AI perspective, and empower capacity planning like we’ve never seen.

Tim Crawford:               I love it. As we wrap on this episode, what excites you most about the role of the CIO and where technology is headed?

Jason JJ James:              What excites me is this idea is it’s ever changing. This is what got me into technology. This is what keeps me in technology. But it’s changing at an alarming rate. One of the things I think of all the time, and I argue about with the old CIOs, much older than myself, is that I think the job is harder today than it ever has been, from the sense that it transforms an alarming rate.

Jason JJ James:              I feel like if you were a CIO in the 80s, and the days of data processing, you didn’t have disruption coming every few months. All the best hardware, all the best computers were in the office. If you look at the consumerization of IT and how that’s changed the enterprise, and how it’s changing healthcare, this idea is: I’ve got a device and it’s collecting data. I want to use that data. I want to use that device.

Jason JJ James:              It’s driving it at a faster pace than ever before. We have to adapt. We have to understand, again, back to the whole anthropology analogy, that the tools that we’re using are in a constant state. If you’re a CIO that is not embracing constant disruption, ongoing disruption, and disruption happening at a faster pace, then the role’s no longer for you.

Jason JJ James:              It excites me that it is changing that fast. If you look at it, what we’re seeing right now is a convergence of science fiction into reality. How far off is our smartphone from a Star Trek communicator or recorder?

Tim Crawford:               Yeah, no, you’re right. You’re right.

Jason JJ James:              But it’s happening. Driverless cars. I think about that all the time. I live in Atlanta. It takes me over an hour to go 20 miles most days. So this idea of getting in a car, yeah, I could get more work done. But I also have a new born. I could sleep a little bit longer. That’d be great.

Tim Crawford:               Yeah. Come to Los Angeles. Traffic’s bad here too.

Jason JJ James:              Yeah, absolutely.

Tim Crawford:               So before we do wrap, I want to bring up your book. I’m hoping you can give us just a quick teaser about it.

Jason JJ James:              Sure.

Tim Crawford:               It’s called Make It Work: … it being the play on IT … Practical IT Guide to Mergers and Acquisitions. I know you’re in the final stages, but just give us a quick teaser on it.

Jason JJ James:              Sure. So hoping to debut by Q4 of this year. It is a practical guide for IT to identify a merger and acquisition that might be happening in their own organization. The data and due diligence needed. How to look for synergies. And how effectively to not only handle a merger and acquisition, but also how to survive one.

Tim Crawford:               That’s great. JJ, we’re going to have to leave it right there. Thanks for joining the program today.

Jason JJ James:              Thanks, Tim.

Tim Crawford:               Looking forward to having you back and continuing the conversation. I always love the conversations that we’ve had since we’ve met just recently, and I’m looking forward to many more in the years to come.

Jason JJ James:              Me too. Thank you, sir.

Tim Crawford:               For more information on the CIO In The Know podcast series, visit us online at Or you can find us on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, Spotify, and SoundCloud. Don’t forget to subscribe and thank you for listening.

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