Health Data Management recently announced the honorees in its program to recognize the Most Powerful Women in Healthcare IT. All will be recognized at our event May 12 in Boston. In leading up to that event, HDM editors are highlighting some of the honorees—today, we feature LaVerne Council, who is assistant secretary for information and technology and chief information officer at the Department of Veterans Affairs in the office of information and technology. At the VA, she oversees the day-to-day activities of the agency’s $4 billion budget and more than 8,000 IT employees.

LaVerne Council
LaVerne Council

Name: LaVerne Council

Title: Assistant Secretary for Information and Technology and Chief Information Officer

Organization: Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Office of Information and Technology (OI&T)

Years in HIT: 8 months

Previous Responsibilities:

  • CEO, Council Advisory Services LLC, 2012-2015
  • Chairman, National Board of Trustees, March of Dimes, 2005-2010
  • Corporate Vice President and Chief Information Officer, Johnson & Johnson, 2006-2011 (The first global Chief Information Officer in Johnson & Johnson’s 125-year history.)
  • Global VP, IT, Dell, 2000-2006
  • Partner, Global Leader for Supply Chain, Life Science and Hi-Tech Practices, Ernst & Young, 1997-2000

Current Job Responsibilities:
Council leads executive oversight for all activities related to VA's $4 billion Office of Information and Technology. She oversees the day-to-day activities of more than 8,000 FTE IT employees who support the largest integrated health care organization in the United States (VHA), one of the largest benefit administration groups (VBA), one of the largest cemetery networks (NCA) as well as all of the support functions within the Department of Veteran Affairs. As the single leadership authority for VA’s Office of Information and Technology (OI&T), Council is the principal advisor to VA’s Secretary on all matters relating to the management of VA’s IT assets.

Primary Achievements:

  • Creation and delivery of a new OI&T strategy to Congress, outlining the goals and initiatives needed to drive immediate positive change for both VA employees and Veterans.
  • Rollout of an aggressive HIT project timeline, and a training program to ensure projects are completed within a given timeframe.
  • Establishment and delivery of an Enterprise Program Management Office (EPMO), which is designed to improve health record modernization efforts by ensuring that program portfolios align to strategic objectives.
  • Creation of the Veteran-focused Integration Process (VIP), which creates a shift away from typical organizational management and enables VA to deliver high-quality, secure IT capabilities to the Veteran through streamlined processes that eliminate redundancy in reviews, approvals, and communications.
  • Formation of the Joint Legacy Viewer (JLV), a read-only web-based health record viewer that allows both VA and Department of Defense (DoD) users to see a Veteran or Service-member’s complete health history, from both Departments, integrated on a single screen. The program has bolstered viewers from a few hundred to 19,000, now adding 1,000 new users each month.
  • Development of the Enterprise Cybersecurity Strategy, which updated a plan that had not been revamped since 2006 and included a new platform and new standards.

Impact on HIT:
The success of health care delivery to Veterans is largely dependent on the efficiency of the health applications created within OI&T. That said, in her relatively short tenure with the VA and OI&T, Council’s vision has proven larger than simple delivery or IT services; instead, it establishes a different and unique organizational approach to enable VA to execute its mission of providing quality health care to Veterans.

Perhaps the greatest effect Council has had on her organization’s IT is one that applies her previous IT leadership experience in the commercial sector, and helps the VA manage its IT investment to maximize value, minimize risk and ensure transparency. As a result, the VA is on target to move from a traditional government model to one that embodies a competitive commercial organization.

For example, with the goal of impacting service delivery and strengthening business partnerships, Council established four new organizations under OI&T: Account Management, Quality and Compliance, Data Management, and Strategic Sourcing.

Council has also changed the focus of VA’s IT service delivery model. Her office shifted its focus from operations to the “customer” in order to support Veteran needs. Her team created a cultural shift that removes the focus from the OI&T team and places it where it belongs – on the Veteran. As a result, her office is streamlining a variety of workflow processes within OI&T to make Veterans’ healthcare and benefits more accessible and obtainable.

Council's enterprise IT strategy has also laid the groundwork for key initiatives, such as implementation of an enterprise cybersecurity plan. That strategy addresses the protection of Veteran information and VA data, defending VA’s cyberspace ecosystem, protecting VA infrastructure and assets, enabling effective operations, and recruiting and retaining a talented cybersecurity workforce. An Enterprise Cyber Security Strategy Team under OI&T will focus on developing an actionable plan to drive the organization forward on the right path for cybersecurity.

IN HER OWN WORDS:
Management Philosophy:
Technology is nothing without the people behind it, and it’s everything about the people who use it. A people-oriented focus produces an efficient, responsive, and mission-driven organization.

Leadership Style:
A healthy organization must be centered on principles, and I foster the principles of transparency, accountability, innovation, and teamwork. By embracing these four principles as a team in all things, we give ourselves a foundation to take on any of the challenges of the day…. as a unified team. As a transformational leader, I also embrace the tenets of energy, urgency, passion, ambition, and continuous learning. I believe that experience and skill is meant to be shared, and that change agents respond to the challenges of a high-velocity environment and the challenges it brings.

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