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Q&A: Strengthening Health Care IT

WellSpan CIO Buddy Gillespie on dealing with IT vendors.
Robert Rosen is keenly aware of IT buying trends in both the public and private sectors. As president of Share Inc., the 50-year-old IBM user group, he keeps a watchful eye on Big Blue's product portfolio and helps influence future product offerings.

But in his other role, as CIO of the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases within the National Institutes of Health, Rosen uses the federal government's competitive-bidding process to full advantage: "Depending on how hungry the vendors are, we can get some pretty good pricing," he says.

Recently, Rosen has noticed vendors adopting more flexible pricing models for government customers. "In a lot of cases, vendors are recognizing there should be more freedom from a buying perspective," he says. Indeed, they're "more aggressive in talking about alternate methods of financing purchases, including product loans and leasing models."

Despite vendor consolidation, Rosen still sees a range of choices. "The number of cold calls I've received from software vendors has probably quadrupled in the past year," he says.

But Rosen admits to other worries. Budget ceilings and hiring freezes hamper him more than CIOs in the private sector. And a government mandate to streamline federal staffing constrains him even further. The A-76 competitive-sourcing initiative requires all agencies to compare internal employee costs with contracted work. Aside from the tremendous hit this practice takes on morale, contractors are actually more expensive, Rosen says. Still, his group is 60% to 70% contracted workers, with the percentage going up each year.

With private-sector IT spending on the rise and government CIOs continually bogged down by hiring restrictions, Rosen doesn't envy vendors trying to navigate the buyer landscape. "It's a challenge right now [for vendors] to figure out how to market to customers," he says. "I'm glad to be on the buying side and not the selling side."—Derek Top