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C2C News, Google Cloud Partners, Healthcare and Life Sciences

Board Moods: Paul Novak, CIO of Community Health Systems

By Stephen C2C | March 13, 2023

From August 29-31, C2C will be onsite at Google Cloud Next '23 to meet face-to-face with the Google Cloud community and help our members connect with their peers and leaders in the cloud ecosystem. C2C is excited to take this opportunity to bring the C2C Board of Directors together in front of our broader network. For our members who will be joining us, as well as those of you who will be following along remotely, the Board Moods series is our effort to make our board members more accessible and available to the members they serve. For the first installment in this series, we sat down with Paul Novak ( @paul_novak ), CIO of Community Health Systems, to discuss his journey from consulting to organizational leadership, the reputation and changing role of IT, and the importance of education and family.


Tell me about something important to you outside of your career in technology.


The thing that's driven most of my decisions over the last twenty, twenty-five years has been family. I've been married to my wife now for almost thirty years. It'll be thirty years in two years. I've got three kids, two boys who are twenty-four and twenty-two, and a girl who's nineteen. I used to work for Accenture, that's where I first started my career. In the age of consulting, and especially back in the nineties when I started, you were flying out Sunday night and flying back Friday evening, and so your ability to have those kinds of relationships outside of work was limited at least to the weekend. When I quit Accenture, mainly it was because of my ability to live my life and support my family as I thought was the right way to do that. For me, that's always been a driving decision: what's going to allow me to have the relationships with my wife and my kids, and do the things that I did growing up with my parents, and have that kind of life outside of work.


In your own words, walk me through your background and your journey to where you are in your career today.


When I started, it was Anderson consulting. I spent fourteen years there, and halfway through it moved over to Accenture. Other than the travel, I really enjoyed working at Accenture. I thought the people that I worked with were extraordinary. I got to go from project to project to project, and typically I was given significantly more experience than I probably had had in the past. That was the way it worked in consulting. As soon as you got comfortable in a role, they'd move you on to the next role, or the bigger role.

I had started out in the SAP space so most of my career was spent doing ERP and SAP work and really helping to build that capability within Accenture. After fourteen years, I decided to go on to corporate. We were in Chicago at the time. We moved back to Minnesota, where I grew up, and I went to work for a company called Ecolab. They were starting up a brand new SAP implementation and needed someone who could help run their center of excellence and the program. That started my stint in the corporate world. I spent a couple years at A.O. Smith and spent a number of years at Target as a senior director. That was my first push into a non-ERP or a non-SAP space. I was supporting all of HR and legal and store security, so I had a number of different business units that I was supporting at the time, and that was the first time I started to get more into partnering with the business, working with the business. Up until then I was more on the technical side.

I started my own company called Novacon Solutions out in Minnesota, and that was basically doing SAP consulting at a pretty high level. I did that for a number of years and was successful at that. I had a couple subcontractors that were working for me, and really had somewhat of a growing business. Then the kids were starting to get to that middle school range and we said a couple things: one, let's get back into corporate, for a little bit more security as college is coming up, and two, we really want to move down South. My wife is from Indiana, I'm from Minnesota, and we got tired of the winters. I opened up my search and found a job with A.O. Smith out of Nashville. A.O. Smith's a very large water heater manufacturer. They were just starting an SAP program and looking for someone to come in and be a vice president of their infrastructure and operations, as well as help run their SAP implementation.

We moved the family down to Nashville. My son was starting high school and my kids were in the middle school, elementary range. I spent eight years at A.O. Smith helping to build and grow their company and really manage their entire environment. When I left, I took a job at Community Health Systems, back in 2020, in the middle of COVID. I started as their CTO, and after about a year the COO had left, and they offered me the CIO job. That's what I've been doing for the last two years.


How do you think C2C's mission aligns with your guiding principles?


Something that I've told my team since I started, both as the CTO and the CIO, is one person is never as smart as a group of individuals. There's a reason why crowdsourcing of certain things has become so successful in social media, and that is: when you get a number of different brains together with different experiences, different ideas, things that have worked and not worked, you can tap into that experience, and you can actually get much farther much faster and be more successful. The things that I have told my team are: I want to rely on them to make decisions. I want to rely on the people that are actually down there doing the work at the ground level. They're the ones that know the most about what's actually happening at that level and can help influence and work the right decisions in the long run. I think you run into problems where you have someone who's sitting at the top thinking that they know everything making those decisions, and I think that feeds right into this type of community.

Being in the SAP space, I was at the forefront when ASUG started, and helping to build what that community was. When you had this growing community of SAP clients as SAP started to really take off in the nineties, there were a lot of questions. You had code documentation that was in German, and so you had no idea what was happening. Starting out, it was very immature in certain ways. By taking groups of people, pulling them together, and talking about issues, you found solutions, best practices. Pulling those people together really helped speed up the problem resolution, time to market, new ideas, innovation, all of those things that you want, that you say, "Oh, this is what a successful team looks like." Pulling together that information is just as important as running your own team. When I got more involved in the Google space and I heard about this organization, that's when I started to get excited again to be at the forefront of creating something that can really help a lot of different companies.


What makes you as an IT decision-maker feel particularly invested in Google Cloud?


In some ways it was the decision that was handed to me when I started. When I started as CTO, the company had already moved off of the Microsoft productivity suite and moved over to the G-suite, so we were already there. We had made our decision to go with Google Cloud for our enterprise data warehouse. When I came in as the CTO, I was the owner of those two spaces, so I said, "Well, if I'm going to own this space, I'm going to make the most of it and ensure that we can be successful," not only with not as mature a public cloud environment as you've seen with AWS or Azure, but also taking what had traditionally been more of a retail or individual customer product and turning it into an enterprise product. Helping not only to be successful at CHS, but also to help build those products and make sure that they're as successful as we are.


You're a member of several boards, including the board of Lipscomb University in Nashville. Do you see education as a part of your role as an IT decision-maker?


I think so. I've seen so much when it comes to education. Typically when students are going into college, and especially when they're going into computer science (my degree was in computer engineering), it's a very academic view of the world. I felt that with all my years of experience both within consulting and within the industry or the corporate world, I was able to provide some insight, whether it was curriculum or being a mentor. They used to do things called office hours, where you'd go sit in an office, and so you had a vice president or a CIO of a company sitting in there if you wanted to ask some questions about things. Those types of things were very powerful and helped lead people in the right direction. They're not only getting insight from their professors about specific educational topics. They're also getting insight into how the world works.


What do you hope to see happen in terms of IT and business transformation in the future?


Transformation's always been something that I've been a part of. Back in the consulting days, we were transforming every company we were going to. From a C2C perspective, there's a couple things about transformation in terms of what we're trying to do. We are trying to take advantage of cloud technology to be able to make better business decisions in a more efficient and effective manner. Taking advantage of Google's data warehousing capabilities, not only can we present data and information in a way that's easy to read, in a way that's fast and responsive, but we can also scale up and scale down in a way that we never could have before. For instance, as we're running financial reports, the vast majority of our financial data warehouse reporting is at month end, so our ability to ramp that up during a month-end process and then ramp back down gives us the ability to close our books faster and to make better decisions.

There's the ability to transform the way we're making decisions and getting data out from a cloud perspective, as well as taking advantage of today's technology to make data, presentation of data, and access to data easier to use, better to use. Making smarter data. Then you suddenly fold in all of the AI capabilities that you can take on top of that, so now not only are we giving people data, but we're actually processing some of that data to help make better decisions. We're making recommendations based on the data that we're seeing. It goes from seeing data to seeing relevant information that's going to help our business users be more effective on their end. 

To me, the IT transformation is doing things that more effectively to help the business. IT never has a great reputation, because the only time people talk about IT is when it's not working. By presenting new tools, new capabilities, better availability, faster speed, suddenly you're getting people looking at this and saying, "Hey, wow, this is actually good. This is helpful. We hadn't seen this type of data, this type of presentation in the last fifteen years." We're getting a lot of these little wins based on some of the newer technologies that we're putting in place, and to me that's transformational just in terms of how IT is looked at, the morale of the team. We as a team get used to getting beat down quite a bit, and now suddenly we're showing that we can present wins to the business.


Register now for Google Cloud Next '23 on the official Google Cloud Next website.

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