CIO Josh Robinson: Technology drives business solutions

"I didn't go to school to be a technologist — don't claim to be."

Josh Robinson

Josh Robinson is chief information officer for Sanford Health. Here, he shares his background in finance and nontraditional path to becoming CIO, his belief in the importance of technical capabilities leading new solutions across the organization, and his advice on the opportunities available at a strategic growth company.

Early life and educational background

Josh Robinson grew up on a turfgrass farm about an hour north of the Twin Cities.

He attended Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota, about 90 minutes northwest of the Twin Cities, earning his degree in finance. About five years ago, he completed his MBA through the University of South Dakota.

“I took an nontraditional path to get to the CIO role. I didn’t go to school to be a technologist — don’t claim to be.”

After his undergraduate years, Robinson returned to assist in running the farm, which is owned and operated by his dad and two of his uncles.

Joining Sanford Health

Robinson and his wife, Kristen, decided they didn’t want to raise a family in the Twin Cities. So they made the move to North Dakota, the state his wife is originally from.

Moving to Fargo in 2011, there were few places Robinson was interested in working. He wanted to be a part of Fortune 500-type company that was progressive and visionary with lots of opportunities. This made Sanford Health an attractive prospect.

Robinson took a position as an accounting supervisor at the medical center. Just over a year prior, MeritCare of Fargo merged with Sanford Health to become the Fargo region of Sanford Health’s enterprise. Robinson’s early days were focused on the actual integration, which was just beginning. “I was boots on the ground, helping to integrate the accounting and finance functions of those two organizations,” he says.

Gradually, Robinson moved up the ladder in finance in the Fargo market, his final position being a corporate role. Then, he and his family made the transition to Sioux Falls when he was asked to take on the role of chief information officer (CIO) roughly two years ago.

Roles and responsibilities

At that time, what was then the Information Technology Department had completed its major objectives, the primary one being the implementation of Epic, our electronic medical records system. It was at a point where it was reassessing where the department needed to go and how it needed to grow along with Sanford Health. Robinson was at the table as the finance partner for corporate services.

The group was not looking for a technologist to take the lead. They already had plenty of people with technical gifts.

“What they really needed was someone who could understand and translate the business side of Sanford Health and lead the team through the business transformation,” Robinson says. The group felt Robinson had both of those capabilities.

In April 2017, Robinson began his position as CIO. “It’s ever-evolving,” he says. “There’s a big component of the role that’s ‘other duties as assigned’ —  which is actually a good thing. I actually enjoy the variability.”

Technology Solutions’ primary responsibility is the delivery of core applications to the organization, the two biggest being Workday (One Source) and Epic. But there are actually over 1,200 applications that Technology Solutions is responsible for in some capacity.

The other piece of the department’s responsibility deals with hardware, like conference rooms and PCs.

“Technology is moving from the back-office-type support function to be really on the front lines with business leaders and operators to help enable and drive business solutions.”

Accomplishments and goals

Reflecting on eight years at Sanford Health, Robinson finds many touchstones. As an example of a concrete achievement, he was a part of the development of Sanford Medical Center Fargo before making the transition to Sioux Falls.

But Robinson also points to more intangible changes he’s helped to make. Foremost is helping to transform the leadership in Technology Solutions from top-down to bottom-up over the last two to three years. “That’s been a big mindset shift,” he says.

Looking ahead — or thinking about what keeps him up at night, as Robinson describes it — he would like to make sure his team is doing enough, fast enough to maintain pace with the strategic growth of Sanford Health.

“We can’t do anything around here anymore without technology being a leader. We’ve gone from technology following the business to technology keeping pace with the business. And what I’d love to say in another year or two is that technology is in a position where the business is growing into the technical capabilities.

“That’s what I’d love to say in two years. … No, one year.”

Growing family, growing organization

He and his wife have four kids, ages 7, 5, 3 and 1. Kristen stays home with the kids, and Josh tells her at least three or four times a day that she has the tougher job.

“We’ve got a fairly large, young family, so we don’t have any hobbies outside of family life,” Robinson says.

Their kids participate in activities, like baseball, which keep them busy in the evenings.

In his years at Sanford Health, Robinson has found that if you lean into the changes that come with being a part of a strategic growth company, “there are quite literally limitless opportunities in an organization like that.”

Lastly, Robinson says he always loves to hear feedback. The goal of Technology Solutions is to “provide people, process and technology to deliver speed, scale and value.” In order to get better, they need to find out how they can do that across an organization that employs almost 50,000 people.

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