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Deep Dive: Tim Ryan, CIO at Aegis Sciences Corporation

Climb the ladder, embrace the journey.
Kelsey Brandt
Contributing Writer
Aegis Sciences Corporation Building

IT leaders like Tim Ryan play a pivotal role in steering their organizations towards the future in an industry driven by ceaseless change and innovation. With a rich history that melds technology with business strategy, Ryan offers a deep dive into his journey, current IT initiatives, and the evolution of tech talent in an exclusive interview with The National CIO Review.

Walk us through your career path. How did you decide to pursue a career in technology, and how did you get to where you are now?

In college, I chose to major in math with plans to become a teacher, however my required computer classes captured my imagination and set me on a new path. Early on in my career, I worked for Ricoh, where I was part of a team that built a well architected system from the ground up and enabled me to learn technical intricacies, especially in databases. My time at Ricoh taught 10+ years of technical learnings and knowledge in the 3 years I was there. That experience was a cornerstone, setting me up as a database expert and laying a strong technical foundation that has helped me throughout my career.

With time, I realized my inclination toward management, which led me to get my MBA. My role at Quest Diagnostics allowed me to initially focus on billing systems and then I was given the opportunity to lead a strategic technical team which embraced emerging technologies leading to significant business process improvements.  Later, I spearheaded customer connectivity, adapting to the emergence of Electronic Medical Records (EMR).

After a successful stint at Quest, I was offered the CIO position at Miraca Life Sciences in Texas, working with CEO Frank Basile. Later when he moved to Aegis Sciences in Nashville, he invited me to join him, and I accepted. The decision to join Ricoh and my experiences at Quest were key to building my expertise and shaping my career trajectory. Now, after over six years in Nashville, I’ve found that my career, much like the tech industry itself, is defined by continuous learning and evolution, blending computing with strategic business leadership.

Can you tell us about some of the initiatives you are proud of at Aegis Sciences and other major accomplishments as a CIO at other points in your career?

In my current role, I take pride in our ability to scale our systems during the pandemic.  Aegis Sciences performed more than 14.5 million COVID PCR tests.  As COVID testing needs increased exponentially, we were able to scale rapidly due to our preemptive infrastructure strategy.  For example, we implemented a new storage strategy, which proved to be a key decision; because as the pandemic surged, we were ready. . Without these early infrastructure decisions, we wouldn’t have been able to meet the pressing business demands brought on by the pandemic.

In tandem, we strengthened our relationship with Microsoft, opting for Azure as our data warehouse solution. This choice has reaped rewards, especially after integrating with other products, which has significantly boosted our data management capabilities and cloud spending efficiency. The foresight to deploy Microsoft Teams ahead of the pandemic facilitated a seamless shift to remote operations. This smooth transition was not serendipity; it was the result of making proactive, well-considered technology choices.

Looking ahead, what disruptive technology or trend do you see impacting your organization and the industry?

When it comes to disruptive technology, I see automation at the forefront, AI is a buzzword for a reason. From my perspective, the crucial aspect is employing AI in ways that bolster productivity while minimizing the risks inherent to AI, such as hallucination due to biases in data. It’s about strategically deploying AI with deliberate speed, ensuring we don’t get sidetracked by every new shiny tech that comes along. To this end, we’ve crafted a framework focusing on nine vital areas and formed internal teams to address specific business issues and technological considerations.

What do you think about the current state of IT talent that’s available? And what strategies are you using to find and develop that talent?

The IT talent landscape Is evolving with the technological changes that are occurring.  Due to this, you need to balance hiring individuals who possess the current mix of required technical skills and who also possess the determination and grit to learn emerging technologies. 

Our approach is twofold: it involves bringing in external expertise through partnerships and nurturing a culture where we are purposefully upskilling our team.  Our leaders are hands-on working managers who play a pivotal role in fostering this learning environment. 

What traits and attributes are essential for today’s technology leader that may not have been as important a decade ago?

Today’s technical environment is advancing more rapidly than it did previously. Therefore, change management is even more important for CIOs and executives to focus on. Changes need to be implemented more rapidly because with technology changing – the business needs to change a lot faster. 

One technological disruption can have monumental impacts. Since there are so many more choices, you have to ensure that you don’t simply choose the flavor of the month but that you have a technology roadmap to support your applications in a timely and cost-effective manner.  Continuous learning becomes more critical than it was previously.

What advice would you give someone aspiring to be a technology leader, based on your experiences and your background?

For anyone aiming for executive leadership, it’s important to understand that career growth isn’t just about promotions or climbing the hierarchy. True growth often comes from embracing new roles that expose us to fresh technologies and business landscapes. These opportunities might sometimes appear as lateral moves or even steps back in terms of job titles, but they can significantly expand our understanding and skills. I’ve personally experienced that taking on different roles, even when it didn’t mean a higher title, has opened more opportunities, and accelerated my growth. This concept can be challenging to grasp because it goes against the traditional perception of success. But it’s a valuable insight—growth isn’t linear, and titles don’t always reflect your professional progress.

When we bridge the gap between IT and business through clear communication and are open to learning and moving within our field, we can build a robust, versatile career. It’s not solely about ascending the ladder; it’s about the richness of experiences gained along the way.

The other advice I would give is the need to understand the business. It’s crucial to communicate in ways that are clear and that everyone can understand. IT professionals, to learn the business language rather than expecting the business team to learn all the technical jargon. Successful IT people are usually those who can communicate effectively, it’s something I work on constantly. I’m not perfect at it; I always ask myself how to convey my points. Sometimes I hit the mark, sometimes in retrospect, I could have communicated more effectively.

Who would you say has been the biggest influence on your career path, either in school or in a previous role? And why?

Mitch Hanson and Frank Basile are two of the biggest influences on my career. Mitch was instrumental in my shift from technologist to manager. Even now, after his retirement, his lessons on navigating uncertainty still guide me. And Frank, my current CEO, has a vast knowledge that has continuously refined my approach to leadership over the 8 years we’ve worked together. Their teachings have taught me a crucial lesson: the importance of perpetual learning and the pursuit of team success over individual recognition. Winning as a team, rather than focusing on personal triumphs, is what truly counts.

How do you decompress from the challenges of being a technology executive? What do you like to do for fun?

I find relaxation in the rhythm of my kids’ lives. My three are all in college now; I’m at every track meet for my twins, even if the race is only for 10 seconds. There’s something special about being there, supporting them. And when I’m not cheering from the stands, I might be visiting my oldest at Oklahoma State. These moments are simple but immensely fulfilling. My love for sports extends beyond just watching; throughout the years I’ve also coached various teams, which has always been a part of my life, a fun way to learn and grow alongside my kids and their teammates.

Are there any books that you recommend, that you give to others, or that have shaped you as a leader?

For anyone looking to shape their leadership in IT, I often recommend Phoenix Project for its insights into treating technology as both art and science, emphasizing the need for well-defined and repeatable IT processes. Another classic is The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, – an oldie but goodie – which highlights the necessity of appropriate conflict within organizations to foster change. The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People is a classic must-read I suggest for foundational personal and professional development.

More recently, Crucial Conversations has resonated with me, especially for IT professionals who may find effective communication challenging. With all the change management, particularly in these times, mastering crucial conversations is even more imperative. It teaches valuable lessons, like avoiding extremes of silence or unproductive outbursts, which are essential in any relationship or organizational change. These cornerstone books of learning that I believe are essential for ongoing development in our field.

Beyond reading, are there other methods you utilize to engage in continuous learning?

Having a good social and professional network is crucial. The CIO Professional Network, for instance, is incredibly valuable. It’s about cultivating professional relationships where open and honest perspectives can be shared without fear of retribution. That candid exchange is vital. This is why I appreciate CIO Professional’s learning series and roundtable calls with my peers; they’re significant for growth as we can freely share our experiences. Often, you gain the most by listening, which can be harder to practice than it seems. It’s about understanding that it’s okay to have differing views. Constructive disagreement is not just acceptable; it’s necessary for personal and professional growth.

Can you give a piece of advice to our readers, say there was a billboard, what would you say on yours?

Never stop learning, once you stop, everybody surpasses you. It can be a lot of work sometimes, but it’s a mindset, and there’s never a point when you’re done because the only constant thing is change. Embrace learning as an essential, lifelong pursuit.

Anything else you’d like to add before we wrap up?

To be successful, you need to be a business partner and not an order taker. We need to understand what problems are trying to be solved and where the business is heading. If you become an order taker, you can only go as fast as the business understands technology, where you really want to be a partner and have technology help shape business decisions.

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