Bill Rabe, CIO, Covenant Retirement Communities

CAST | March 05, 2018

LeadingAge CAST had an opportunity to interview Bill Rabe, CIO at Covenant Retirement Communities. Bill is successful technology executive focused on devising technology vision and strategic direction through innovation, integration, operations, and transformation. With more than 20 years of background in technology, Bill has had the privilege of working across several industries including Wholesale/Retail, Healthcare, Distribution, Software Services, and Technology Consulting.


Bill, thanks for taking time to talk to us today. How about we start by you sharing with us a little bit of about yourself, your career so far, and your journey to be the CIO?

Bill Rabe: I’m not new to IT, I started my career off in IT about 30 years now. Looking back at the long time that I spent 19 and going back to originally doing development, programming, I spent some time even with Y2K, when that big event was around 2000. And then took on more of a leadership role and had held multiple jobs doing, you know, leading teams and leading infrastructure around it.

Most of my time was focused around retail, and I made the switch to go into consulting, we spent a few years in consulting, and I think that was probably the best thing that I ever did for my career. It really gave me the chance to really understand different industries, different things happening out there, different models, and then I ended up joining. At the time I was doing consulting, I was doing mostly advisory services, road-mapping, planning the strategy, and then I ended up joining Covenant Retirement Communities.

I’ve been with the Covenant now about a year and a half, and it’s been a great transition for me, and I’m really enjoying working with the organization.

At Covenant what is the most exciting thing that you and your team are working around right now?

Bill Rabe: We have a lot of IT initiatives going on, a lot of focus on the cloud strategy, moving some of our systems, consolidating systems, moving to the cloud. Also, you know looking at mobility; those kinds of things. But I think what’s exciting to me is really our strategic plan, you know we’ve been really focusing and reinventing the organization, and looking to really focus on a couple of different areas.

One is growth obviously, looking at some different models of how we provide for our residents today. And then also, you know looking at optimization, so we’re really trying to focus on getting, you know more efficient, right. As challenges are coming up in the space, costs are going up, we’re trying to really make the organization leaner.

We have a bunch of communities, we have 15 communities across 10 states, and a lot of them do things differently. So, we’re really trying to optimize that, and make that a little bit smoother for the organization. And then the last thing is just customer service, so we’re really trying to focus on customer service and really you know make it a great experience for residents. So, we have about 5,000 residents, and you know across the whole continuum and we’re just trying to really come up with a great strategy around that as well.

Being a CIO, you have so many opportunities and challenges to deal with. There is new technology that’s coming in every day, and then there are financial pressures like about optimizing operations, give us an insight into how you address, what technologies you invest in, and how do you pull an IT strategy together?

Bill Rabe: Its fluid, right it moves all the time; so, we start off with a good plan and we look at it. Usually, I look at my strategy quarterly and try to see where we are at. A lot of it is getting into some of these conferences and really networking with people, to really understand some of the new technologies that are coming out. And then trying to figure out how to apply those.

I really am not a technology person to just take the new shiny coin and deploy it. I really need to understand the business, and how the business needs to use that technology, because I’ve found over my career that just deploying technology alone, without good business sponsorship, good business backing, and understanding the process, really doesn’t do much for the organization.

In general, it’s just really working with the business teams and really understanding the needs of the organization and then prioritizing it because we can’t do everything.

Out of all the new technologies that are coming up, are there a few that piqued your interest more than the others?

Bill Rabe: I think some of the stuff that piques my interest is around the machine learning, and you know predictive analytics. You know, I really like the fact that we can maybe monitor a resident, you know, how many steps they take, whether or not you’re going to the refrigerator, opening up a refrigerator, how active they were, and kind of predict health you know from those type of data.

We just launched a big initiative to really revamp up BI strategy at Covenant. So, we’re in the process right now, we’re just doing some data warehousing, some business intelligence (BI) on top of that. Up until this point, it’s been mostly around Excel spreadsheets passing around the business, so we’re really starting to make that adjustment to that. And I think down the road we’ll find out how we can apply that technology and really take advantage of that.

Bill, you’ve been associated with LeadingAge CAST for quite some time now, and clearly, we talked about how you wanted to be more engaged with CAST. What is the role CAST played in your IT decisions, in your IT strategy and what do you see the CAST’s influence going forward?

Bill Rabe: I think CAST is a fantastic resource for a lot of people. I particularly love the research,  the time that gets put into doing the research, and looking at product selection tools. Specifically, I’m looking right now at the product selection tool that we have for EMR and trying to see how I can apply that going forward with what I want to do with my platform today.

CAST is really something that is, you know, they’re just out there looking at the new technologies coming in, and they’re looking at you know where they can add value. So, a lot of those case studies, research papers I read a lot that and like you said earlier just trying to keep up on technology, I need all the resources I can get, right. So, I find time to read stuff on the plane or wherever I can do in my spare time just to keep up with where the industry is going.

You talked about resources, and IT talent, especially in the healthcare, is difficult, and there is a lot of new IT talent that is coming out of colleges today, that is getting into this space, and they’re probably looking up to somebody like you and saying how do I become the next Bill, how do I become the CIO.

What is your advice to people that are getting into this field, how about we close with that?

Bill Rabe: I’ll tell you from a technology perspective, I think, what I learned late in my career is spend some time with the business, right. A lot of people that love technology and I’m a very big on, I love, technology, but you really need to understand the business. And you know, in order to be successful, you got to be able to talk to the business; you got to be able to do more than just hands on the keyboard and do the technology parts, right.

I think my advice to those people would be just to really spend some time, even doing work in the business areas, and really understand the business, spend the time with that kind of thing and I think that can pay off to me and for them too. Because there are so many things going on from just technology whether it’s project planning, and trying to understand all the pieces and the road-mapping, and let’s face it, it’s a sales job. You’re fighting to get your budget, you’re fighting with the other business areas, so you must have those partnerships and really understand it.

That would be my advice to them is just to think further than just IT and think about the business as well.

That’s a great advice, great insight there. Bill, thank you so much for taking time to share these insights with us. Really appreciate it.