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Empowering the Helpers: An Interview with Chief Information Officer, Lonnie Johnson

KVC Health Systems CIO Lonnie Johnson

Walking into a room with Lonnie Johnson, the Chief Information Officer at KVC Health Systems, you are immediately greeted with a friendly smile. He gives off a calm presence with the attitude that he is your friend, and that’s what he becomes instantly. You wouldn’t know that he leads the technology teams that support over 1,600 employees nationwide and the hardware and software systems that help KVC employees care for 63,000 children, teens, and adults each year. You wouldn’t know that he’s held positions with major telecommunications companies like Kansas City Power & Light (KCP&L), AT&T, Sprint, and Southwestern Bell. In his current position at KVC, he must keep up with consumer technology trends, strengthen system security, innovate ways to help our employees and clients, and do it all on a nonprofit organizational budget. During a recent interview with Lonnie, we learned it’s a challenge he loves.

Lonnie’s three Business Information Technology teams — organized into Information Technology (IT), Information Solutions (IS) and Enterprise Systems Management (ESM) — have created and maintain software that matches children needing out-of-home care with caregivers such as foster families, a medication monitoring system to track and safely reduce the use of psychotropic drugs on children, and many other applications that help children and families. Learn more about KVC’s technology innovations here.

Title: Chief Information Officer, KVC Health Systems
Education: Various certifications in computer science from Johnson County Community College including ITIL, ICAgile, and others.
Home: Lives with his wife in the Johnson County, KS area
Hobbies: Volunteering his time with his nonprofit that helps men in prison when they are released, working with his church, and spending time with family.

We recently sat down with Lonnie to learn more about him and how technology enables KVC Health Systems to provide high-quality services to children and families.

After working at such prestigious companies, why did you choose to work at a nonprofit like KVC Health Systems?

I’ve had a number of jobs as I’ve progressed throughout my career, but I landed at KVC around the same time I was getting married and my wife wanted me to get a job where I could settle down and stay. I really liked the culture at KVC immediately. I love the family-oriented type of atmosphere, for our clients and also employees. When I first started working here, my wife’s job was really strict and my son was young. Every time I would tell my boss I need to leave and go to school, my boss would say “Don’t worry about it.” It was unbelievable the amount of freedom I had to go and come and they just trusted me to get my job done.

Some people may not know what you do. Can you tell us what does a Chief Information Officer actually do?

I am responsible for the agency’s strategic technology initiatives. The role carries a lot of responsibility because you have to be in tune with the strategy of the business, keep up with the pace of technology in general, and determine how to sew together current technology being used, business growth and new innovative things out there. It’s a constantly growing, developing and even emergent strategy that has to be operational all the time so, in addition to long-term planning, you have a tactical plan to make sure the lights are on, everything is secure and things are running smoothly. Being a nonprofit makes it harder. Typically, for-profit companies have a higher budget for IT and there’s a standard amount. We often have to juggle what we do and what becomes a priority for us at that moment.

IT is a big job because there is not one individual in this company that does not use some type of technology every day.

Why do you think technology is important in child welfare and behavioral healthcare?

For us, the sole purpose of technology is to enable people to do their jobs more efficiently. It doesn’t solve the problem of the business, but it enables people to do their jobs better. It brings about solutions that save time, save money and make people safe. In our business of child welfare, on a limited budget, that’s a major bonus.

We have child welfare workers who have so many things to do and if they have to navigate through a cumbersome or complicated system to enter data, they may not do that as timely as they should. If they enter data late, it could add risk such as people not knowing what medications a child is on, what home the child is placed in or other information that a foster family needs to know about a child. So we meet with our internal business units to talk to them about their needs and likability of the system so we can always climb to make it better. Ease of use is a huge thing for us. Once we have ensured ease of use, our professionals don’t have to worry about the technology – they worry about the kids.

What are the challenges occurring in technology now?

Technology is growing at such a pace that it’s hard to keep up with the evolutions of platforms and technology. Technology is growing even faster at a consumer level. The average person at home probably has new, better technology than a lot of companies or the tools that they work within the business. So this person comes to work and tells me, “I can order a pizza, my prescriptions, and an Uber to go pick it all up in 30 minutes, but it takes me forever to use your technology. Why is that?” That’s the challenge – keeping up with consumer technology.

Where does KVC see opportunities to improve its services with technology?

By using artificial intelligence (AI). That is a growing thing. It’s not new; it’s old. But it’s new to a lot of people. It hasn’t fully taken off in every industry that it could. AI simply means that the system has the ability to learn from its users. We are already using it today in some small ways. For example, our anti-email-phishing software looks at emails that are suspicious and then determines what the sender is trying to do, how they are trying to trick us, and then from there learns how to catch those emails and prevent them from reaching users so the user doesn’t erroneously click on something. We could also use AI in the monitoring of all of our servers.

Besides technology, what other things are you passionate about? 

I’m passionate about helping people. For about the last 20 years, I’ve done a lot of work in the community – homeless shelters, drug and alcohol treatment centers, right now I’m working in prisons. I want to help those individuals that society has given up on.

I have a 501(c)3 that I started called Growth Ministries, Inc. We go into prisons and try to help people there improve their mental outlook on life. The truth of the matter is that those individuals will be released and they’ll be released into our communities – yours and mine. This is just my small part in doing what I can to keep our communities safe. We teach financial literacy, social skills, mentoring, and spiritual development. When they get out of prison, we offer stipends for work clothes, work boots, transportation, driver’s licenses, just whatever we can do to help them stay on the right track.

We continue to mentor them when they get out of prison, too. When they get out, they don’t have many connections, they may not have relatives or the relatives might not want anything to do with them and we are sort of a second chance. We try to be there and fill the gap in small ways and those little things make a huge difference.

How can people get involved in what KVC’s doing?

We always need donations. When people in our community donate to KVC, it helps us do our work – everything from recruiting foster parents, to providing preventative services, to helping us in IT help our frontline staff.

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