I had a chance to speak to Janey Brummett who has spent three decades working in the IT department for the Catholic Health Association, the national leadership organization of the Catholic health ministry, representing the largest nonprofit providers of health care services in the nation. She came to the association as a paralegal who got an early taste for computers, back when PCs were first coming into businesses and when she was helping to spec out mainframe systems. “I was the conduit to talk to the programmers back then,” she said. Over the years she worked her way up the IT org chart until retiring this year in a position that most of us would characterize as the CIO.
I recall those early years with a lot of fondness, as does Janey. Back then, we were pioneers in building local area networks that used very thick wires that was expensive to install. Wifi didn’t exist, and PCs had the massive 40 MB hard drives — well, they seemed massive at the time. Now you can’t even get that little memory in anything.
Those early LANs were running Novell Netware and Groupwise, an application that was an early collaborative tool that did email, shared calendars and documents.
The big switch came in the early 1990s for CHA when they went from DOS-based desktops to Windows. She had a major upgrade of their Netware server that was an all-nighter due to some data migration problems and access rights that didn’t transfer over. “That was a horrible experience,” as she recalls.
Now CHA is using Microsoft Copilot, and Teams to communicate, and they are developing their own AI-based tools to access a common data platform. “We are building a virtual data analyst that we can query and build charts and collect presentation talking points.” That is a sign of the times to be sure.
Janey remembers supporting a speaker at an annual association meeting in the early 2000s. “The speaker came to me a few minutes before their talk with a virus-infected floppy disk. That was typical of the times, and I sure am glad that systems have gotten a lot more stable and straightforward since then! Nowadays, there is more of a focus on end user tools and it all works really well.” I completely agree.
CHA was an early adopter of the internet, and Janey recalls teaching the first internal classes on how to use it in the mid-1990s. That was the same timeline for me (I started my Web Informant newsletters in the fall of 1995, BTW) and it was pretty exciting times to be sure.
“The pandemic years really changed our operations,” she told me. Back then, we had no one working remotely whatsoever. But we were fortunate to have put in place the infrastructure to support remote workers and had just started rolling out Teams. We had a lot of resistance before the pandemic, not to mention that less than half of our staff had laptops and we had to get that in place. Now we are almost all remote workers, with two or three days per month that people need to be in the office. Having Teams got us to jump light years ahead to collaborate to where it is second nature.”
How has she managed to stay at the same organization for all this time? “It comes down to constantly learning and innovating. Plus I enjoy what I do and my job is continually changing and evolving. IT should really stand for innovation technology.”
To read more interviews with long-standing IT managers, check out this three-part series that I wrote in the fall of 2022.