Interview with Interim WUSM Deputy CIO Jason Smith

After the departure of WUSM Deputy CIO, Maria Russo, Jason Smith was appointed as interim WUSM Deputy CIO in mid-October. As Jason has stepped into this new role from his previous role as Director WUSM IT Support Services Business & Operations at WashU, he was interviewed about his skills and career, future goals, and hopes for the University and its staff going forward. 

Before entering his role as WUSM Deputy CIO, Jason was previously brought onto the WashU IT team as Director WUSM IT Support Services Business & Operations in March 2020. His work within the role quickly became turbulent and challenging, however, as COVID-19 hit almost immediately after his arrival. Suddenly, Jason was pushed to adapt outside of his original role to address the pandemic, preparing to get everyone off campus and operating remotely—including ensuring telemedicine was fully functional for doctors and patients—all within a very short time period. For the first several months, nearly all of his work was COVID-related before finally settling down, which allowed him to invest himself in the business ops job he was originally hired to do. Once again, however, just as Jason was adapting, things changed again with Maria Russo’s announcement that she would soon be leaving—after which, his role as Deputy CIO for WUSM quickly followed.

Despite the chaotic start to his career at WashU, Jason said that he was happy to do the work and had been prepared for a challenging career at the University. “Maria was very honest with me during my interview,” reflected Jason. “She made it clear that there were a lot of challenges ahead and hard work to be done, but I strongly believed in the mission that was set forth at WashU, and knew I’d enjoy the challenges ahead. I was ready to do whatever needed to be done to make sure everyone at the med school could be successful.”

However, Jason’s experience in facing unique IT and organizational success challenges didn’t start at WashU. Prior to his start at the University, Jason was as the COO and CTO of MoveHQ, that was part of a larger software company, Updater, in New York City. The software company had recently merged two of their subsidiary companies into one and were seeking to move their IT platforms to the next level, hoping to do so after having saved money through the company merge. However, the money saved had been poorly allocated with little results to show for the spending. It was at this point that Jason arrived and was tasked with modernizing the platforms, increasing customer satisfaction by providing new, innovative solutions, and finding a path to make the company profitable once again. Jason wasted no time in making improvements for the company, ensuring that new, updated software was going out within a month of his arrival, as he had discovered they hadn’t released new software in over a year. Within the next six months he was able to develop and implement a complete organizational redesign, improve customer service, and finally help the company recover to the point where they were in a secure place.

Prior to this role, he worked for such notable companies as Centene and Boeing where he was tasked with modernizing IT platforms and environments, as well as identifying organizational structure issues and creating inventive solutions to resolve them.

While Jason’s past is rich in IT experience, he is most focused on the future, and where he sees WUSM ITSS going next. “WUSM ITSS is such a great team. I’m amazed by the things we’re able to accomplish, and honestly, what IT has accomplished as a whole,” he said. “We were presented a lot of major challenges this year and had to shift gears quickly, which required a lot of cooperation across the University—I’ve been amazed by how well everyone was able to align on a single mission in order to achieve success on the medical campus, and across the University. I think we’re just at the beginning of what our team can do. My ultimate goal is to keep that going—to make sure technology is an enabler of all missions of the med school.”

In regards to specific short term goals, Jason has placed great emphasis on continuing to do everything he and the WUSM ITSS team can to properly respond to COVID as the situation evolves, such as ensuring that thermal scanners for temperature checks across the med campus are functioning properly at all times. Equally as important to Jason, as both a short term and continuous goal, is making absolutely sure the medical campus is secure from an IT standpoint. Knowing that the med school deals heavily with private data related to research and patient care, Jason wants to ensure the University is protected from any outside attacks that would seek to access this data and undermine the mission and safety of the University and the patient community.

In reference to long term goals, Jason believes there is an incredible opportunity to showcase how IT at WashU can collaborate and partner with the various other functions and departments of the University on an even higher level. “By increasing collaboration, we have a great opportunity to help further the academic mission of WashU, but also our clinical patient care and research missions as well. We should always be pushing our limits to find innovative ways to solve problems. I’d love to see IT be more proactive and become real leaders within the University. We’ve only touched the surface from a tech standpoint in how we can help the University succeed, and I’m incredibly excited to help in leading IT through that journey.”

Finally, in his closing thoughts, Jason wanted to convey his gratefulness to the team he has already come to work so closely with. “I really want to give a big thank you to everyone across the University. We’ve all made sacrifices this year due to the nature of COVID, and I want to acknowledge all the folks who have put in extra time and gone way above and beyond to make sure the University could continue to be successful and deliver on all our missions. I know we’re only going to continue to do more amazing things as we all continue to work together.”