Information Technology has become an essential component of care delivery. The Healthcare industry has made significant investments in infrastructure and EMR systems to comply with regulatory guidelines, but the most impactful transformative opportunities remain. Physician Satisfaction and Patient Satisfaction through better accessibility and availability of critical systems and new mobile services are already emerging as a source of competitive advantage in Healthcare. Deploying these new capabilities requires continual evaluation of new technologies and that resources be dedicated to the purpose. This is much easier said than done and requires that IT leaders take a strategic look at how IT organizations are structured and how innovation can be made inherent.
Present Challenges: Technology Silos
Most IT organizations in Healthcare (and in many other industries) are still built around functional disciplines: virtualization, storage, networking, security, desktop, application delivery, etc. While this alignment yields expertise in each functional discipline, it creates silos of communication and leadership. When new technologies emerge that blur the boundaries between the disciplines or require substantial changes across them, it can be extremely difficult to even explore those technologies, regardless of their value to improve Physician Satisfaction or Patient Care or even reduce cost.
Disruptive technologies have extraordinary impact, but their very nature creates operational and political challenges. A pertinent example is virtualization itself. The value proposition was outstanding: compelling capital and operating savings, and the impact to availability and change management to support growth had a measurable impact on application availability. Despite these benefits, many organizations saw slow adoption due to challenges across technology disciplines (chiefly server, storage, and networking) who all had to learn new vocabularies and engage in a more collaborative fashion to design the solution. In time, all three have come to understand the relevant concepts, and virtualization has become the standard for x86 infrastructure. In many cases, this change was facilitated by changes in leadership and the creation of a virtualization team with expertise in the relevant disciplines.
Almost identical challenges exist today with several new capabilities and service delivery models: Mobility, Virtual Networking, Granular Security, Software-defined Storage, and Hybrid Cloud strategies. Successful adoption requires substantial collaboration and new responsibilities for existing staff.
Solution: Cross-Functional Teams for Lifecycle Stages
The solution can be found in organizations whose core business is technology such as Software as a Service providers. For such companies, the business and technology platform are inseparable, and long-term success requires that the infrastructure and operating platform evolve to leverage the best technologies that enable accessibility, availability, and security in the most efficient manner while controlling cost. These technology companies build innovation and operational excellence into their very structure.
Instead of technical silos, evolving infrastructure groups leverage cross-functional teams focused on application lifecycle stages: Architecture, Engineering, and Operations. Each team has experts in the traditional technical disciplines, but the structure requires collaboration and cross-education to succeed: experts in individual areas educate the rest to evaluate new solutions and develop new infrastructure and application models. As new technologies are selected and new designs chosen, there is tight collaboration with the Engineering team to build the infrastructure and input from the Operations team to ensure intelligent monitoring and feedback are part of the design.
Architecture is tasked with exploring new technologies and architectures. Their primary purpose is to innovate: to evaluate solutions that might better serve the delivery of care and the efficient operation of clinicians regardless of the technical discipline. They review technologies through evaluation and small pilots in close collaboration with clinicians and other stakeholders. They answer important questions: How can we better serve clinicians and address their mobility needs? How can we enable service delivery to patients on their own devices? How can we effectively deliver applications as a service to affiliates and partners? What new security capabilities are required to address a complex communications and regulatory environment? What is the right solution for newly acquired clinics and remote users? How do we handle multiple-os clients and user-owned devices? What is the value of Business Continuity, and how can it best be made available to application owners? What does the next generation of our infrastructure look like?
Engineering builds next generation infrastructure and owns change management. The Engineering team works with Architecture on pilots to begin operationalization of new solutions and ensure necessary infrastructure changes are implemented smoothly. When composed of members who are experts in a broad range of technical disciplines, the team as a whole can develop a more comprehensive understanding of the operating environment, which improves design and reduces time to overcome complex challenges that continually encompass more of the traditional technical disciplines.
Operations owns break-fix, monitoring, support, and feedback to Engineering and Architecture to resolve issues in the platform and application stack. The support function is essential to the feedback loop: understanding the clinical challenges as a function of training, infrastructure, or application issues so the solutions can be quickly developed and implemented. This team needs an integrated understanding of the entire environment and access to sophisticated and comprehensive monitoring solutions to ensure that problems with infrastructure and applications can be observed and mitigated before affecting a service delivery. In the event of service interruptions, their multi-disciplined structure expedites restoration with feedback to Architecture and Engineering for relevant design changes.
Build for Change: Improve Satisfaction and Care
Innovation is vital, especially as IT services become ever more critical to new healthcare services delivery. The skills are present in the technology silos in most organizations, and they key to unlocking those skills is within the control of IT leadership. Cross functional teams tasked with designing, building, and running the next generation infrastructure will build platforms for success and ensure the continued advancement of Care delivery and new services to support it.