For most organizations, automation is becoming more than a nice-to-have. It means key personnel can focus their energies away from the routine and repetitive, and toward delivering critical outcomes – and nowhere are the outcomes more critical than in healthcare.
Getting IT out of the way
A US healthcare provider with 100 critical illness recovery hospitals, 30 inpatient rehab hospitals and 50,000 employees in 45 states has multiple operational objectives and success metrics. As it grew in terms of both size and scope of delivery, it realized that key to achieving these was, in the words of the Lead Systems Engineer, “getting IT out of the way of its business”.
The healthcare provider had become dependent on a ‘mousetrap’ configuration: a complex sequence of processes that broke down whenever one element didn’t work. It was clear that an ambitious organization of this scale and breadth needed a simpler solution with greater consistency; it quickly identified automation as the IT strategy that would enable this, allowing key personnel to focus on key deliverables.
The VMware effect: an easy decision
VMware vRealize® Automation™ SaltStack Config enabled a series of critical fixes and process improvements that quickly delivered multiple benefits. “We had 4,000 virtual machines and no configuration tool,” says the Lead Systems Engineer. “We also needed something that would fit into our environment and could be taken with us into the future. vRealize Automation and VMware’s support made that an easy decision.”
The platform reduces the build time for a typical server by two hours, and for an organization that builds several hundred servers a year, the total engineering time saved is around three months – more if decommissioning, where similar savings have been achieved, is also included.
“The speed at which I can make changes to servers is one of the biggest impacts,” notes the Lead Systems Engineer. “If a zero-day vulnerability comes out and affects more than 3,500 servers, the SaltStack Config agent now enables me to handle that immediately with a single job. Previously I was relying on custom scripts and having to reach out to each virtual machine individually; it used to take hours, now it just takes minutes.”
The benefits of the automation strategy quickly began to ripple across the wider organization. The Lead Systems Engineer explains: “For me, being an engineer means creating more automation to make other people’s jobs easier and more effective. That’s a far better use of my time than spending hours and hours on server builds.”
Time is money – and much, much more
Delivering quality healthcare means systems need to get it right first time, every time – especially now that the consequences are now made public more quickly than ever. The Lead Systems Engineer notes: “The most important moment in the healthcare process now is when the patient leaves, because that’s when they go onto social media. If they have a positive experience, all their friends know immediately. If it’s a bad experience, it spreads like wildfire and reputations can be ruined.”
In healthcare, as with any other operation, downtime costs money. And if the provider’s system is down for five hours or more, its default protocol is to revert to paper. “No one wants that,” the Lead Systems Engineer points out. “Also, once you’re back up and running, you lose more time transcribing all the paper notes back into the digital system.”
In an environment where a single treatment can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, the benefits of real-time downtime prevention and response are obvious. But healthcare has a far more important consideration: system downtime can risk patients’ lives, and engineers are as crucial to service delivery as the frontline medical staff.
“If you’re able to automate a day-zero response that includes disaster and back-up recovery, you enable doctors, nurses and clinicians to deliver immediate quality care,” says the Lead Systems Engineer. “The quicker an application is up and running, and the more streamlined the environment, the more resources the organization has to spend on delivering healthcare – be that through buying equipment, hiring medical talent, or bringing in new disciplines. It’s a direct impact.”
Reimagining the future
The organization’s engineering team is increasingly using vRealize Automation SaltStack Config to develop event-driven automation and self-healing processes. “If a hard drive fills up, automation will allow us to expand it without anyone being involved,” the Lead Systems Engineer says. “The more steps we can take away from engineers, the more efficient we can be.”
VMware vRealize Automation SaltStack Config is also enabling the provider to free up resources in areas it hadn’t previously considered, such as its IT help desk. The Lead Systems Engineer concludes: “The more that can be automated, the more laser-focused and efficient our engineers can be to make or recommend fixes. And the most powerful automation tool is really your imagination. We want to automate everything to create competitive differentiation. For us, the outcome is positive customer satisfaction, and attracting the best and brightest staff.”