The past few years haven’t been easy for the IT staff at Wake Forest, but after putting their blood, sweat, and tears into becoming an integrated health system, it’s time to have some fun, according to Chad Eckes. Nine months into his tenure, the CIO is shifting the focus to optimization of the Epic system, and innovation, whether that means leveraging the latest technology or simply identifying new ways to engage with patients. In this interview, Eckes talks about the opportunity he saw at Wake Forest, the need for organizations to “get creative” when it comes to reducing costs, the next big projects on his plate, and how he keeps the ear of his staff.
- Laying the groundwork to innovate — “It’s a matter of prioritizing of resources and time.”
- Outsourcing service desk & support
- Empowering the staff — “Who here has had a great idea that was not accepted?”
- Private cloud infrastructure
- From 60 days to mere hours to provision new systems
- Managing resistance
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It’s always a matter of prioritization of resources and time. There isn’t a CIO I’ve ever met that says, ‘I have more capacity than demand amongst our resources.’
Leadership would say, ‘thanks, but stay focused on what we’re supposed to be doing here.’ We are making it not only acceptable to bring those ideas forward and to be considered, but we’re actually making it part of people’s jobs to be creative
I’ve always found people in IT really enjoy the latest, greatest technologies. We’re all wired that way.
As we explained all of these benefits, people were saying, ‘Wow, that makes sense. We’re really leveraging the evolution of technology. We actually get more for the same amount of money.’
We’re able to paint visions of increased functionality on a lot of different fronts, because we’re re-architecting the paradigm of how we’re doing all of this.
Gamble: A lot of times we’ll talk about innovation and a common theme is that it’s a priority and it’s a focus, but you still have to get to all the day to day things and keep the shops running. It can be a challenge to try to foster that innovation while also making sure that everything is being done that needs to be done.
Eckes: That’s true. I think that through my lens on this, it’s always a matter of prioritization of resources and time. There isn’t a CIO I’ve ever met that says, ‘I have more capacity than demand amongst our resources.’ One of the things we’ve done here is, first, we needed to understand where our capacity was focused. We basically created six different buckets for time reporting so that we could get a baseline. And then we created targets of how we were going to allocate our time going forward, and one of those buckets was innovation. That was the first step. The second step was to throw a goal out there and try to at least say, ‘we’re going to do this, and here’s what we’re committed to,’ and that was our goal of five innovations.
Number three was really creating a culture of innovation amongst the team. We needed to create an environment and an opportunity for our entire department. There are approximately 341 ITS stakeholders here who have great ideas and they’ve had ideas over the years, many of which never came to the table because we were busy doing other things. Leadership would say, ‘thanks, but stay focused on what we’re supposed to be doing here.’ We are making it not only acceptable to bring those ideas forward and to be considered, but we’re actually making it part of people’s jobs to be creative and think of that.
The final thing that we’ve done is we started looking at buckets of work that we could take off of people’s plate using other more efficient means. As an example of that, we’ve chosen to outsource our service desk and our Tier-2 support. By outsourcing that and trying to get some of the normal maintenance-type items off of our team’s plate, they can redirect their time to not only more progressive projects, but also innovation.
Gamble: I’m sure that’s really appreciated on their end, because often it’s a concern that for the staff, the work just keeps piling on and on. With things being so busy right now, I think it’s really important to say, ‘okay, this is something we can take off of your plate to let you be able to thrive.’
Eckes: Absolutely. In fact, I do monthly town halls, and we have a big lecture pit design. The department was in there a couple of months ago and I said, ‘Could everybody that really loves doing maintenance of our systems raise your hand?’ I did have one person that raised her hand and said, ‘I like maintaining the system.’ And then I asked the question, ‘Who here has had a great idea — an innovative idea — that was just not accepted, and that we didn’t work on in the past?’ Almost 80 or 90 percent of the audience raised their hand. I said, ‘How many of you would really enjoy working on that more than maintenance and support?’ Of course, everybody raised their hand there.
On one hand, doing things like outsourcing Tier-1 and Tier-2 support is a cultural change and is always met with some concern. But when we packaged it as, ‘we want you to stop doing this so you can do more interesting things,’ I think the responses were, ‘boy, that’s a great opportunity.’
Gamble: Yeah, and that’s something I think could go a long way toward keeping the staff happy and keeping them engaged.
Eckes: Absolutely. I’ve always found people in IT really enjoy the latest, greatest technologies. We’re all wired that way.
Gamble: That’s interesting. Now, you’ve been CIO there for about six months or so?
Eckes: About seven months, yeah.
Gamble: I don’t imagine this is a situation where you had a whole lot of time to get your feet wet at a slow rate. It sounds like you pretty much had to really jump right in.
Eckes: Yes. We have been moving at a very fast pace. In fact, I meet regularly with our partners in the area, and they said, ‘Boy, it’s been a whirlwind since you’ve come into the state.’ They said not only have they ever never seen our organization move at this pace, but they haven’t seen any of their other partners move at this pace.
Gamble: That’s a good thing. It keeps you busy obviously, but I’m sure that that has to be validating to hear that.
Eckes: It is, and we’re doing some fascinating things with technology. One of our biggest projects right now is moving to a private cloud infrastructure. Like many large organizations, especially large healthcare systems, our infrastructure has grown up over time, and we had silos of different systems all over the place in terms of different storage and different processing. One of the things you get when you have that type of a footprint is extraordinary amounts of cost that are unnecessary.
One of the immediate solutions was to migrate to a full private cloud. We quickly did the assessment; it was about a 60-day assessment. We designed a private cloud strategy that is designed for 100 percent system uptime and allows us a lever to quickly move to a public cloud solution should we desire to do that in the future.
We’ve started that implementation process. In fact, our first major delivery has arrived, and we are migrating 95 of our 739 applications over the next couple of weeks. By the time we’re done with this, we’re going to move to a 100 percent virtualized environment that is highly available and redundant all on one common platform. The team is very, very excited about it. In fact, it’s all built on a VCE Vblock architecture that has EMC Storage, Cisco UCS processing and networking gear.
Gamble: That does seem exciting. Was there any hesitation about moving to a cloud? Were there any people who weren’t too sure about it?
Eckes: I think the biggest impact from a hesitation standpoint was more on the academic side, because historically with grants for various research studies, you would go and buy servers and storage independently, and it would be just dedicated to that grant. The concept of all of this being pooled on one private cloud, and when you would get that grant, you would just buy your processing and storage services in this private cloud, it’s a hard transition to make mentally when you think about that, because you’re giving dollars for something you can’t touch and feel.
When we started describing this and we walked people through this, we’d talk about the benefits that we’re expecting. For example, right now, to start provisioning new systems, it takes us almost 60 days — and that includes ordering hardware, getting it in, racking and stacking it all in the entire build. Where we’re going, it’s going to take us no more than two days to provision a new system and we’ve given our self a little fudge factor on there. It’s really designed to be able to provision a new system in hours.
To hear that type of thing and to say, ‘oh, by the way, when you’re buying it out of this private cloud solution, we now have automatic high availability and redundancy built into the architecture,’ that was something you never could afford to do when you’re buying the equipment on a grant. Also, we’ve already designed in a strategic plan of refreshing this hardware over time.
That’s another problem that you get when you buy the equipment under a grant — five years later, the grant money’s not there to buy new equipment, and yet you still need the service of this production equipment. So many times, that stuff would stay far longer than the useful life of it. And you have to deal with downtimes. As we explained all of these benefits, people were saying, ‘Wow, that makes sense. We’re really leveraging the evolution of technology. We actually get more for the same amount of money.’
Gamble: That’s a key factor too any time you’re talking about cost savings.
Eckes: Absolutely. On top of this for the next generation, we have new tools like building data lakes and using a structured and unstructured data to quickly mine data using Hadoop and technologies like that. We’re able to paint visions of increased functionality on a lot of different fronts, because we’re re-architecting the paradigm of how we’re doing all of this.