Earlier this year, I wrote about an inspiring vendor interaction. I was careful to include a disclaimer that I’m sympathetic to my vendor friends, having worked on that side of the table. I know that our vendors are extremely important, and I spend a significant amount of time each month interacting with them and building our vendor relationships. We’ve done some creative programming on this front, and it’s paid off for our patients.
“We’d like to invite you, Jim and Steve to our Batcave in Mountain View, California where we have our latest Gorbol 50001 on display. We realize you have compliance restrictions, but we can offer travel and hotel expenses.”
A variation of this happens five or six times each year. Referring to me, our CIO and CTO, various high-tech companies want us to make a trip to California to hear from their executives and product geniuses, see the wizardry in action, and have some nice meals and wine. Well, our compliance rules do require us to pay our own way, but that’s not the biggest barrier. The biggest issues are that we have enough on our plate right now to last five years, we have to be really careful with our time, and California is a long way away — in that order.
Over the years, we’ve had various extended times with our vendors; a core technology vendor would come to our office for a two-hour session or we’d visit a local office to see a series of presentations. These achieved variable success and attendance by our CIOs and IS Directors. Three years ago, we conducted our first annual “Vendor Fair.” Don’t worry HIMSS, we aren’t trying to replicate the Annual Conference exhibit floor. Our goal was to create an environment where many of our senior IS leaders could interact with our core technology vendors in a single day. We set up a conference room where each vendor had an hour to make a presentation (we promised they would have the attention of the CIO, Deputy CIO, CTO and CISO for the day). While this was going on, we had the vendors set up small displays in our cafeteria space so leaders and staff could ask questions and see new devices and software. We ended the day with a reception.
I’m sure it wasn’t what they preferred, but all of our vendors attended and were very good sports about the whole thing. Most of all, our IS leaders felt they got good value out of the time spent. As we began to plan for last year’s event, we realized that we were getting very good performance out of each of our suppliers of core technology. As we built out our production and DR platforms for our new EHR, we noted a couple of things. Despite making specific selections for each layer of technology, many of the vendors were pushing us to “switch out Ishmael’s storage to use ours,” or “switch out Frederica’s computers to use ours.” Also, we had the proverbial finger pointing between vendors when something didn’t quite work right — someone’s firmware didn’t play well with someone else’s OS.
Here’s the challenge we gave to our suppliers last year. Since many of them are based in eastern Massachusetts and receive care at our facilities, we appealed to their patient sensibilities. We acknowledged that many of them wanted to be our single supplier, but reminded them that we had made technology decisions for this platform and they were stuck with what they had until refresh time. Then we posed the question — if you or your loved one were in one of our hospitals or clinics and the EHR was having technical problems, would you want the underlying technology suppliers to quibble or to work together to solve the problem?
We wanted them to see how we experience managing the platform. We asked them to work together to make presentations in three disciplines:
- Managing and Monitoring the Database Layer: EMC, InterSystems, Microsoft, Oracle
- Vendor Collaboration for a Proactive Hardware Environment: Cisco, EMC, HP, IBM
- Endpoint Computing: Apple, Citrix, HP, Microsoft, Oracle, Symantec
We had some interesting reactions, as you can imagine. “I can’t present with so and so because they can’t know my trade secrets.” Understood, we aren’t expecting you to. You tell us you’re a “strategic partner.” We’ve bought your stuff and now we’re asking you to make it work with Bubba’s stuff. “My company won’t allow me to do that.” No problem, you don’t have to be part of this.
In the end, I was really impressed. Some still held back, but others took the challenge and worked across corporate lines to make very impressive presentations. The best thing was that multi-vendor collaboration teams were formed and have been in use for the past year, ensuring that all of our infrastructure components work well together.
Our third annual Vendor Fair is happening later this month. This will be our first year off site, at a local college conference center. This year, the participants can make their own presentation. The challenge is to show us their best thinking on one of these categories: Agility, Mobility, Affordability, Interoperability, Scalability or Reliability. I can’t wait.
Scott MacLean is Deputy CIO of Partners HealthCare in Boston.
1Credit to John Glaser – his fake term for the latest technology, usually indicating much more promise than it can deliver.