Cloud computing isn’t a new concept. For years, it’s been discussed as a way to help reduce costs and increase efficiency — two things that are always top of mind for healthcare IT leaders. But as more organizations consider hybrid cloud infrastructure (HCI) models, CIOs are finding that it’s not exactly an easy sell, particularly when migrating to the cloud is not tied to an immediate return on investment.
The answer? Reframing the strategy to focus more on scalability and agility, and less on cost cutting, according David Chou, CIO at Luye Medical Group. That, however, is no easy task.
“It’s going to require a big shift in mindset, because we’ve been delivering IT services the same way for so long,” he said. In a recent webinar, Chou and fellow panelists Doug McMillan (IT Director at Cone Health) and Brian Pruitt (Senior Healthcare Strategic Alliance Manager with NetApp) discussed the complexity challenges with traditional infrastructure models and the benefits of migrating to the cloud, while also providing best practices based on their experiences.
Although there are myriad challenges when it comes to on-premise infrastructure models, perhaps the most pressing is having to contend with layered upgrades, said McMillan. As the environment grows and business needs change, upgrades are constantly needed to meet them, which can be both expensive and timely. “It takes so long to go through the procurement process and get it in and get it ready before you can even start to deliver value.” By utilizing HCI to bring in new features and functionality, “you can start to deliver much faster and retool everything on the fly,” he added.
Of course there are other issues plaguing traditional infrastructures, such as outdated equipment and poor design, both of which make it extremely difficult to scale quickly and effectively, noted Chou. That’s where cloud can be a difference maker. However, there are two hurdles organizations must clear: siloed environments and fear of change.
For most (if not all) healthcare organizations, the tendency was always to divide IT infrastructure into groups based on their task (storage, security, etc). Transitioning from the siloed approach to a team-based model requires a new outlook where specialists are replaced by generalists, and all are working toward a shared vision, according to Pruitt. “As health systems go down the path of hybrid cloud service delivery models, it’s critical for these teams to be on the same page.”
The other piece is change management, which will play an essential role as more organizations adopt what Chou coined a “software-defined first” mentality. “Software is driving everything, so we have to think about infrastructure from a software perspective,” he noted. “That means using software to control access, and as a central focal point for driving how you want your network to flow. That’s a very different perspective from the traditional IT infrastructure.”
It also means empowering staff by creating new job descriptions that better align with the organization’s strategic objectives, and being willing to accept the risk of downtime. “At some point, something will go down,” noted Chou. But the positives far outweigh the negatives, and it’s the leader’s job to convey that.
“At the end of the day, how are you transforming the delivery of IT services that will eventually impact patient care? We need to be willing to challenge the status quo and understand what opportunities are out there,” including the ability to deliver services faster and build a more resilient IT architecture and infrastructure, said Pruitt. Healthcare has traditionally been a laggard, but I think there’s an opportunity to understand what the current run rate is for IT spend, and how we can to eliminate legacy architecture and transition to modern technologies.”
Below are some of the many pieces of helpful advice provided by the panelists during the webinar:
- Identify thought leaders. “It’s almost impossible for C-suite leaders to keep track of the latest developments,” said Pruitt. He advised identifying thought leaders within the organization who have their finger on the pulse and “can help drive change, identify the problems that need to be solved, and be that cheerleader for IT.”
- Don’t be afraid to take the lead. Although organizations have different governance models and structures, the CIO should take the wheel in driving transformation, noted Chou. “I believe CIOs are in the best position. But they need to elevate their executive presence, elevate their storytelling ability, and really think in terms of driving business rather than maintaining all the various technologies.”
- Find ways to demonstrate success. It’s not just about dollars and cents, especially when it comes to HCI, said Pruitt, who recommended using surveys to show how initiatives are impacting patient care and improving the day-to-day tasks of caregivers. “Instead of just focusing on total cost of ownership, look at the current run rate. Understand the maintenance agreements you have in place with your legacy IT infrastructure, and look for alternatives. See what’s out there and challenge the status quo.” Other suggestions included looking at delivery times for hardware upgrades, and the speed in which new environments can be brought up during M&A mode by leveraging the cloud.
In addition to these benefits, transitioning to the cloud can help the rest of the organization see the value brought forth by the IT staff. “People think of IT as a maintenance organization – that’s a big misconception,” said McMillan.
Finally, leaders need to be willing to take a bold stance and stick with it. “We’re at a point where the staff shouldn’t be managing commodities, and tasks like network configuration should no longer be done in-house,” said Chou, who admitted it’s a bold stance. But if healthcare organizations are going to continue (or start) down the path of transformation, it’s critical to be able to embrace the future. “To me, it’s about leveraging partnerships with organizations that can do things better, so that my staff can focus on business opportunities rather than being gate keepers of technology.”
To view the archive of this webinar – A CIO’s Guide to Hybrid Cloud Infrastructure: Understanding the Potential Benefits & Path Forward (Sponsored by NetApp) – please click here.