For most organizations, legacy data archiving isn’t considered a top-tier project; it often takes a backseat to EHR implementations or other major initiatives.
That, however, may not be the case for much longer. As mergers and acquisitions continue to rise, the ability to migrate data in a cost-efficient and timely way is becoming increasingly vital, and not just because of the potential to reduce costs.
“By reducing the application portfolio, you have the opportunity to reduce the operational burden of maintaining availability of systems, access, and backups and redundancy for preservation of data,” said Lorri Page-Santacruz, who spoke on a panel along with Dave Lundal, CIO at Children’s Minnesota, and Jim Hammer of Harmony Healthcare IT.
It’s an area Page-Santacruz knows well. In her role as Director of Enterprise Architecture at Northern Light Health, her primary objective is to reduce the number of applications and consolidate the end-user population into enterprise-wide applications wherever possible. As the organization has expanded, that has become more and more difficult. By partnering with Harmony Healthcare IT, the 10-hospital system was able to store clinical and financial data in a way that’s easily accessible. In fact, “it’s become an expectation that historical data is going to be there and will be available to all end-users,” she said. “It doesn’t live in silos anymore.”
For Northern Light Health, archiving legacy data has resulted in a solid ROI — but not just “hard” cost savings, which were achieved by eliminating maintenance, storage, and data center costs. They’ve also seen “soft” cost savings by helping clinicians and IT staff more quickly locate critical information. Rather than having to remember old EMR log-in information or navigate through countless systems, users can find all the data in one location. “It’s a huge time saver,” she noted.
Hammer concurred, adding that some record requests could take tours, particularly when there are hundreds of applications to sort through. On the other hand, “In the archive world, it’s literally a click away.”
For most organizations, the key driver in considering data archiving is to reduce expenses and decommission past inventories, according to Hammer. There are, of course, other motivators, including infrastructure reliability and stability, and the capability to support applications, but lowering costs is the ultimate goal.
As health systems proceed down the path of archiving, there are several issues that need to be considered and challenges that must be dealt with. During the webinar, Page-Santacruz, Lundal and Hammer shared some of the lessons they’ve learned, and offered advice on how to best navigate that path.
- Deciding what to migrate. In Hammer’s experience, large health systems tend to be very centralized and have everything inventoried so it’s ready to go. For most customers, however, this isn’t the case, especially those going through mergers and acquisitions. “They might not even know who their counterparts are,” and so they need guidance on how to gather the inventory and do some prioritizing. This is where companies like Harmony Healthcare IT come in. “We’ve developed best practices around what can be migrated successfully versus what’s already a time-consuming and labor intensive process,” Hammer noted. “We’ll start by migrating a certain set of data, and follow that with a comprehensive archive.”
- Seeing is believing. Perhaps the most common reservation among users is not being able to access information in an efficient manner, said Hammer. “The providers’ thought process is, ‘I need to provide care to patients, so I need to make sure I have the data that was in my comfortable legacy application that I used for years.’ Once they see that archives can provide that same level of comfort and ease around things like single sign on,” the hesitations recede significantly.
- Minimizing labor. Another legitimate concern is that “migrating data can be costly, time consuming, and frustrating if not done well,” said Hammer. And with IT leaders already splitting their time among projects, the last thing they want is more demand on their resources. This is where vendors can play a key role by “providing labor augmentation or recommendations around how to make a lengthy process shorter,” he added. “Anytime we can reduce project lifecycle time, it’s a benefit for both our organization and our customers.”
- Striking the best deal with the vendor being sunset. In any partnership, it’s critical that both parties are satisfied with the arrangement. This, according to Lundal, means being willing to go back and renegotiate if the terms no longer work for your team. “In the vendor community, referrals are critical. You want happy customers and happy former customers, and that makes any contract negotiable,” he noted. However, it also means being fair, and considering how any changes will impact the vendor’s bottom line. “I’ve got goals and objectives, including expense reduction and meeting payroll, as does whoever I am negotiating with on the other side, whether it be a small business or a large business. And at the end of day, everyone wants to do well, and I think as long as you keep that in mind, things are negotiable.”
- Continual improvement. As with any IT initiative, data archiving comes with costs, particularly around maintenance. One way to keep those down is by leveraging analytics to continuously improve processes. With Children’s Minnesota’s first archiving project, the aim was to establish a template for how it’s done so that “each one after that can get done more efficiently,” said Lundal. His team also conducts post-project analysis to identify gaps or weaknesses, come up with solutions, and improve the time by 10 to 15 percent. “I think that’s a critical item in terms of doing it in a cost-effective manner.”
- Repeatable processes. Page-Santacruz agreed, adding that having a well-defined, repeatable process is paramount. “After we did the first 10 applications or so, we refined that and revised it,” she said. “The whole process needs to be really understood and communicated with other IT departments that are going to be involved, as well as customers.”
- Partnering with other departments. Building on that, IT leaders also need to maintain strong relationships with security, compliance, and legal departments, and make sure they understand the retention requirements for the data, and the policies around preserving business data that might not be required by a regulatory agencies but are still needed, according to Page-Santacruz. Projects must also be properly budgeted, she adds. “You have to understand that upfront, before you get into the middle of retiring an application and there isn’t money set aside for it.”
- The security angle. Despite what some may believe, archiving is, in fact, “a security play,” said Lundal. “You move from an unknown to a known in applications — where they are, who is using them — which is great. And you move from unmanaged to managed.” It’s providing leaders with the ability to “more tightly manage” data access, the importance of which cannot be understated.
And so, while there are a lot of factors to consider, legacy data archiving solutions — when done right — can help reduce the burden associated with maintaining applications that, in essence, “take up space in what’s a pretty precious data storage environment,” said Page-Santacruz. “All of these things have a cost to them; they’re a big part of what helps build a compelling ROI for data rationalization.”
To view the archive of this webinar – Finding Cost Savings with Legacy Data Management (Sponsored by Harmony Healthcare IT) – please click here.