Rising expectations for data security, availability and reliability are putting unprecedented pressure on traditional healthcare data centers, which are often burdened by outdated technology and staggering volumes of data.
To effectively support organizational goals for improved patient outcomes in today’s value-based reimbursement environment, IT infrastructure has become more robust, agile and scalable than ever before.
To learn more about these changes, we sat down with David Chou, current CIO at Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Mo., and the former CIO of an academic medical center. He shares insight on technology and leadership, as well as his experience with data center transformation while working for that university-based healthcare system.
HEALTHTECH: What do you consider the biggest factors driving data center transformation for healthcare organizations?
CHOU: IT infrastructure and data centers must be robust and scalable immediately, not in weeks or months. The big question facing IT leaders is whether it’s worth it to build your own data center or whether you should consider partnering with one of the major cloud providers to locate the infrastructure outside the four walls of your institution. CIOs need to focus on questions like these so they can really bring business value and vision to their organizations instead of simply keeping the lights on and managing the data. It’s critical for CIOs to focus a lot more on the strategy and a little less on the infrastructure.
HEALTHTECH: So, in other words, the role of the CIO is transforming along with the data center?
CHOU: Definitely. The new generation of CIOs is going to be more business-driven and strategic. Think about it: IT touches every department across the healthcare enterprise, including patient registration, billing, coding, lab, pharmacy and more. CIOs need to understand, number one, how the business operates and, number two, how to provide efficiency utilizing technology. It’s no longer enough to say we’re transforming our data center in order to save dollars. We have to reframe all our projects so they’re tied into a business or strategic end goal for the organization.
HEALTHTECH: What steps are you taking to transform the data center at your organization?
CHOU: We’re implementing an on-premises converged infrastructure. The way I explain it to our executives is that we’re basically buying infrastructure in a black box. I don’t have to understand what’s inside that box because I know it’s going to work. Since data availability is guaranteed, that allows me to shift my focus to figuring out how to manage multiple tiers of infrastructure and hardware so I can deliver business value. It makes sense moving forward, although I haven’t seen too many adopters in healthcare or higher education trending that way yet. They’re still very traditional.
HEALTHTECH: What applications will be on your converged infrastructure?
CHOU: We’re starting with our enterprise electronic medical records (EMR) system, and then we’re going to look at moving some of the other 630 or so applications we use along the same path. We can’t put everything on the platform, of course, but we should be able to fit many of the applications.
HEALTHTECH: What are the benefits of moving to this infrastructure model?
CHOU: We’re saving dollars and operating more efficiently with an all-in-one solution. A converged model also shifts away from the finger-pointing game that often goes on when your enterprise system includes a variety of vendors. Another benefit is that our converged infrastructure vendor rigorously tests the product in our environment before shipping it, guaranteeing that it works and that all applications are ready to go. In addition, because the service-level agreement is tied into the converged infrastructure, we have a layer of folks looking over our shoulder to make sure that everything is operating smoothly and the applications we run function the way they’re meant to.
HEALTHTECH: How does convergence align with your organization’s patient-care goals and business strategy?
CHOU: We have to create synergy across all three of our missions with the same core technology, while still supporting their individual specialties. The converged model enables our practitioners to practice medicine, our educators to teach our students and our students to learn in an environment that’s scalable and highly available with essentially no downtime.
HEALTHTECH: What additional changes do you anticipate making to your data center and infrastructure in the future?
CHOU: After we transition our EMR, next on my radar is moving our enterprise resource planning (ERP) application to a new platform. I’m deciding whether to use a public cloud or host it on a converged infrastructure in-house. Phase two for the converged infrastructure will most likely involve moving it offsite to a disaster recovery location.
HEALTHTECH: Do you have concerns about the security of patient data if you move it offsite or to the cloud?
CHOU: First of all, you need to understand how much risk the organization is willing to take. For example, some leaders get nervous when you talk about moving sensitive patient and student data outside the institution. They prefer to keep it on-premises, where they can physically walk to the data center. But the reality is that it’s much safer to host data with the large cloud providers. There’s better security and redundancy in that cloud environment, because there’s no way you could invest the amount of capital needed to secure your operations at the same level. However, we have to do a lot of educating to get this message across so all leadership feels confident.
HEALTHTECH: How do you measure the value of data center transformation?
CHOU: The value is how quickly our end users can operate and accomplish what they need to do. For example, in a traditional data center, if our researchers needed additional computing power, I would have to buy, procure, contract and build a new server, which could easily take six to eight weeks. In a cloud environment, I could set up a server in minutes and users could start working within half an hour. We’re moving toward an era where people want things now, even for technology on this scale. If we don’t provide solutions that meet user expectations, they’ll find their own solutions beyond the enterprise, where they are readily available. We can definitely measure hard dollars in terms of savings, but there’s obviously soft ROI [return on investment] also, such as the convenience factor and the ability to do things faster and quicker, improving productivity.
HEALTHTECH: What advice would you offer your peers regarding data center transformation?
CHOU: My top tip is you have to be a salesperson. You have to sell your solution to everyone, because there’s going to be resistance — even within your own department. A lot of education and discussion needs to occur to get IT staff comfortable about shifting practices to providing more business value instead of solely managing infrastructure. You also need the right data to make a strong business case to your chief operating officer and CEO, as well as all your internal and external stakeholders. In addition, understanding your organization’s culture is critical in terms of delivering success. There are so many great technologies today that it’s no longer about which is better: A versus B versus C. It’s really about which technology is going to best fit your organizational needs.