IT professionals need to go the extra mile to make disparate products and interfaces from various vendors work harmoniously. But it’s worth the effort.
By David Muntz
I wish there was one IT vendor that could collect and integrate the best features and functions to make their modules operate seamlessly. Unfortunately, there isn’t.
In my 40-plus years in health IT, I’ve found that the best approach to deliver real value to an enterprise and its stakeholders–or, as in my situation, to patients, families, providers and payers–is to engage multiple IT and non-IT vendors, instead of trying to find a monolithic vendor claiming to do all.
Despite the current trend suggesting that organizations purchase as much as they can from a single vendor to avoid the headaches of integration, I know of no one who doesn’t have a multivendor approach. Admittedly, in a multivendor approach, IT professionals do need to go the extra mile to make disparate products and interfaces from various vendors work harmoniously, but the benefits far outweigh the efforts.
Focus on the 3 C’s
The real goal in a multivendor approach should be to minimize the efforts of integration, not eliminate them completely. To do so, organizations must become adept at the three Cs of IT–Communication, Coordination and Collaboration–and pursue each aggressively from initial ideation through ongoing post-implementation optimization. It’s not only about getting the best tools, but inducing user buy-in and providing the best governance process. This ensures that business and administrative process redesign efforts encourage meaningful conversations and yield optimal results.
Choose a Strong Hub That Supports True Integration
The first and most critical step is to choose a strong primary vendor that can provide and support a central “hub” for the other vendors. If you have the right hub, you can add all the other appropriate “spokes” needed to achieve your strategic objectives. Your organization doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel, but you should seek to improve it–and often that means adding new IT partners, not just vendors. A true partner (and only the CIO gets to use that term) understands your goals and shares in your successes, as well as works to correct any missteps. Too often to protect their own interests, vendors make it difficult to add other vendor products to their hub. The enlightened approach would be to open the hubs to ensure that clients and their customers have the best experience and optimal outcomes. Such an approach would allow components from the monoliths to be used when the component is the best fit for the organization.
Maximize Your Portfolio of Investments
Seamless integration is key to making sure you get the most out of your investments. It is imperative to have all of the capabilities to exchange data securely in a way that is understood by both sender and receiver with appropriate acknowledgements, regardless of who provides the vended product. CIOs and IT specialists should balance and coordinate the entire portfolio of products and services in which they’ve invested, and ensure they can maximize their investments by using new or not-yet-imagined complementary products and processes in an ever-evolving future.
Solve Problems by ‘Radical Collaboration’
Lead a radically collaborative computing environment by creating an architecture and approach that stimulates innovations and contributions from both users and developers.
Radical collaboration means you must get all stakeholders actively committed, not just involved. Phone manufacturers understood this and created open platforms encouraging crowd-sourcing and data sharing. The smartphone is a good example–it’s one platform that can act as a camera, a social networking device, a scrapbook, a financial planning tool, navigator, wallet, news source, library, game console, and so on. And let’s not forget that it started as a communications device. The combination of all these apps on a central hub and their smooth integration with each other and into your customer’s lifeflow (the business equivalent of workflow) truly increases productivity and promotes innovation. In the IT sector, we need to insist that all vendors open their systems to enable this radical collaboration.
Choose the Right Vendor Partner
While each organization’s needs and requirements are unique, here are some questions that CIOs and IT specialists can ask themselves when considering and evaluating vendor partnerships:
- What are your most important goals? You can do anything; you can’t do everything. Find experienced and collaborative vendors that encourage and thrive in a multivendor environment.
- Do you fully understand the Value of Investment (VOI)? Do your research before you buy. Complete a comprehensive benefit analysis so you can thoroughly identify the outcomes that vendors can provide. Include more than just the traditional ROI by assessing and measuring the intangibles. Involve all the stakeholders you are serving to ensure that the value is defined by them, and so that you’re collecting relevant and reliable measures.
- Do you have buy-in from all participants in your own organization? Change is not possible without everyone pulling in the same direction. Synchronize efforts to ensure that both the individuals and the enterprise are moving at the same pace in the same direction.
- Have you talked within your network and product user community? Seek advice from industry peers on their experiences with specific vendors. Visit sites that are suggested by the vendor and especially those that are not. Avoid vendor-hosted visits so that your dialog with their customers can be candid and unscripted, but be sure to ask the same questions at each site you visit.
- Are steps in order to track progress and success? Once you’ve decided on which products to invest, develop a baseline and measure against it on a regular basis to show your progress. Be sure to admit to any missteps, make timely adjustments if needed, and, most importantly, celebrate incremental successes.
Being a CIO is hard. Embrace the multivendor approach. And to use a quote from the movie A League of Their Own: “It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. The hard...is what makes it great.” Let’s make IT great.
David Muntz is the CIO of GetWellNetwork and the former principal deputy national coordinator at The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC).