Intermountain Looks to Heal the Business Divide

By Michael Vizard

With rising health-care costs in the political spotlight in one form or another nearly every day, IT leaders in the health-care space are being asked to have a meaningful dialogue with business leaders in their industry about how to use IT to bring costs under control. One problem, of course, is that IT people and the business leadership don’t always speak the same language.

At Intermountain Healthcare, the IT organization has begun to transform the way the IT organization engages with the rest of the business. A long-time user of the CA Technologies’ Clarity IT financial management software, the health-care organization is now working with CA Technologies to develop a new version of the software, called CA Clarity Playbook, that will be specifically optimized for business and senior IT executives so they can keep track of IT spend on a project or strategic initiative basis.

According to John Watkins, director of program management services in the information service group at Intermountain Healthcare, the goal is to allow the IT organization to present the cost-benefits analysis to business leaders in terms they understand.

“We have a big effort under way to align our activities to the business,” says Watkins. “We’re trying to assemble a cohesive plan that is tied to all the services the business provides.”

In fact, Intermountain Healthcare is often cited by U.S. President Barack Obama as a primary example of how health-care providers need to reinvent themselves to reduce health-care costs.

Watkins says Intermountain Healthcare’s IT organization increasingly sees itself as broker of IT services, some of which are delivered by the internal IT organization and some of which are delivered by external service providers.

“We’re setting up strategic business planning processes with each of the business leaders,” says Watkins. “We want to be part of the business, not to say that’s the business and this is IT.”

According to Eveline Oehrlich, a vice president and research director at Forrester Research, Intermountain Healthcare is tackling an issue that has long plagued IT departments.

“IT wants to speak in very technical terms that the business side doesn’t understand, “says Oehrlich. “There needs to be more alignment around communications.”

Oehrlich says that’s not only critically important in terms of accountability, it’s more crucial than ever because with cloud computing, business units now feel more empowered to bypass IT than ever before.

“IT has that reputation as being the Department of No,” says Oehrlich. “But a lot of business units don’t think they need IT anymore. They see internal IT as a dinosaur they get around using a credit card.”

According to Yash Shah, senior vice president for product management at CA Technologies, CA Clarity Playbook is a software-as-a-service application that will pull all the IT financial management data stored in the Clarity and then present it in a way that is aligned with strategic business initiatives.

“Instead a pursuing a bottom-up approach that starts with the IT infrastructure, we’re taking a top-down approach that starts with a spend management perspective,” says Shah.

At the moment, CA Clarity Playbook is being developed as an HTML5 application that will run on the Apple iPad. Longer term, CA Technologies plans to make the application available on more platforms, but also integrate it with more data sources, says Shah.

Without a means to measure the cost of IT in terms the business side understands, IT will simply continue to lose power and control.

“We want to make it easier to show how the IT budget is distributed amongst the business units,” says Shah. “Otherwise, IT will not be able to provide the transparency the business really requires.”

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