Benchmark Senior Living Revamps Its IT OperationBy Samuel Greengard | Posted 11-04-2014
Staying ahead of competitors is a growing challenge for companies across a wide swath of industries. For Benchmark Senior Living—which operates independent living, assisted living and continuing care retirement facilities at 50 locations in the Northeast United States—it means the difference between thriving and faltering.
The 4,900-plus employee firm, which is undergoing rapid growth (it has approximately $1.6 billion assets under its management along with $390 million in annual revenue), found itself at a crossroads for IT. "We recognized a need to make some significant changes," says George Morris, senior vice president of financing and accounting at Benchmark.
Among the core challenges: a project management system that wasn't robust enough to match the organization's requirements, a need for better reporting and financial analysis tools, and a clearer understanding of the roles and responsibilities within the IT department. The company, founded in 1997, had outsourced its entire IT function until 2008.
"At that point, we realized we had to bring it in house because we had reached a critical mass," Morris says. That unleashed a chaotic period that led to changes in strategies, resources and infrastructure. "Things were not working well," he adds.
In 2010, the firm hired a new vice president of IT, Moulay Elalamy, who immediately began to address the problems, including removing IT as the business owner for enterprise applications. The company turned to an outside consulting firm, McGladrey LLP, and began to map out a strategy, as well as a practical plan for transforming the company's business and IT practices.
The first step was to implement definable processes and controls. "We identified this as nothing less than an IT transformation," Elalamy explains. "We had to move from a small, entrepreneurial hodgepodge of IT to a professional approach."
Bill Kracunas, principal in the information technology services group at McGladrey, describes it as "gaining the horsepower to deliver from an IT perspective … There was a lot of noise and static among senior executives in regard to IT. There were system performance issues, system instability and other things that were affecting the company's ability to deliver on its business objectives."
Leadership buy-in was critical. That required numerous meetings to understand IT processes, including gaps and what was working well. Once the firm had established a strategy, there was a need to upgrade talent and undergo internal changes to address practical and cultural issues—including putting the customer experience at the center of the business. After that, the company created committees, including an IT advisory committee, which helped verify the strategy, identify technology requirements and prioritize projects.
In the end, the firm had to make key decisions about what tasks to tackle internally and what to address through clouds and other services, including telephony. Senior Benchmark has already revamped its infrastructure to accommodate a more efficient business and IT environment.
After moving to Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and plugging in a number of cloud services, server response times improved dramatically and overall performance spiked. The company also is addressing several key IT systems, including ERP, general ledger, sales, HRIS, compliance, project management, identity management and security.
Benchmark Senior has gained complete visibility into IT performance, capacity and business performance metrics at various facilities. In addition, business-critical projects now move forward at a faster and more effective clip.
"It was a difficult process, but we have moved from IT being perhaps the weakest department in our organization to it being one of the strongest," Morris concludes. "The IT transformation has put us in a position to operate our senior living communities more effectively and execute our growth strategy."