The next BriefingsDirect innovator case study interview explores how a Texas healthcare provider has adopted cloud computing, and in doing so has both saved money and improved the quality of its many services.
At the recent VMworld 2014 Conference in San Francisco, our moderator, Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions, interviewed Shawn Wiora, CIO at Creative Solutions in Healthcare in Fort Worth, Texas to learn more about the process of adopting cloud, and why cloud has benefited them as a complex organization.
Here are some excerpts:
Wiora: Creative Solutions in HealthCare is the largest independent owner and operator of skilled nursing facilities (SNFs), which are nursing homes, in the State of Texas. We also operate assisted-living facilities and we provide long-term care solutions, primarily in Texas.
We have about 6,000 employees. Many of them are nurses, and many of them are capturing data about our patients and our residents. Our residents are in the thousands and, as a private company, we’re able to deliver solutions in the marketplace that are really geared toward lifestyle, care, nutrition, activities, and programs. That’s why the company has been so successful — we have this passionate care about our residents.
Gardner: Of course, healthcare is really changing in terms of how it’s using IT and leveraging IT, and I suppose you’re no different.
Wiora: That’s exactly right. HealthCare has been ramping up in terms of IT, not only catching up with the industry, but in some cases, leading the forefront, especially when it comes to patient care and delivering innovative diagnosis and treatment programs over telemedicine and other types of electronic media.
Gardner: Why has cloud computing been appealing to you with your requirements? What challenges were you trying to solve when you looked at the cloud model?
Wiora: It’s an interesting story. About two years ago, the company was 100 percent physical in terms of its server infrastructure. Similar to many other long-term care facilities, we have to deliver new forms of compliance as it relates to HIPAA, the HITECH Act, and the NIST framework.
So if you take all those, in addition to the new apps that are being required of the organization, new types of health exchanges that we are involved with, the requirements were just escalating dramatically. So we started with a physical infrastructure and we looked at going virtual.
It was a wholesale change ramp-up. We took a big challenge by embarking on an initiative that allowed the company to go from physical to virtual, and at the same time, we went from premise-based to the cloud. We did that together.
Fortunately, we already had some really good experience with virtualization, but by no means did we have a program that was deploying across the server infrastructure. So we issued an RFP and we selected a group of vendors at the top of the pyramid. At that top was Azure, AWS, and VMware’s vCloud. We chose Microsoft Azure.
We started a pilot with Azure, and it was really interesting. We’re a Microsoft house, and the team chose Azure based on the fact that not only we were Microsoft house, but we had a number of initiatives that we wanted to move to the cloud, including Microsoft Exchange.
So, we started moving Exchange into the cloud with our Azure program. Then, we asked Microsoft to issue a document that indicated that they would support Exchange, their own software, in Azure, their own cloud, and guess what happened?
We did not get acknowledgment. Ultimately, they would not indicate that they would support their own software in their own cloud. We were flabbergasted. We just couldn’t believe it.
We ended up pulling the plug on that project, on that initiative. We went back to the marketplace and we chose vCloud Air, and we quickly ramped up. That’s the reason why this project has been so successful — the ramp-up.
The team at the VMware understood what we were doing in terms of our timeline, our projects, and our applications that we are looking to move to the cloud. That’s really where they differentiated, not only between Azure and AWS in terms of their on-boarding, because we did pilots on all those cloud infrastructures. VMware’s vCloud Air team had the best on-boarding process for any kind of IT project that I’ve been involved with in the past 20 years.
Had our back
It just really made the IT team at Creative Solutions in Healthcare, the company, just feel like those guys really had our back. They really cared about what was happening. They knew that we were under the gun, because we had done this Azure kind of cluster, and it was not even feasible for us to go down the path with our own infrastructure. It ended up being a great partnership.
Gardner: Shawn, tell me to what degree you’re hybrid? Do you have an on-premises cloud virtualized set of applications? Do you have another set of applications? You’ve have opted to go into the public cloud, the vCloud Air. Is this something that you’re still sorting out in terms of what goes where? How about the data? Is that also on-prem, and how you are factoring the hybrid approach?
Wiora: We’re very deliberate with our cloud strategy. We started with a pilot of some core applications, got our feet wet in the cloud, and then we took that success that we had. Again, the on-boarding that we received in that process was really second to none.
That made the team feel very comfortable with moving other infrastructures. Now, we’ve moved our entire back-office infrastructure, our accounting, a number of custom apps, provisioning, and supply chain into the cloud with the vCloud Air.
We’re are also in a hybrid environment, as you’ve indicated. We have servers throughout our facilities and servers at headquarters. We have other software-as-a-service (SaaS) models that we’re interacting with. We’re moving data from other providers back into our on-premise environment and then we’re moving that into vCloud Air. There’s a lot of hybrid going on right now.
Gardner: So that integration, management, and orchestration, being able to automate that, seems very important to you. You want to be able to set this up, have it run, and then devote your energy to all these new projects.
Wiora: Yes. That’s really where the return is to the company, the shareholders, the board, and the management team. That’s what IT should be focused on: How do we ultimately deliver solutions that the other business units, and ultimately our patients, can appreciate.
We’re in the long-term care industry and we’ve been very successful in growing the company based on the passionate, caring model. The IT organization aligns its passion and care toward the patients.
Instead of being wrapped up with servers, virtualization, and all of the other things that VMware is the best at doing, we’re outward-focused on the business units and the patients.
New product appeal
Who has more data than healthcare? There are some organizations that have a lot of data, but we track what our patients eat, what time they go to sleep, what they do during the day in terms of activity. We’re talking each and every day across each and every facility, thousands of patients.
So VMware’s Object Based storage is something that is in our future.
Gardner: So, one last area for adoption. You have talked about the on-boarding process, but there’s also the end-user absorption of new approaches from IT. How this has gone in terms of your end users?
Have they noticed a change in the type of applications? Has it been something that they didn’t notice? What’s been that result at that end-user inception point when you made this transition to cloud?
Wiora: It is been game changing for the company. It is been game changing for our patients. Instead of being fearful about approaching IT, the business units are coming to IT, and they know that we can ramp up applications very quickly.
We just ramped up our maintenance application in a couple of days. In the past, that would have taken months of planning. The business unit laughed. They just looked at IT and said, “You have to be kidding. This is up and running already?”
Advice for others
Gardner: That’s a strong testament. How about advice for other organizations that are beginning that RFP process, that are thinking about cloud, looking at the different approaches, the different providers? Any words of wisdom in hindsight that you could offer now that you have been through that process?
Wiora: Absolutely. Who wants to reinvent the wheel? If I’m looking at going to the cloud for the first time or if I am looking at enhancing my hybrid cloud environment, I would suggest you look at TCO.
Look at what your labor costs are. Look at who the A-Team is in the industry for virtualizing. Look at what the roadmaps are and look at which vendors really don’t care what you put in your cloud infrastructure. There are vendors. as we talked about earlier, that really have the ability to approve or disapprove what you put in there.
I’d look at that, but you have to look at TCO and look at partnering with an organization that can help you easily ramp up. Then, I think you look at how you want to run your IT organization. If those things make sense to you, then I would suggest you look at vCloud.
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