When outsourcing makes sense
Increasingly Healthcare IT executives are outsourcing their infrastructures to improve agility, reduce costs, and enhance security.
Generally speaking, when people think about outsourcing infrastructure these days, they are referring to infrastructure-as-a-service, a cloud solution in which the client controls their own virtual machine(s). However, traditional web hosting and server colocation also fall under this umbrella.
Using the data center environment and specialized knowledge of third parties can free up tech departments so that they can focus on innovation and core business rather than maintenance. That’s particularly true of companies in fields with specialized compliance and/or security needs (as with healthcare firms and HIPAA compliance).
How best to outsource?
It’s not just a question of whether or not you outsource but of how you do it, of course – and that’s the point that’s underscored by a 2015 whitepaper from Gigaom Research. The whitepaper suggested that it’s best to work with a provider that is sophisticated and flexible enough to deliver solutions based on your specific needs. Actually part of that is not flexibility but focus: healthcare companies are starting to realize that just as they hire consultants specializing in healthcare and attorneys specializing in healthcare, they also want healthcare-specific infrastructure outsourcing.
Burns argued for a blend of different architectural approaches that includes cloud as a primary component; this diversified model is fast becoming the standard for healthcare companies.
“Managed services are also a helpful option,” said Burns, “whether delivered by an infrastructure provider or a specialized managed service provider (MSP).”
Enterprises can get the most value out of infrastructural service providers that are capable of engineering specific technical solutions and deployment plans, said Burns. That’s a valid point, especially in the case of companies that require compliance. For healthcare companies with HIPAA needs, it’s necessary to consider not just the speed and uptime of providers but their reliability, compliance certifications, and data safeguards. Customizable infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) plans serve that purpose.
The best type of infrastructure will be different depending on the organization, according to Burns. That’s accurate in a sense, although you can do yourself a favor by working with a service that specializes in your industry if federal regulations restrict the way that you store and control data.
The right balance
HIMSS Analytics recently reported that 83% of healthcare organizations use the cloud in some capacity. That may sound surprising to some, depending which side of the fence you are on. Now of course, because of compliance concerns, healthcare companies are best served by a HIPAA-compliant, healthcare-exclusive cloud.
Although the cloud is popular and can be incredibly effective and cost-conscious, it doesn’t make sense for every situation.
“There are legitimate reasons to adhere to the on-premises IT approach,” argued Al Kuebler of Computerworld, “not the least of which is the fact that it assures that your IT infrastructure and all the data in it is under your control.”
However, it would be ridiculous for any CIO not to pay close attention to cloud options – if, for no other reason, because the cloud can deliver supercomputer power, allowing faster analysis of data. Faster analysis leads to faster understanding of a particular patient’s condition. Cloud has the potential to save human lives. I think it would be difficult to argue that cloud hasn’t saved thousands of lives already.
How should a healthcare IT leader approach cloud infrastructure outsourcing, then?
“A continuously improving IT asset management strategy is important to the success of the business,” said Kuebler. “For that reason, you should constantly ask yourself whether your on-premise approach is truly optimal.”
Here are several reasons, offered by Kuebler, that on-premise legacy architecture is not ideal:
- When you buy servers, you must have a very clear sense of the amount of capacity you will need. Properly gauging the capacity is time-consuming and requires deep knowledge.
- If cloud sounds challenging to adopt, consider the challenge of recruiting IT staff. Having equipment onsite means that you have to have people onsite to manage and maintain the equipment. Continual training on new technologies is another wrinkle.
- Technological transitions are disorganized. “The process of awareness, trial, adaption and adoption of new technologies is unstructured, reactive and slow,” noted Kuebler.
- Legacy infrastructure needs updating. Improving traditional systems to better suit the current business mission isn’t thought of as an opportunity but an expense.
Not an either-or scenario
Kuebler noted that you don’t have to choose cloud outright. Agreeing with Burns, he said that typically companies end up with a blend of different architectures.