Hedgehogs, Data Centers and Leadership in Healthcare IT

By: In: Data Centers On: Sep 19, 2014

We’ve come a long way with modern medicine – early detection, new drugs and improved patient care have led to significantly better treatment outcomes. And yet, we are at the cusp of a perfect storm about to transform healthcare as we know it – the confluence of wearable health devices, social media and big data analytics. The focus is shifting from a reactive, treatment-based care delivery approach to a proactive, data driven, overall wellness objective. The future seems to be much more about “coaching” individual consumers on making informed decisions for better lifestyles through personalized data analytics; and much less about “diagnosing” ailments and “prescribing” remedies for patients.

The opportunity and potential for change is enormous, and poses an equally imposing leadership challenge for those in healthcare IT to enable this transformation. How appropriate that we’re celebrating National Health IT Week (#NHITweek) in the context of the macro issues facing the industry:

  • Healthcare consumer mission focus: Very simply, this is about putting the consumer at the core of care delivery. Delivering personalized data and insights and engaging the consumer requires integrating disparate systems, exchanging data across platforms and implementing predictive analytics. Is your organization’s IT infrastructure capable of enabling this?
  • Exponential data growth: Every healthcare IT organization is dealing with significant growth in information—both in sheer volumes, and in the variety of data types and applications. As wearable devices and “smart sensors” become mainstream, the data growth will easily dwarf current rates. Are you ready for storing, managing and protecting this data tsunami?
  • Business model changes: This “mass customization” of care delivery requires new economic models and a move away from transaction based billing and accounting to an actuarial approach using expected life-time value of consumer outcomes. Can your IT architecture and budget scale smoothly to account for the variability inherent in these economic models?

If you’re a healthcare IT leader, and these issues seem overwhelming – you need to think like a hedgehog! As Jim Collins explains in his best selling book – great leaders understand their core competence, know what they’re passionate about and find the economically viable path that allows them to apply both.

I’ll assume that you’re passionate about better consumer healthcare outcomes. Pursuing this passion in an economically viable way requires you to stop doing activities that are not core to this pursuit, and to make conscious choices about “lumpy” capital investments as well as focusing your teams on the right priorities.

So what do data centers have to do with all this?  If you’re like most healthcare organizations, you probably maintain an internal data center. And like most IT leaders in your situation, you also know that running your own data center is a thankless job – you get called out for any outages, but you get no credit for keeping it running the rest of the time. And who hasn’t been hit with the unexpected capital request for an infrastructure upgrade when you were least expecting it?

This is a great example to the “apply the hedgehog” test: is running an internal data center your core competence?  Can you quickly add capacity or scale your footprint without significant budget and TCO impact? Is data center management the optimal use of your people and resources relative to your organization’s mission? If you answered “no” to these questions, you should consider alternatives such as outsourcing your data center to a colocation facility.

In fact, many healthcare IT leaders are increasingly comfortable using leading outsourcing vendors in the data center colocation market. Talk about having your cake and eating it too – which is exactly the right prescription for a happy hedgehog!

Follow this week’s conversation about the value of Healthcare IT at #NHITweek.

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About the author

Sam Gopal

Sam Gopal is the Director of Product Management for Iron Mountain’s Data Center service line. He has over 15 years of experience in management consulting, IT systems integration, business process improvement and corporate strategy. Sam has worked in a variety of industries including high technology, automotive, department of defense and information management. Sam holds an MS in Industrial Engineering from Purdue University and a BS in Mechanical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology.