healthcaretechoutlook

Moving Towards the App Driven World

By Denise Zabawski, CIO, Nationwide Children’s Hospital

Denise Zabawski, CIO, Nationwide Children’s Hospital

A few weeks ago I was talking with a colleague about a vendor selection for a content management solution. One option was inexpensive the other nearly five times the cost. As we discussed through the differences, we realized that the more expensive content management system did “mobile” much better than the inexpensive solution. Decision made! As we’ve tried to roll out new tools for families and applications for researchers, we quickly realized that it has to be phone based. A large percentage of our patient population cannot afford computers or tablets, but nearly everyone has a smart phone. Interestingly, quite a large number of our patients don’t have an email address. They live more real-time with twitter, pinterest, facebook, snapchat and many others.  It clearly shows that we are becoming an “appified” culture and expect a one click app load. We all had a good laugh when one of our senior infrastructure guys was talking about installing software on a client. He said “you click install, and then, next, next, next, next”.

“We are all moving to virtual desktop Infrastructure (VDI), so we can appify or virtualize those monster applications that run banks, insurance companies, retail, healthcare, transportation and manufacturing”

A younger employee asked him what “next-next-nextnext” meant. After the baby boomers and GenX’s stopped laughing, and thankfully this new employee was good-natured, the engineer explained. We all felt kind of ancient and outdated at that point. Software “installs” are no longer common unless you are in a corporate IT shop. When is the last time you installed software in the old fashioned way? We want our tools now with one click and for free. Our kids and our new generation of workers no longer install software, they load apps. We better be ready to appify our corporate assets. Sure big corporations will continue to run the big legacy systems on server farms in their data centers.   

We are all moving to Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI), so we can appify or virtualize those monster applications that run banks, insurance companies, retail, healthcare, transportation and manufacturing. Traditional software vendors are rushing mobile app front ends for their legacy client server software because it becomes a competitive advantage. New small and medium size businesses don’t even bother to set up an IT infrastructure beyond wireless. Everything they need can run in the cloud and as an app and they can run their business on a smartphone or tablet. What does this mean for those of us tasked with strategic planning and financial forecasting? We are looking at growing our mobile development expertise inhouse and building relationships with solid development partners. Sure we could crowd source to developers all over the world, but we want to maintain a strong brand and consistent look and feel for everything we develop. We think we have some proprietary knowledge about kid’s health that we want to protect.

We are creating a new project intake channel just for apps. The oversight and governance includes IT, business leadership and Marketing. We are putting processes in place for the care and feeding of these apps. We need people and processes that will create updates, read end user feedback and respond to issues. Our customer is no longer just our employee base, it becomes anyone and everyone. How do you create a support structure around something that wide-open? For now, other than app maintenance we don’t plan to create a support team, but we talk about it every month.

I think we should “wait and see”. How often do you call someone if an app you download doesn’t work? I go find another app that will work. We just expect that they will work and be intuitive to use. Another shift in strategy is creating a shift in focus. We took our web services team and created a “content-delivery” team. This team is tasked with creating apps that work and most importantly are intuitive. This philosophy is winding its way into everything we deliver from desktops to financial reports and dashboards.  

As I ponder 2015 and beyond, I’m trying to figure out how to build apps that are fun and rewarding. I want to “gamify” our required online education. I’d love to manage employee performance using a reward system that clearly ties performance and achievement to “badges” or rewards. I want to create that friendly competition with crowd based gaming and benchmarking. We are also talking about how we bring social media into the workplace. We don’t want our employees on their personal Facebook or SnapChat accounts, but we do want forums for employees to ask each other questions and share information. We want to figure out how to use beacons to help our patient and families with way finding including finding their car at the end of their visit, the automated electric car that brought them to the hospital. In addition we want the data from their wearable technology whether it is an insulin pump, a pacemaker or a fitbit. It’s not quite the Jetson’s world yet, but it’s getting there!