Be Prudent, Not Fearful
Traditionally, IT departments wanted to wrap their arms around hardware assets and software platforms that they were responsible for. There had to be a sufficient level of trust to be placed in an outside vendor to move their data and applications from in-house storage facilities to the cloud. Three years back, when I arrived at Metrocare Services, there were two aging Microsoft Exchange Servers on-site and nobody could access Microsoft Outlook from outside of the network, because nobody really understood security enough to be able to loosen up some of the control. The underlying principle behind this was that it was better to lock it down than to take the chance where something could go wrong. Eventually, we took the leap of faith. Being among the first healthcare organizations in Texas that adopted Microsoft Office 365 to improve operations, service delivery, collaboration and communication, and maintain compliance, Metrocare Services was facing a “risk versus reward” scenario.
Put in a situation where we would have had to explore four or five different applications for different requirements from four to five different vendors, Office 365 was the Holy Grail-turnkey solution we were looking for. They were HIPAA compliant, and we did our due diligence to make sure we weren’t placing any critical patient information or confidential data assets in a situation we didn’t trust. Microsoft recognizes the importance of what we stand for, and the services that we provide to the public daily; they know that non-profit organizations will normally struggle financially. As an organization that falls under the 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations category, we have experienced tremendous pricing benefits from the Microsoft partnership. The cost-effective ability to take advantage of all the new technologies that Microsoft is continuing to pump out is a huge reason for the jump to the Office 365 wagon.
Future innovation in Office 365 is definitely going to revolve around mobility and interoperability
With 1300 employees spread over 13 locations in Dallas city, Instant Messaging—Skype for Business—platform was the immediate attention magnet at the onset. We can now conduct meetings online through video-conferencing, audio-conferencing, and whiteboard demos through Skype, as opposed to having our staff navigate traffic between our different locations. The ability to retain key employees by having a remote working model has also been a critical benefit from Skype for Business. We have literally placed our whole telemedicine process on Office 365. Another key tool that encouraged employee collaboration was the ability to remote into people’s desktops using Desktop Sharing, which made IT operations much more accessible to the workforce. While the desktop sharing feature has helped improve their productivity by giving them technology that they are familiar with, one of the major challenges that remains is training and educating the people regarding the do’s and don’ts with any technological platform.
The Metrocare Services IT staff has attended several conferences both in person as well as through webinars, followed by exams that can certify them as skilled users. We have also provided our users with two-hour ransomware training followed by an online exam. While one can place multiple security perimeters, when there is procreation of risk by the single click of a button by a gullible user, there isn’t much one can do except educating the users about what they need to do, or more appropriately, what they need to avoid doing. In that light, the free classes we have gained from the Microsoft Partnership have been amazingly beneficial.
Educating users is just the tip of the iceberg of challenges for a CIO and the IT team. Learning the business itself has become a primary focus for the IT staff, who used to be responsible just for the administration of the proprietary hardware assets and software platforms. It is pertinent for IT leaders to align their own goals with those of the organization, making sure that each of their activities are synchronized with what brings value to the business. Nevertheless, when such symmetry of visions is met, the IT team, traditionally viewed as a cost center, can become cost-efficient, and further a revenue-generating asset to the organization. Organizations should start out by adopting a hybrid strategy, keeping the most vital applications and data on-site. Initially, offloading e-mail and leveraging SharePoint and Instant Messaging for enhancing communication and collaboration internally as well as externally, is a definite low risk-high reward move. The next step is to educate users and gradually move higher volumes and varieties of in-house data, simultaneously realizing the cost benefits in real-time. Metrocare Services has undergone this transformation for the past three years and the results are impressive:
1. Patient encounter moments have improved drastically. Our staff is able to communicate faster and more efficiently, helping the patient navigate through all the different processes they undergo during their visit.
2. Our staff is more empowered and independent in their activities, reducing their reliance on the IT team. The ability to access cloud email, access IM services, and enhance communication via Skype, has improved their productivity and confidence.
In stark contrast, historically there had always been an invisible barrier between the IT team and the rest of the staff, which has now been reduced by the Office 365 transformation.
The implications that Office 365 has had in Metrocare Services is a reminder that innovation is a continuous process. With that in mind, one can expect the attention to shift towards bolstering the security and compliance tools in the Office 365 suite subscription. Secondly, further integration of IM with other applications in the workplace, extending its functionality, is another popular item on our wish-list. Thirdly, the fact that most of our forms are built by the IT unit and then uploaded to Sharepoint presents an opportunity for Microsoft to incorporate a form-builder tool within the Sharepoint environment, which can further empower the non-IT staff in becoming independent and enabled. Future innovation in Office 365 is definitely going to revolve around mobility and interoperability. Users must be enabled to work from anywhere, not tied to a desk; they must have a uniform and consistent experience of the software regardless of the device they use for access. IT leaders around the world must catch pace with this redefinition of the workplace. If they operate out of fear, there will be no end result, good or bad. There is always a risk factor involved when they strive to achieve cost efficiency and enable the organization to be more productive. Instead, one must perceive innovation and change as an opportunity to explore, rather than a risky pitfall; be prudent, not fearful.