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How Healthcare SaaS Provider Masters Quality and DevOps Using Cloud ITSM

Healthcare app provider PointClickCare manages growth while maintaining quality

Healthcare SaaS application developer PointClickCare has had to manage high growth while maintaining even higher quality of services delivery demands amid constant up-time requirements.

Whether it's monitoring medication management in a closed-loop integration with pharmacies, or managing weekly release schedules for their software, the change is constant at PointClickCare, based in Toronto.

To help maintain control and remain ever-ready for improvements, PointClickCare recently adopted a cloud-based IT service management (ITSM) solution. To learn the benefits and lessons learned in moving from an older approach, BriefingsDirect had an opportunity to sit down with Craig Schultz, Director of Hosting Operations at PointClickCare.

The discussion, conducted at the recent HP Discover 2013 Conference in Barcelona, is moderated by me, Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:

Gardner: We know that healthcare is a very dynamic environment, and there is a lot going on in moving organizations to electronic health records (EHRs). How is this affecting your business?

Schultz: We’re very busy, adding customers all of the time, trying to keep up with the demand for data, installing new customers, training customers, deploying new platforms on our end, infrastructure changes, and of course, rolling out Service Anywhere.

Gardner: And because your application is delivered through multi-tenancy, software as a service (SaaS) and cloud to all these healthcare organizations, software is more than a core competency. It practically defines your business.

Schultz: Exactly. As a SaaS provider, we need to always be up. Up-time is our biggest focus. The other part is release management. How do we keep updating our software, staying competitive, being agile along with our developers, and constantly improving ourselves?

Gardner: And you're no johnny-come-lately to the cloud. You’ve been doing SaaS for quite some time.

Schultz: Yes, for approximately 10 years. We were one of the original ones to kick it off in our market. From that, we've grown it, and now it's scalable. We're in multiple countries, and we're looking at how to continue to grow and keep the SaaS model and multi-tenancy as efficient as possible.

Mobile revolution

Gardner: Craig, how about the mobile revolution? How is that impacting your business? Does it matter whether they’re using a tablet to access your services, other devices, or PCs? How is the device end of things affecting you?

Schultz: Good question. We're fully cross-browser. From a platform standpoint, it doesn't matter. We’re actually releasing our Point of Care and related software on the Apple iPad and iPhone. We’re looking at it as if they have a dedicated tablet that they could use in their environment or they have one of the PCs or related items.


Gardner: I have to assume, Craig, that this is a mission-critical application for these healthcare organizations. They’re administrating medications, tracking billing, tracking  what takes place through a process along a medical trajectory, all very much in real time, very mission-critical.

Schultz: Absolutely. This is a 24×7 service that’s used all the time. As you say, with medication management we do a closed loop with the pharmacies for ordering. Obviously, safety is the biggest priority for our customers and for us. So on the SaaS service, we need to make sure that all the tools are current. We have our monitoring and our stats. Then, obviously, if there are any issues, incident management is one of the key areas.

Gardner: Tell me how you do operations and development. I believe that with software being so critical, when you do fast iterations for a multi-tenancy environment, DevOps is a priority, but with development and operations, there’s no daylight between them.

We make sure that that’s a defined process, scripted, and then tied into our tools.

Schultz: Exactly. Our development team runs by agile, as a lot of places do. At PointClickCare, we’re looking at a weekly release schedules in general. That means constant change and constant releases. DevOps is a priority. We need to make sure that the QA people have their servers. Then, it goes to production, and there aren't any problems when we release it. We make sure that that’s a defined process, scripted, and then tied into our tools.

Gardner: Given that you’re the Director of Hosting Operations, what do you need in terms of other outside help to get this done? What were the challenges and requirements you had and then how did you fulfill them?

Schultz: What we wanted to solve at this point was to improve our processes, our definitions, and our policies on how we deploy our software and make sure that they’re set on standards. We were looking at an ITSM tool that would bring that framework to us to help us mature and take us to that next level, as we look at how much change and growth we're going through.

Gardner: How long have you been using HP Service Anywhere?

Schultz: We have been using Service Anywhere for three months. At this time, we’ve rolled it out into the whole hosting operations team. We use it for tracking all of our change management, incident management, problem management, then related key performance indicators (KPIs).

Gardner: How did you do it before?

Case system

Schultz: We used a CASE system. It wasn’t defined as a ticketing system, and it was very hard to track information. What made it harder was the lack of searchability within there to find that information. How do you do reporting? How do you really look at the statistics? So we launched this new tool, and that’s taking care of all that.

Gardner: This sounds a bit like changing the wings on an airplane while still flying. Did you find the transition difficult? What was most difficult about it?

Schultz: The transition was made simpler by engaging HP Technology Services. We used them extensively for our training. We did the ITIL training ahead of time with our staff. We used HP services to come in and walk us through this. They’re the experts on the tool.

Probably the biggest difficulty was, as you say, getting the resources to the people that were dedicated to this project while running full speed ahead. There was no delay.

Gardner: I know it's a little early in the roll out, but have there been any indicators of how it's functioning and any metrics of success or return-on-investment (ROI) types of inputs?

Schultz: Our biggest results right now is that 100 percent of changes are tracked in the system. They’re following our change-management process. We can go through, review them, monitor them, look at the results of the changes, and actually get end-to-end process development.

We actually have that closed loop on change and incident management. We’re now tracking all incidents that we weren't before. Because of the system, you can look for them after. So you can build any trajectory or problem management. When you look at the suite of change incidents and problems, we have that full loop in our operations.

The transition was made simpler by engaging HP services. We used them extensively for our training.

From a measurement standpoint, that has reduced the amount of time that it takes for us to actually implement a change. If we’re asked to create a database, create new customers, whatever it might be, we can turn that around a lot faster because there aren't delays in the system.

Gardner: Any thoughts, once you get further into HP Service Anywhere, as to what you'll be integrating this into other activities, further back into the development phase, perhaps associated with code management? Where do you go next?

Schultz: Where we go next is around the new versions and new software. As we bring on the new versions of the software and Service Anywhere, we’re going to implement the new tools. So when we look at the self-service portal, how do we roll that out to the users to be able to connect, create their own requests or, even better, solve their own problems. That will reduce a lot of the load runner IT team and lot of those tickets that we are getting from that.

Looking at some of the integration points, that’s going to be how we automate our changes, our software, and our incidents in the future. That’s going to all tie in the Service Anywhere. As well, we’re looking at rolling it out across the company. That way, everybody uses a centralized tool. It has all the functionality that you need. Develop the KPIs, and run by the numbers and metrics.

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At Interarbor Solutions, we create the analysis and in-depth podcasts on enterprise software and cloud trends that help fuel the social media revolution. As a veteran IT analyst, Dana Gardner moderates discussions and interviews get to the meat of the hottest technology topics. We define and forecast the business productivity effects of enterprise infrastructure, SOA and cloud advances. Our social media vehicles become conversational platforms, powerfully distributed via the BriefingsDirect Network of online media partners like ZDNet and IT-Director.com. As founder and principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions, Dana Gardner created BriefingsDirect to give online readers and listeners in-depth and direct access to the brightest thought leaders on IT. Our twice-monthly BriefingsDirect Analyst Insights Edition podcasts examine the latest IT news with a panel of analysts and guests. Our sponsored discussions provide a unique, deep-dive focus on specific industry problems and the latest solutions. This podcast equivalent of an analyst briefing session -- made available as a podcast/transcript/blog to any interested viewer and search engine seeker -- breaks the mold on closed knowledge. These informational podcasts jump-start conversational evangelism, drive traffic to lead generation campaigns, and produce strong SEO returns. Interarbor Solutions provides fresh and creative thinking on IT, SOA, cloud and social media strategies based on the power of thoughtful content, made freely and easily available to proactive seekers of insights and information. As a result, marketers and branding professionals can communicate inexpensively with self-qualifiying readers/listeners in discreet market segments. BriefingsDirect podcasts hosted by Dana Gardner: Full turnkey planning, moderatiing, producing, hosting, and distribution via blogs and IT media partners of essential IT knowledge and understanding.

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