With more than 6,000 clients worldwide, Cerner is certainly one of the largest players on the healthcare IT landscape. In business since 1979, its founders — Neal Patterson, Cliff Illig and Paul Gorup — remarkably still call Cerner’s corporate corridors home. Earlier this year, the company threw the industry a curveball by announcing it would no longer exhibit at the HIMSS annual conference, making it clear the organization wouldn’t simply do things just because they had always been done. HCI Editor-in-Chief Anthony Guerra recently had a chance to chat with Cerner President Trace Devanny about where his company — and the industry at large — is headed.
AG: How do you approach process improvement?
TD: We are constantly looking at ways to improve how clients perceive Cerner; how our service levels can improve. At Cerner, if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it, so we measure everything, and we hold ourselves to a very high standard. That includes metrics across our consulting business, where we have had dramatic improvements in the total costs of ownership for our clients and, more importantly, we reduce that time-to-value proposition in getting those critical solutions installed much more efficiently, much more quickly, and bringing that return to our clients faster than ever.
On the deployment or the consulting side, we’ve had a number of initiatives, including our MethodM technology that brings the education, the deployment, all those critical elements of a successful project plan into one place. We’ve also had some really good success with measuring our host of clients, and even extended some of the capabilities beyond our host of clients, around up time, the availability of the hardware that supports the Millennium application. We call that Lights On, and that’s a program where we take the best practice, and we have close to 200 separate clients now running out of our data centers here in Kansas City. We learned a lot, each and every minute of the day, in how those systems operate; because we’re managing those systems and we’re able to create a lot of learning and thus create best practices from that learning that we drive right back into our clients and our operations.
So, that’s a very important improvement, and we’ve now approached 99.9 percent availability of systems, far and away better than what most of our client, in most cases, can provide themselves. We do it for lots and lots of different clients, so we have the ability to see those mistakes all the time before our clients even encounter them because we’re managing so many different environments.
Relative to support, we are very much aware of KLAS rankings, we are very much aware of how Gartner looks at the marketplace, we take a look at all those critical external measurement organizations that measure all of us, each and every day, and we are working and have plans in place to improve all of those metrics. I, personally, manage the cabinet that is concerned with client satisfaction, so the client care cabinet is something that I spend a good bit of my time looking at, constantly looking at ways to improve, and that’s at the senior-most level of the company.
On support, consulting, our hosting business, all of those elements are very front and center to us. And, frankly, it’s a strategic initiative for our company that we reduce the total cost of ownership for these very critical systems.
AG: As a business manager, do you have a way that you either monitor or evaluate your competition in order to just keep a good understanding of the way things are moving vis-à-vis those competitors?
TD: We have to. You’ve seen the consolidation that’s taken place in the competitive ranks. You look at the Siemens, you look at the GEs, the big cap guys that are going to become our biggest competitors. We have to know a lot about them; we have to manage. I think we do a very good job of competitive analysis, and we see them in the marketplace each and every day, so we take that learning back. We have an organization that focuses on managing competition and managing what we learn when we win and, more importantly, when we lose. So those points are very much captured, we try to take that learning and drive it back into the sales force so we don’t make any of those mistakes a second time. There will be continued consolidation in this industry; it has become more and more of a big cap game in order to manage the complexities of healthcare. I think you have to be able to fund it, and you’re going to find increasing pressure on some of these competitors to stay in the game and to be able to manage. If you’re going to be a one stop shop, if you’re going to be a full provider of many of these solutions, you’re going to find it tougher and tougher for the landscape to make that work.
AG: It must be interesting, on an RFP process, to keep coming up against the same five or six competitors every single time?