Smart is as smart does. And in the field of business intelligence (BI) and predictive analytics, a company's got to be pretty smart to outdo its competitors. But that's what's happened at SAS, the global BI company that is excelling across a variety of vertical industries, including healthcare.
The Cary, N.C.-based firm - which has won dozens of awards across numerous industries for the quality of its solutions - racked up revenues of $1.9 billion last year, compared to $1.68 billion in 2005 (following 30 consecutive years of revenue growth and profitability).
"I do see things picking up in healthcare, with more and more focus on the gathering, analysis, and use of data for performance improvement," says Kecia Serwin, the company's general manager, health and life sciences. "And," she says, "I think you can draw a great parallel between some of the things achieved in financial services and other industries, to what's being learned now in healthcare."
In fact, the use of BI and analytics tools, already widespread in the pharmaceuticals/biotechnology and life sciences areas, has been expanding gradually through health insurer organizations, and is only now becoming more common among provider organizations, Serwin says. But the growth of consumer-directed health plans, an increased emphasis on customer relationship management, and pay-for-performance initiatives, are all expected to push the company forward in healthcare, she says.
Of course, pioneering patient care organizations are already using SAS's tools.
Executives at Brigham & Women's Hospital in Boston, for example, credit their use of the SAS performance management system as a contributing factor to its being named to the prestigious "Balanced Scorecard Hall of Fame for Executing Strategy by the Balanced Scorecard Collaborative," for the hospital's performance improvements using the Balanced Scorecard process. The 747-bed hospital has been using SAS-facilitated performance data to measure and monitor key performance indicators for clinical care across all its inpatient areas.
Is this the future of care delivery? Serwin and her colleagues believe it is, as the demand for improved clinical and operational performance and greater transparency and accountability begin to transform healthcare. The biggest challenge to date, she says, has been simply convincing provider organization executives that investing in business intelligence and data analytics tools is worthwhile to begin with.
As the industry moves forward into an era of greater accountability and straitened resources, Serwin and her colleagues are convinced that healthcare as a whole will finally embrace the promise of BI and predictive analytics.
"Our mission is to help the whole industry," says Serwin. "But it has to be in an environment where people see the tools making a difference. And if you can show that improving care and decision-making can really quantifiably improve value, it triggers a whole cultural shift in mindset."
Inevitably, she concedes, early adopters like Brigham & Women's will pioneer the use of advanced tools such as business intelligence and predictive analytics solutions, while large numbers of hospitals and health systems will hang back, waiting until such solutions are proven, and, in many cases, until competitor organizations have already used them to advantage.
She and her colleagues readily accept that part of their role will be to educate the healthcare industry on the value of BI and predictive analytics. Given what pioneering organizations are doing with those tools, though, Serwin doesn't believe it will take too long. "I do think we make organizations smarter," she says. "And healthcare is learning that it has to work smarter."