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Getting SaaS-y

February 21, 2011
by Jay Carter
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Why the Sisters of Mercy Health System Opted for On-Demand Portfolio Management
Sisters of mercy health system choose the saas model over traditional licensed software.
Sisters of Mercy Health System
Sisters of Mercy Health System choose the SaaS model over traditional licensed software.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Sisters of Mercy Health System chose the SaaS model as a simpler way to plan, execute, and monitor strategic business initiatives. It also provided something that was easy to use and offered quick time to value.

Information technology plays a vital role in the day-to-day operations of the Sisters of Mercy Health System (Mercy), the eighth largest Catholic healthcare system in the U.S. with operations in seven states and 37,000 co-workers. For more than 23 years, Chesterfield, Mo.-based Mercy has served as the parent corporation for 21 acute care hospitals, three heart hospitals, outpatient care facilities and much more.

LIKE MANY HEALTHCARE ORGANIZATIONS, WE ARE AMONG A GROWING GROUP THAT IS ADOPTING SOFTWARE AS A SERVICE (SAAS) TECHNOLOGIES BASED ON THE LOW COST, ADAPTABILITY, AND TIME TO VALUE THESE SERVICES OFFER.

The office I work in at Mercy, the Enterprise Project Office (EPO), is responsible for tracking all IT and Mercy-wide strategic capital projects to ensure they are mapping back to our business objectives. Most notably, the EPO has spearheaded the implementation of an electronic health record system supplied by Epic, Verona, Wis.

Like many healthcare organizations, we are among a growing group that is adopting software as a service (SaaS) technologies based on the low cost, adaptability, and time to value these services offer. Recently, I was involved in the transformation of Mercy's portfolio management system comprised of office productivity tools like Microsoft Project and Microsoft SharePoint. We decided that a SaaS-based solution would be ideal for this type of function, because it would give us a single portal for planning, executing, and monitoring all ministry initiatives.

SEEKING AN ALTERNATIVE

Microsoft Project and Microsoft SharePoint are valuable programs, but they can be difficult and time-consuming to use when it comes to planning, executing, and monitoring large scale IT initiatives-particularly when the initiative involves highly collaborative areas like project intake and governance, project status reporting, portfolio management, resource management, time reporting, and project scheduling. We simply weren't getting enough visibility into our project portfolio and struggled to allocate the right resources at the right time. We needed a centralized system in place to evaluate project requests, monitor project execution, and enable project communications.

WE HAVE ALSO BUILT CUSTOM DASHBOARDS TO MEET OUR UNIQUE NEEDS, WHICH INCLUDE MASTER SCHEDULE COMPONENTS, RESOURCE CAPACITY, PORTFOLIO COMPOSITION AND RISK SCORING.

Further, the implementation and administrative overhead of using point productivity tools like Project and SharePoint to manage strategic initiatives was time-consuming. It took the EPO three business days every month to collect and synthesize project and portfolio data, then format the content for further consumption. Team members had to dedicate a substantial portion of their time to re-keying information from multiple, disparate data sources. And, it was difficult for senior leaders to aggregate and track project initiatives and other performance measurements.

Our goal was to create a simpler way to plan, execute, and monitor strategic business initiatives. We also needed something that was easy to use, offered quick time to value, and could be delivered to us via a SaaS model.

SIMPLIFYING WITH SAAS

Ease of use was an important requirement for us, because the easier the software would be to use, the faster it could be deployed and adopted within our organization. In this regard, a SaaS model has certain advantages over traditional licensed software for a variety of reasons.

First, software and security updates and upgrades happen automatically and regularly, so there is no need to purchase or install the newest version of the software. This means we don't have to deal with the incompatibilities that can occur because different people or departments are on different versions of the software. Second, a SaaS solution would require less support from our heavily-burdened IT department. In making our decision, we weighed the various investments in resources required to install, manage, and maintain traditional software. The fact that SaaS services are hosted by the software developer, and that maintenance and upgrades are included in the subscription were obvious draws. Bottom line: SaaS services provide a level of fiscal flexibility and low up- front risk and cost that over the long run delivers very favorable return on investment.

EASE OF USE WAS AN IMPORTANT REQUIREMENT FOR US, BECAUSE THE EASIER THE SOFTWARE WOULD BE TO USE, THE FASTER IT COULD BE DEPLOYED AND ADOPTED WITHIN OUR ORGANIZATION.

WITH THE NEW SYSTEM, THE EPO AT MERCY IS NOW ABLE TO MAKE TIMELY DECISIONS ON PROJECTS THAT NEED FURTHER INVESTMENT AND FLAG PROJECTS THAT SHOULD TO BE POSTPONED OR CANCELED.

Against the backdrop of all those requirements, we selected on-demand project management and collaborative business software (supplied by Daptiv Inc., Seattle, Wash.). In addition to supporting our project portfolio management (PPM) requirements, we favored Daptiv because it met our enterprise-wide information security requirements as an International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 27001 certified solution. As a result, the new system gave our team members the ability to log in and begin securely accessing information immediately from any browser, anywhere. Because it is SaaS-based, it gives us the agility to meet the needs of co-workers across all departments, and gives each one insight into business operations. Our old system of attempting to collaborate through document management was replaced with a solution that focused on information sharing. Mercy's project team members are now able to author, view, and share information through a single, Web-based application, thereby enabling true collaboration.

We have also built custom dashboards to meet our unique needs, which include master schedule components, resource capacity, portfolio composition, and risk scoring. Prior to having a streamlined system, we used to spend several hours formatting these reports. Now, it takes only a few minutes and we can use this insight to make real-time decisions on projects and resources. Program and project managers are able to access project status reports on a real-time basis and allocate the right resources at any given stage in the project. This allows us to enforce best practices while sanctioning projects and building project plans.

We also customized the solution to meet the needs of Mercy's specific process for project intake, project scheduling, and project management. By integrating Mercy's time tracking system with Daptiv's PPM system, we eliminated double entry of data. As a result of the change, we have saved three business days per month and eliminated errors in project status reports.

With the new system, the EPO at Mercy is now able to make timely decisions on projects that need further investment and flag projects that should to be postponed or canceled. There is a very clear understanding of resources and organizational capabilities, which allows us to avoid resource bottlenecks. Thanks to better visibility into our project portfolio, we can now ensure tighter quality control and continued process improvement. We felt it was especially critical to create this type of order and nimbleness in preparation for the recent healthcare reform changes.

The introduction of a more efficient and streamlined project portfolio management process allowed us to uncover new resources and apply them to different departments to improve the entire organization. As a result, we now have better visibility into resource allocation and portfolio management. And, we can share that insight with other executives within the company so they can track and assess project status reports on a real-time basis. This level of automated collaboration and insight has enabled Mercy to save tremendous time and resources across the ministry. More importantly, we've future-proofed our IT infrastructure in preparation for the next decade of healthcare reform change.

Jay Carter is a senior manager at the Enterprise Project Office at Sisters of Mercy Health System, Chesterfield, Mo., where he oversees the company's project portfolio management software to plan, execute, and monitor IT projects and ensure they are meeting Mercy's overarching business objectives. Healthcare Informatics 2011 March;28(3):44-50


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