Building a solid technology foundation enables transformation

As IT professionals, we need to be ahead of the game in terms of establishing and maintaining the capabilities of our technology foundation. This means being smart about understanding the business and staying ahead of its needs.

In more than 35 years of experience in healthcare IT, I have learned the importance of building a solid technology foundation. Much like setting the foundation of a house or a large building, one needs to plan and implement a structural foundation that is robust enough for day one requirements but scalable and extensible enough to support long term stability and future needs.

This is a complicated goal in a business where capital budgets are finite and you are competing for dollars against projects that are seen to grow the business or be transformative. However, the ability to design and implement a technology infrastructure that can support future requirements can actually enable your organization to make investments that are competitive differentiators.

The trick here is telling the story and selling the investments to your key executives in advance of the actual need.

In our business, you have missed the boat if the operational folks have identified a transformational initiative that can’t be supported with the existing technology architecture. The time and money that it will take to overhaul the foundation in advance of the transformational activity will often seal its fate.

As IT professionals and leaders, we need to be ahead of the game in terms of establishing and maintaining the capabilities of our technology foundation. This means being smart about understanding the business and staying ahead of its needs. It doesn’t mean implementing excess capacity that is just sitting idle without driving value; it means being able to pull the trigger to scale the capabilities at the right time. Think of the concept of “Just in Time” inventories in the materials management space.

There are two areas that I think of when considering what the keys are to a solid foundation for transformation.

  • The first area is wireless capabilities. Most organizations today are seeing huge demands from additional wireless support. The density of devices in most organizations are growing significantly as are the applications that require wireless capabilities. This means that people who have not designed and implemented wireless infrastructures with a scalable and extensible architecture are seeing the need to delay projects while they do forklift upgrades to their WiFi technologies. Asking your operational folks to delay projects while you enhance your foundational technologies is an unsurmountable feat.
  • The second area that I think of is information security. As we all know, the black hats work overtime and the sophistication of threats continues to grow. As we install more Internet of Devices in our environments, our vulnerability landscape grows. As a result, we need strong foundational technologies in our information security toolset that can scale and grow to meet the dynamics of the threats. The strong foundation, along with aligning with the right technology partners, can really advance our ability to be proactive when it comes to cyber problems.

When COVID-19 hit this past spring, it really tested our capabilities and our foundation technologies. We needed to quickly scale our telemedicine capabilities so that our providers could still see patients, yet in a safe environment.

Additionally, in many cases, hundreds and thousands of administrative workers were sent home and our remote access and virtual private network capabilities were stretched thin.

Organizations that had a solid foundation and had a plan for rapidly scaling their enterprise were much more effective than those that had to rush to look for ways to meet their business’s needs. In the end those companies spent much more money and lost most opportunities to take care of their patients and employees.

In summary, we all know that growth and transformation is going to take place in our worlds. The key is designing the right technology foundation. This is going to require some expertise to both design and then sell the vision to your senior leadership.

Then you need to have a plan for making the right investments and the right time as these growth and transformation activities present themselves. This will also require the ability to tell the story and tie the investments to value that the senior leaders will understand.

Once you have done this, you will have the credibility that will make it easier to secure future investments in your technology foundation.

John P. Donohue is the Vice President of Information Services Enterprise Services at Penn Medicine

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