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Embracing Cloud Computing for the IT Infrastructure

By Bill Russell, CIO, St.Joseph Health

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Bill Russell, CIO, St.Joseph Health

Cloud Computing and IT Infrastructure

1. Agility, matching need for compute and storage with supply.

2. Availability of expertise. Some of the skills required to run a secure data center infrastructure are not as readily available.

3. Faster pace of innovation. You can’t innovate out the market, as it’s moving so fast. The Amazon team is making strides every day that your team hasn’t even begun to think about.

4. Focus. We focus on healthcare. Instead of spending so much resources and energy on the infra­structure, we can now focus on our customers experience with the technology. How can we improve the quality of the out­comes for our physician com­munity? How can we increase the connectedness between the physician and patient? How can we make the patient experience that much better for every pa­tient?

We’ve adopted cloud appli­cations like–salesforce, workday, and box. We’ve also re-en­gineered our internal architecture around cloud models. The hardest things in this process are—skill sets and pre-existing experiences and beliefs. The nat­ural reaction of most IT people when discussing cloud infrastruc­ture is that it can’t be done.

“Make IT relevant in the business conversation because of new insights and new capabilities”

You can’t run that in the cloud, you will have latency and security issues. Most of the time of the CIO during this transition is re-educating your staff on what’s possible. This is not dissimilar to the transition from servers in departments to moving them into the data center. Same set of arguments, it needs to be close, we can control it better, which provides better performance from under my desk than across town in the data center. The challenge this time is that we are arguing most times with our internal IT teams on the subject. A little more challeng­ing.

Big Data Revolutionize the IT Industry

That’s an interesting question. We now have the tools to harness information in new ways to provide insights at scale. We are finding new insights and our organizations now have the ability to wrestle with real data that can inform strategy and new product or service development. IT is at the center of the business conversation. Big Data is the transitional movement that CIOs have been waiting for. It has at its core the ability to do two things for any IT organization:

1. Make IT relevant in the business conversation because of new insights and new capabilities.

2. Transform the role from mostly an internal focus to predominantly an external one as we mine new data sources. CIOs that can provide consumer insights are going to increase their value.

The primary challenge in this new world is access to talent and the pace of development. Colleges and Universities are struggling as much as the rest of us to keep up with the innovations in this space. Few programs offer the relevant skills to produce true data scientists. This is going to change.

Technologies for Future

Let’s not start with technology, but rather User centered design. IBM has invested in this in a big way and it is going to be at the center of everything we do in healthcare and beyond. CIOs are going to be asked to create experiences. We are going to be asked to think differently about how we conceive and build new solutions for the organization.

If there is one technology we are looking at it is containers. What virtualization did for the data center, we expect containers to do for application development. The adoption of containers will lead to much more stable and scalable applications and provide IT shops new ways to think about development and implementation of new solutions.

Steps to Foster Innovation in IT Infrastructure

IT Infrastructure is a competitive advantage for only a few companies and those are mostly companies that make money off of their network of consumers. For the rest of us it’s a point of parity. We just have to provide it well enough to support the needs of the business and cloud providers provide it better than most IT organizations. If we can accept this premise we can move on to the answer to the question which is Focus.

Ask yourself this question. How is this project or initiative tied to my consumer experience? Internal or external? If it's not, find a cloud provider to offer it. If your experience is less than what's offered by a third party, consider the future of your internal IT offering that service. That doesn’t lead to layoffs; it leads to a focus of energy on those solutions which create value for the consumer, placing IT at the center of the value equation.

Managing IT Organization Steering Technology Space

Don’t fall in love. Too many technology leaders fall in love with their technology or their last solution. You are going to replace both within the next five years no matter how innovative it was at the time.

Spend your time on talent. It’s almost a cliche and some people still don’t believe it. John Wooden once said “the team with the best talent usually wins.” Find, nurture and develop the best talent. All three are important for people know when you view them as replaceable.

Stay close to the mission of the organization. Your company isn’t in the technology business, it’s in a consumer business of some kind. Know the mission of your organization and keep your team aligned to it.

Five years ago I would have read these things and said that’s not helpful, I need to know the next great technology movement. A magic strategy that will change my industry. They may or may not exist, but the most important thing I have found as a leader in technology is your personal disposition and beliefs. We end up being our own worst enemies. Get your own way and harness the power of your community to conceive of new solutions and enable them.