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Five Tactics for Building a Successful Healthcare IT Outsourcing Relationship

By June 24, 2013Article

Whether your healthcare business is interested in outsourcing business analysis, architecture, development or quality control, there are a number of mission-critical healthcare services that can be successfully handled by an outsourcing partner. IT outsourced services may include public-facing Web applications such as Meaningful Use (MU)-required patient portals, mobile applications for hospital staff and patient care, business intelligence, financial and administrative applications, and other applications supported by a cloud-based SaaS model. But how do you make relationships achieve the best possible outcomes and add significant value to your healthcare business? 
The following five tactics comprise decisions, provider criteria and planning activities that will yield greater return from an outsourcing relationship. 
1. Required domain knowledge 
When comparing outsourcing providers, evaluating proposals and interviewing their senior staff, remain mindful of the need for your outsourcing partner to have an IT background that meets your unique technical needs, as well as the healthcare-specific knowledge necessary to help your organization meet your business goals and likely future demands. 
Domain knowledge encompasses both technical and industry-specific know-how. While the need for domain knowledge is true for all industries, healthcare outsourcing requires several unique experiences and capabilities crossing both technical and industry-specific domains. 
An outsourcing partner has technical knowledge and experience and knows what is needed to modernize existing technology implementations, integrate new technologies and address evolving end-user needs such as mobility and SaaS applications. 
Due to Protected Health Information (PHI) security and privacy issues, such as adhering to HIPAA and ARRA regulations, outsourcing partners need specific experience in developing and supporting applications and services in healthcare environments. They also need experience in addressing unique challenges and regulatory requirements for data security and encryption, especially as they apply to mobility, shared-use devices and SaaS applications. 
Beyond technical know-how, it is beneficial to have a healthcare outsourcing partner that understands Meaningful Use certification criteria and the potential financial impact of compromising sensitive patient data. 
While an ideal partner is one with extensive healthcare experience and related success, lesser industry experience needn’t be an immediate disqualifier. The need for a level of domain knowledge transfer and education is acceptable. For example, expert developers and support staff with a working knowledge of your business goals may acceptably benefit from your healthcare expertise. A modest transfer of healthcare-specific information may sufficiently influence the provider’s thinking and approach to application development and support. 
2. Pricing 
Price is always an important element of a business discussion but shouldn’t be weighed above all other criteria when selecting a strategic partner to help your business grow and respond to near-term and future requirements. Low rates can be misleading and possibly a sign the prospective partner is not fully equipped or underestimates the level of support you may require. 
3. Partnering mindset 
Entering into a partnership with a trusted and reputable IT company with proven healthcare experience can help grow your healthcare business. 
Not to be overlooked when selecting a partner is clear communication and understanding of the type of relationship your prospective partner expects and is capable of best supporting. This may range from a project-specific relationship that terminates when the project is completed to a long-term relationship that begins with an initial project but continues with multiple projects into the future.  
Long-term partnering relationships have an advantage of affording your outsourcing partner more control over the development process, architecture and other aspects of the project that often result in better product quality. 
It’s important to note long-term relationships require a greater level of collaboration and shared responsibility. Given the longevity of healthcare applications and regulatory sensitivities, long-term outsourcing relationships are often more advantageous. 
4. Putting together a collaborative team 
With the right partner onboard, it’s time to engage in product design and development.
While face-to-face interaction between team members is preferable, it’s most likely your outsourcing partner’s team is located at their home office and communication with them will be via email, phone and video conferencing. Communication between companies, especially between your respective company’s project management team, is critical to understanding requirements, priorities, bug resolution and the overall measurement of the project’s success. 
The first item to get underway in building your team is the decision on a collaborative development process model, most likely a form of Agile. Odds are your partner will already have an experienced Agile development process and experienced managers to enforce them. If your company doesn’t use Agile, you need to establish a common set of standards that both organizations can effortlessly support. This is the foundation of working together and warrants some time up front to get it right. 
With a development process in place, your partner’s architect needs to define the strategic technical direction, architecture and the technology stack to support your project. While your technology architect should validate your partner’s decisions, it’s important to note that the provider should take the lead on these tasks as they best know their skillset, people and abilities. Their recommendations should be evaluated to be sure they don’t interfere or otherwise contradict any of your company’s standards or biases that may cause problems later in the initial or future projects. 
Last, but not least, you need to engage your partner’s business analysts in your relationship. Business analysts play an important role, linking your organization’s business drivers and requirements to the development team’s efforts, positively influencing their technical considerations throughout the project. 
These basic tiers of communication and engagement create a collaborative environment that effectively shares information, respects priorities and supports the clear communication of ideas and progress required to develop solutions at or below the expected cost and time.
With an approach such as this, your outsourcing partner has the essential communication and collaboration framework necessary to lead the development process, allowing your organization to focus on the business goals. 
5. Discovery: the key to project success 
The outsourcing process can be looked at in three broad project phases: engagement, discovery and implementation. While all three phases of an outsourcing relationship are important and require a level of dedicated attention, discovery is most critical to producing a successful outcome. 
The discovery phase of a project is when the project scope is fully defined and feature lists are detailed and commonly understood. Discovery identifies the scope of a project including deployment models, technologies, SLA agreements and required integration with external systems. This greatly influences the architecture decisions that follow. 
Led by senior project staff from both companies, the discovery phase addresses critical issues beyond the technical and business aspects of a project including the success factors such as documentation, environments, staffing and optimal team structure. 
Outcomes of the discovery phase include but aren’t limited to a shared project road map, requirements definitions, architecture vision and a staffing plan. 
Discovery is best worked on site to address each critical success factor in the project. This results in a comprehensive plan from implementation to completing the project on time and within budget, as well as having a mutual commitment and a strong working relationship of trust and shared goals.   
The plan for success 
The benefits of outsourcing include potentially shortening your time to market, enabling greater technology innovations and managing development and support costs. For healthcare companies, outsourcing can be the key to employing innovative cloud-based applications as well as many other applications and technologies. 
The key to building a successful healthcare outsourcing relationship and growing your business with an outsourcing strategy is to partner with a provider that possesses the necessary technical and industry domain knowledge to remain sensitive to the healthcare regulatory environment, while employing technology innovations. 
Communication and collaboration are fundamental to the success of any relationship and a critical success factor to timely and cost-effective development. Establishing tiers of communication is important to a long-term business relationship to be able to respond and reasonably react to changes in a project without compromising the business goals and objectives. 
Finally, while all three phases of a project life cycle are important, the discovery phase stands out in its impact to a successful project. Taking the time during discovery to attend to each detail of a project is the single greatest activity to finishing a project on time and within budget with the highest degree of success and end-user satisfaction. 
This simple, but proven approach will empower you to grow your healthcare business and build a long-term partnership with common goals and shared success. 
Andriy Shapochka is a system architect at SoftServe Inc., a leading global provider of software development, testing and technology consulting services. Andriy has more than 15 years of experience as developer, team lead, consultant and software architect in onshore and offshore software development projects. During his career, he successfully designed or implemented numerous cloud, Web, mobile and stand-alone solutions for Healthcare, Life Insurance and other business domains. He can be contacted at  

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