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Accelerating Your Data Innovation Journey in Healthcare: Voyaging to the Cloud, Part 2

In Part 1, we discussed the transformative potential of cloud technology in healthcare, highlighting its benefits, challenges, and considerations. Cloud computing offers scalability, security, and efficiency. To realize this potential, we must navigate various factors like HIPAA compliance, interoperability and choosing the right cloud provider. We emphasized the importance of a cloud-ready infrastructure, selecting a compatible cloud partner and prioritizing HIPAA compliance and security certifications.

We also discussed the significance of equipping healthcare teams with cloud skills, focusing on impactful use cases and considering cultural fit when selecting a cloud provider. Emphasizing a proactive approach to cloud adoption, we highlighted the value of a well-defined cloud strategy aligned with organizational goals. As we move to Part 2, let’s explore an essential mindset shift toward "on-demand" resource utilization and adoption strategies.

In the era of cloud computing, where resources are virtually limitless and instantly accessible, our traditional mindset must change. Organizations are increasingly recognizing the benefits of adopting an "on-demand" mindset when it comes to using cloud resources efficiently. This shift represents a fundamental change in how businesses manage their IT infrastructure and leverage technology to drive innovation and agility. A recent study by Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society found that healthcare organizations that migrated to the cloud achieved an average cost reduction of 17% in IT infrastructure expenses. This freed-up capital can be redirected toward crucial areas like patient care, staff development and new technologies that improve health outcomes.

Additionally, healthcare systems face a complex challenge: balancing the need for high-quality care with affordability for patients and the overall economy. Similar to overall healthcare costs, inpatient costs are also on the rise. A 2021 report by the Peterson Center on Healthcare and Kaiser Family Foundation found that inpatient hospital spending grew by 4.7% annually between 2010 and 2019. Increased transparency in healthcare infrastructure and true operating costs can empower organizations to make informed decisions about their care based on cost considerations.

For first-time adopters, transitioning to a pay-as-you-go architecture for a massively parallel system, handling millions of queries daily and hourly inserting near real-time data, can seem daunting. Questions arise about the feasibility and affordability of such a shift to the cloud. Concerns about runaway charges and how to forecast and fund operational expenses (OpEx) can be overwhelming.

Let’s take a look at a recent experience in healthcare. Having worked with on-premise systems for several decades, particularly in non-profit healthcare, migrating to the cloud seemed far-fetched. While other industries like e-commerce and entertainment embraced cloud technology, skepticism persisted about its suitability for non-profits. The focus had always been on reducing operational expenses through automation and self-service rather than considering cloud migration—as the cloud was perceived as more expensive.

That said, the decision to move to the cloud proved transformative. Working alongside a dedicated team and supported by an exceptional vendor partner, the healthcare organization took a leap of faith. Despite initial uncertainties, the transition not only streamlined their operations but significantly reduced the total cost of ownership by 30%.

This experience underscores the importance of collaboration, support, and the willingness to embrace change in achieving successful cloud adoption. In this example, the successful cloud migration journey has yielded valuable insights that can benefit the entire healthcare industry. Let’s take a deeper look at this journey to the cloud, focusing on the advantages of a pay-as-you-go model compared to traditional upfront purchases.

A Pay-As-You-Go Voyage

In the era of cloud computing, where resources are virtually limitless and instantly accessible, the traditional approach to resource utilization is rapidly evolving. Data and analytics leadership quickly realized the benefits of adopting an “on-demand” mindset when using cloud resources efficiently. This shift represents a fundamental change in how they manage their analytics and AI, and leverage technology to drive innovation and agility.

One of the critical aspects of this mindset shift is the concept of scalability. In traditional on-premises environments, scaling infrastructure to accommodate fluctuating workloads often involves significant upfront investment and complex provisioning processes. However, with cloud computing platforms like Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform (GCP), organizations can scale resources up or down on demand based on current needs.

The elasticity of cloud computing allows the data and analytics team to be incredibly responsive to fluctuating demands. Whether it's a website traffic spike, large data processing needs or, in the specific case of this healthcare example, spinning up compute clusters for short, targeted bursts a few times a day, they only pay for the resources they use. This critical aspect of the on-demand mindset significantly helps with cost optimization.

In traditional IT environments, organizations typically provision resources based on peak usage scenarios, resulting in underutilized capacity and wasted resources during periods of low demand. By contrast, cloud computing allows the data and analytics team to pay only for the resources they consume, with the ability to scale up or down as needed. This pay-as-you-go model reduces infrastructure costs and provides greater flexibility and control over IT spending.

Furthermore, the on-demand approach fostered a culture of innovation and experimentation within the team. By removing barriers to resource provisioning and enabling rapid deployment of new services and applications, they iterated more quickly, testing new ideas and bringing products to market faster. This agility is essential in today's fast-paced digital landscape, where the ability to innovate and adapt to changing stakeholder needs can determine an organization's success.

However, embracing an on-demand mindset requires more than just technical changes—it also involves cultural and organizational shifts. Leaders must champion the adoption of cloud technologies and encourage teams to embrace new ways of working. Building on our discussion of digital ownership in Part 1, we can empower employees to leverage cloud resources effectively by providing them with the necessary training and support. This will equip them to take ownership of their digital initiatives and drive innovation.

Embrace a Cloud-First Mentality

Now, let’s talk about how leadership at this healthcare organization embraced a cloud-first strategy. One of the most significant changes was the move away from the capital expenditure (CapEx) model involving upfront hardware purchases to OpEx models offered by cloud providers. This allowed the data and analytics team to pay only for the resources they use, eliminating the burden of managing and maintaining on-premise infrastructure.

Under the CapEx model, the organization had to make significant upfront investments in purchasing hardware and infrastructure. This required substantial financial resources and involved ongoing maintenance, upgrades, and scalability expenses—not to mention the opportunity cost while waiting months to complete the procurement process.

So, they decided to embrace the OpEx model. This shift eliminated the need for significant upfront investments. It allowed them to scale resources up or down based on demand without the burden of managing and maintaining on-premise infrastructure. We optimized our usage in the process, lowering TCO by 30% as they only incur expenses for the resources they consume, optimizing cost efficiency and aligning expenses with actual usage.

This also allowed the team to increase capacity during peak times or scale down during periods of low activity without being constrained by on-premise hardware limitations. Offloading this infrastructure management to cloud providers allowed them to devote more time and energy to delivering innovative ways to optimize our resource utilization.

Cloud platform providers offer a wide range of scalable services like compute instances, storage, and databases. They could quickly experiment with these new technologies, launch new services, and test which combinations of compute and storage would work best for a given workload, and ultimately focus on delivering better outcomes for their patients and stakeholders at lower cost.

Foster a Culture of Cost Optimization

Again, following the same healthcare enterprise discussed earlier, the data and analytics organization fostered a culture of continuous cost optimization by implementing cloud cost management tools to track their resource consumption across different teams and projects. They developed homegrown FinOps dashboards identifying areas for optimization and encouraging responsible resource allocation. They set quotas and budget alerts to prevent unnecessary spend and ensure efficient resource utilization. Instead of managing the cost from a central team the entire analytics community has full visibility, and is engaged in identifying and implementing cost-saving ideas.

One of the key initiatives that exemplified this cultural shift was implementing cloud cost management tools to track resource consumption across different teams and projects. By leveraging these tools, the team gained insights into their cloud spending patterns and identified areas where optimization was possible. As previously mentioned, this encouraged the development of homegrown FinOps dashboards that provided detailed analyses and visualizations of their cloud expenditure. The dashboards became invaluable resources for their teams, enabling them to pinpoint specific areas for optimization and make data-driven decisions to improve cost efficiency.

It is important to restate. Instead of taking a traditional approach to managing costs solely from a central team, they advocated for transparency and collaboration across the analytics community. By providing complete visibility into cloud spending and actively soliciting cost-saving ideas from all teams, the data and analytics organization created a culture of collective responsibility for cost optimization. This inclusive approach empowered individual teams to take ownership of their cloud spending and fostered a sense of accountability and collaboration across the organization.

As a result of these initiatives, they achieved significant cost savings while still driving innovation and delivering value to stakeholders. They promoted a culture of continuous cost optimization, which has been instrumental in ensuring the long-term success of our cloud-first strategy and positioning their organization as a leader in efficient resource management within the healthcare industry.

Automate Resource Provisioning and Management

Automation of resource provisioning is pivotal in driving the organization toward a more streamlined and efficient approach to resource provisioning and management, mainly through the adoption of automation tools like Terraform to automate infrastructure provisioning and configuration. This eliminates manual configuration errors and ensures consistent infrastructure across environments.

This automation saves time and enhances reliability by enforcing standardized configurations throughout the environment. One of the significant milestones the team achieved was the configuration of auto-scaling policies. These policies enable them to dynamically adjust resource allocation based on predefined metrics such as CPU usage or memory consumption. This proactive approach to resource management helps the team optimize utilization and prevent overprovisioning, ultimately leading to cost savings and improved efficiency.

By embracing automation, they further aim to achieve greater agility, scalability and reliability in their operations, ultimately enabling them to focus more on innovation and delivering value to their patients and stakeholders, reflecting their commitment to continuous improvement.

Promote a Culture of Experimentation

Promoting a culture of experimentation within the data and analytics organization is a cornerstone of maximizing cloud technology's benefits. They have actively encouraged teams to explore and experiment with different cloud resources and services to identify the most cost-effective solutions tailored to our specific needs.

This approach promotes learning and skill development and enables us to stay at the forefront of technological advancements in healthcare. A critical role leadership plays is to instill confidence among their teams to try new approaches and take calculated risks in exploring various cloud resources and services. By creating a safe space for experimentation, they can uncover hidden opportunities, optimize workflows, and ultimately drive greater efficiency and effectiveness in operations. This, in turn, builds a culture of collaboration and knowledge-sharing within our organization—facilitating cross-functional learning and driving continuous improvement across the board.

As leadership continues to promote a culture of experimentation, they are committed to leveraging the lessons learned to inform their decision-making and refine their cloud adoption and optimization strategies.

Continuously Monitor and Refine

Right after the healthcare organization moved to the cloud, the key focus was regularly monitoring their cloud environment performance and optimizing resource utilization. By implementing robust monitoring systems, they continuously assessed the performance of their cloud resources to identify potential bottlenecks or areas of underutilization.

The organization’s emphasis on proactive monitoring has enabled them to detect issues early and take corrective action swiftly, ensuring optimal performance and reliability of their cloud infrastructure. Regular performance reviews have become ingrained in their operational practices, allowing them to maintain high efficiency and responsiveness in the cloud environment.

In addition, the team explores different pricing models offered by the cloud provider to maximize cost-effectiveness. They have evaluated options such as reserved instances and reserved compute to find the most suitable pricing model for their workloads.

Reserved instances provide stability and predictability in pricing, making them ideal for steady-state workloads with consistent resource requirements. On the other hand, reserved compute offers significant cost savings for workloads by leveraging capacity at discounted rates.

By carefully analyzing their workload patterns and requirements, they have been able to leverage the strengths of each pricing model to optimize costs while meeting performance objectives. This has enabled the data and analytics team to strike the right balance between cost efficiency and performance, driving tangible value for the organization.

By staying vigilant and proactive in managing cloud resources, the team can adapt to evolving needs and deliver exceptional value to our stakeholders.

The Voyage Toward On-Demand Success

Shifting to an on-demand resource utilization model represents more than a technological change—it requires a fundamental shift in mindset and strategic action to unlock the myriad benefits of cloud agility, cost efficiency and scalability. Embracing this shift in mindset means moving away from traditional, static approaches to resource allocation and embracing a dynamic, flexible model that aligns with the demands of our ever-evolving technology landscape—enabling the full potential of on-demand resource utilization in the cloud.

One of the key strategic actions this team has taken is to prioritize automation and orchestration in their cloud operations. By leveraging tools and technologies that automate resource provisioning, scaling, and management, they’ve been able to streamline processes, reduce manual intervention and enhance efficiency. This automation accelerates their response to changing demands, minimizes the risk of errors, and ensures consistent performance across environments.

The team’s culture promotes a data-driven approach to decision-making that not only shapes capabilities they leverage for clinical, research and operations but how they optimize the cloud data platform that enables these capabilities. By regularly monitoring and analyzing their cloud usage data, the team can identify trends, optimize resource allocation and identify opportunities for cost savings.

A culture of experimentation has empowered teams within this healthcare organization to explore innovative solutions and iterate on their approach to cloud resource utilization. By encouraging risk-taking and learning from failures, they’ve uncovered new opportunities for optimization and innovation, driving continuous improvement in cloud operations.

By embracing strategic actions that prioritize automation, data-driven decision-making and a culture of experimentation, the data and analytics team has been able to unlock the full potential of cloud technology and position their organization for success in the digital age.

In Closing

The healthcare industry faces a relentless fight against rising costs. Traditional, static IT infrastructure burdens healthcare organizations with hefty upfront investments and limits their ability to scale efficiently. On-demand resource utilization through cloud computing offers a compelling solution. By leveraging scalable cloud services, healthcare organizations can:

  • Reduce infrastructure costs: Pay-as-you-go models eliminate the need for expensive upfront hardware purchases and ongoing maintenance.
  • Optimize resource allocation: Allocate resources based on real-time needs, ensuring optimal utilization and avoiding over-provisioning.
  • Enhance agility and innovation: Quickly spin up new resources to support new initiatives and pilot programs, accelerating innovation in patient care and service delivery.

Have you started your journey towards on-demand resources? Share your experiences and challenges! Let's foster a community of continuous learning and optimization.