Streaming music and online shopping are just two of the ways technology and the Internet have changed our way of life. One of the other major shifts in culture has been the ability to research symptoms and self-diagnose medical conditions. One online healthcare information provider recently teamed up with IBM and embraced DevOps to streamline development and deployment of features and information for customers.
In a case study titled A healthcare information provider cuts deployment time down to minutes, IBM details how this healthcare information provider—which remains anonymous—used IBM UrbanCode Deploy to get products to market faster. While the name of the company is not disclosed, IBM does reveal that it is a United States company that employs approximately 1,500 people, and develops and maintains more than 200 applications.
The case study describes a scenario that is probably common across many companies regardless of industry:
The organization’s existing deployment solution combined tools designed for other purposes, such as administration or content management, and strung them together with custom scripts. The process also involved many manual steps, which introduced the potential for human error. Developers and quality assurance (QA) teams were bogged down with the numerous administrative steps required to request a new deployment. And the company’s web operations team was spending much of its time deploying production and QA environments.
“In many ways they are a classic DevOps story for a mid-sized organization (1,500 people) with a heavy tech component,” stated Eric Minick, DevOps evangelist for IBM. Minick explained that development at the organization had shifted to agile, and that applied pressure downstream on operations. The natural evolution from there to keep up with development and continue to meet business needs was to automate aggressively and improve collaboration between developers and IT operations. In other words: embrace DevOps.
Minick told me, “The medical element almost doesn’t matter here—except that this is a place where I would go to get health information to make decisions that impact the well-being of my kids. They trade in trust.”
An outage would have financial consequences as it would for any company that engages with customers over the Web, but the more crucial issue for this company is its reputation—and the need to earn and maintain the trust of its customers. “In a lot of ways, this is the same fundamental challenge that banks have. You have to be consumer facing, compete with new money transfer startups that move fast, but if people can’t deposit their paycheck in time to make rent, you lose customers quickly,” said Minick.
For US Health insurers, the past couple years have been very interesting. The Affordable Care Act has forced the health industry to shift from thinking of the insured as a secondary customer (the employer being the primary) to really shifting into a business-to-consumer (B2C) business model. The change in perspective makes their systems of engagement more critical to the business, and being able to experiment and rapidly deliver has become more important.
Minick stressed, “At the same time, they have significant regulatory burdens requiring them to have strict controls, and security protections. Meanwhile, operating efficiency has become even more important as overhead / profit is capped as a percentage of premiums. This nets out to a requirement to be able to change more quickly, without additional risk or cost.”
A vice president from the healthcare information provider shared some thoughts on the benefits of working with IBM and embracing DevOps. “The fact that we had development, QA and ops engineers all in the same room choosing the tool, that process and the standards really created a sense of collaboration and let everyone walk in the other person’s shoes, understanding the challenges others face. To me that’s what the DevOps culture is about: breaking down the walls and letting staff understand everyone’s challenges. Everyone benefits from using tools and processes like this.”