Tomorrow, April 17, is the deadline for filing U.S. federal income tax returns. Apropos to the occasion — a payday for some, a time to pay up for others — is one of Benjamin Franklin’s most frequently cited quotes: “…nothing is certain except death and taxes.” But a group of IT professionals a Citrix colleague and I met last month at HIMSS18, the health information systems conference in the US, added cloud to that list of certainties. As a guy with “cloud” in his job title, you might think it’d make me nervous to see that word in such anxiety-inducing company. But there it was. And in a good way.

Mortality, “sharing” your income with the IRS, and cloud computing are inevitable. They are going to happen.

The 21 men and women gathered for our cloud adoption focus group ranged from managers to CIOs. Most represented healthcare providers: integrated healthcare systems; academic medical centers; physician groups, and; long-term care facilities in urban and rural areas. One participant was with an international pharmaceutical company.

Each embraced the growth of cloud computing. A large majority actively use a cloud service, even if it is only one app, such as Office 365 or Workday. All recognized the benefits of cloud services. These include overcoming IT resource constraints, improving business continuity, deploying secure digital workspaces to a workforce that is always moving, and others, such as a more efficient and cost-effective path to replacing aging IT infrastructure.

Against the backdrop of all this goodness, many of the IT professionals gathered expressed some frustration with the rate of cloud adoption within their organizations. The reason is likely not the first to come to mind.

Security of the cloud was not their chief concern. This might be surprising since 2017 saw a record number of high-profile, high-cost data breaches resulting in damage to reputations and bottom lines; just look at this jaw-dropping inventory of the biggest healthcare breaches in 2017 from Healthcare IT News.

Of course, protecting patient records and other sensitive data and systems is the paramount concern of HIT leaders. But they have confidence in the cloud. Most of the participants in our focus group viewed apps and data in the cloud — including electronic health records (EHR) — as more secure and less prone to intentional malfeasance, inadvertent errors or breaches than those under internal management. The vulnerability of on-premises data centers and information systems to malicious attack or user error was widely acknowledged.

Conversely, the HIMSS18 health IT panel pointed to cloud service providers’ superior and substantial investment and expertise in cyber security and infrastructure as reasons they feel more confident in apps, data and resource locations in the cloud.  Summed up somewhat graphically, cloud services providers not only have skin in the game, their vital organs are very much on the line.

As one person said, “If Amazon gets breached, they are out of business; they are done. And so there is just a different level of effort put into cyber and into maintenance, and into availability; uptime.”

Then what is hampering cloud adoption by healthcare organizations?

The single biggest barrier to cloud adoption by the healthcare concerns represented was striking to me. The primary reason identified by the focus group was difficulty or an outright lack of success convincing leadership teams and boards that cloud is a safe, sound, and accretive investment. An inability to independently build a strong business use case impedes cloud migration.

The IT managers and executives in the room want technology providers to help them create a compelling business case by:

  • Projecting ROI
  • Quantifying value of the better IT reliability and security cloud delivers
  • Being transparent with pricing
  • Providing relatable references

The famed words of fictional sports agent, “Jerry Maguire,” come to mind: “Help me help you.” Not an unreasonable ask. Now, this isn’t easy and we, as a vendor, acknowledge there is room for improvement. We are working hard to find additional objective, meaningful ways to measure cloud value. In the end, most will agree that cloud is the future state of information management. The healthcare IT ecosystem is widely distributed and mobile. Leaders who embrace and master this SaaS, hybrid, and multi-cloud environment are more likely to provide better patient care, operate more efficiently, and improve financial performance.

While we at Citrix can’t keep the Grim Reaper or the Tax Man away, we can help enterprises deploy secure digital workspaces, establish a secure digital perimeter around their entire extended information systems, and welcome the cloud.

Whether the inevitability of cloud is met with dread and resignation or enthusiastically incorporated into business strategy depends a lot on advocacy and preparation. The vendor community needs to do our part by partnering with our customers in IT. And IT professionals need to improve their collective vocabulary to effectively communicate how cloud will enhance patient care and business performance.


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