There are tremendous demands on today’s healthcare IT departments and their budgets. Technology has proliferated throughout business operations, and news of a cybersecurity threat or incident in the market occurs regularly. There are emerging technologies to evaluate, deploy, secure, integrate, and support. There is also the ongoing challenge of sourcing and retaining the IT talent to manage it all.
Given the challenge, many businesses are considering outsourcing critical aspects of IT to managed service providers. However, this often results in a piecemeal approach to technology integration, given that today’s IT systems span a wide range of complex phone (VoIP), physical security and network systems.
This has also created a shift in the role of the managed IT service provider, who must increasingly be an expert in all systems. With broad expertise, managed IT vendors can extract value from each individual system, while taking advantage of the tremendous added value in a more comprehensive, fully integrated implementation. The benefits of a converged approach extend to network security: not only to protect against hacking, fraudulent transfers, malware and ransomware demands, but also concerns related to certain hardware made in China such as security cameras and phones.
Unfortunately, managed IT service providers rarely are experts in all disciplines – but they do exist. These “unicorns” of the IT world are capable of managing and integrating any/all systems down to installation of cabling and computer hardware.
Although this sounds like a high-end service with a commensurate price tag, that is not the case. An integrated approach to IT with the best-of-breed solutions on the market delivers economies of efficiency and scale that are often passed on to the customer.
Given the mission-critical nature of IT in the healthcare industry, here are four essential considerations when evaluating any vendor or service:
Exploit the convergence of technologies
Traditionally, voice, data, network and physical security system purchases have been made independently. Security cameras and access control systems, for example, are implemented by security integrators, while VoIP phone systems are installed by telecom providers. In this approach, each vendor offers a proprietary solution with little consideration as to how it will be converged with other aspects of the network.
However, integration of these applications can offer immediate significant revenue, security, and savings to any company’s bottom line, said Eric Brackett, President of BTI Communications Group, a technology convergence provider serving the healthcare, logistics and aerospace sectors.
“If you go to a traditional vendor in commercial security, VoIP or even IT, they may try to interest you in products that are currently promoted,” said Brackett. “It might not end up being a fully operational solution to the business problem they are attempting to solve.”
“Some vendors may not comprehend the full integration potential and so are not able to go the extra mile to deliver advanced functional capabilities that are built into the system,” said Brackett.
As an example, an access control system can be integrated with the HR database to coordinate changes in employee status such as termination, to automatically activate or deactivate an employee keycard. If that same employee has remote access to the security cameras, the network can disable the account immediately.
By working with a single IT provider that offers a menu of best-of-breed technology offerings, the IT department gains the advantage of having a single point of contact for overall system management and support. In one bundle, the system is locked down, optimally integrated, secured and proactively monitored.
“Today, IT managed service providers have to be experts in multiple systems and understand how they work together to deliver the foremost level of technical quality,” said Brackett. “To do that, they need the brainpower and the intelligent design to integrate all these systems so the customer gets all the benefits they need.”
Consider the hidden security costs
Although a customer will scrutinize the price of implementing technologies for network security, the cost of being hacked or held for ransomware is often not factored in to the equation.
“From our experience, many customers are not aware how products, especially those purchased based on price, can bring embedded vulnerabilities into a network,” said Brackett. “Cameras manufactured in China, for example, have susceptibilities that are known to hackers. Major breaches have already occurred with what we call pre-hacked technology.”
Even technologies that don’t carry the risk of being pre-hacked can become vulnerable when users fail to fully implement their security features.
A lack of product knowledge can also mean that an IT department fails to unlock a system’s performance capabilities and security features. Limited resources can make it difficult to keep all IT systems updated with the latest security patches on an ongoing basis. As a result, the IT department may have a false level of confidence as to how well protected they are against cyber-attacks.
At BTI, Brackett said, advanced cyber security processes are utilized to block viruses and hackers from destructive solutions. The company also ensures that VoIP phone conversations are encrypted and firmware is patched and updated to block scanning, malware, recording and monitoring by hackers, as well as illegal sale of company information.
Seek transparent fee models
When engaging with a managed IT service provider, customers need to know what they are paying for with contracts that clearly spell out each installed product, feature, and support item or service they are purchasing.
IT departments should also seek out vendors that bear the cost of providing an initial assessment of their needs. The bid should itemize the costs for equipment and support. The vendor should anticipate future upgrade paths in order to provide transparency to future expenses. In this way, a customer knows their initial, ongoing and upgrade costs and can budget accordingly.
“Pricing transparency was a big factor in our telecom system purchase decision,” said Brett Stephen, Director of Information Systems at Heart Care Centers of Illinois, a 5-center network of cardiovascular clinics, who selected BTI as their telecom partner. “In 14 years of supporting our telecom needs, we have not once been surprised by pricing even as we have upgraded features and added reporting tools.”
Ongoing IT management and support
Proactive monitoring of IT systems can be a game changer to the traditional IT support model which looks a lot like this:
A customer identifies an issue and contacts their vendor, who issues a support ticket. The support person contacts the customer to restate the issue and attempt to diagnose the problem. This may require a site visit. The system is assessed, and corrective actions are taken to remedy the problem. Until the situation is resolved, the customer’s operations may have been negatively impacted.
Instead, IT departments should look for a proactive monitoring approach. In this model, their IT systems vendor actively monitors system performance to identify anomalies even before a malfunction occurs. Problems are addressed proactively often without the customer even knowing about it. When site visits are required, the monitoring system dispatches an engineer without interrupting the customer.
“Our 24-hour monitoring system sends me alarms by email, text, and phone,” said Charles Lomboy, Director of Physical Plant Management at Los Angeles-based AltaMed, a 46-site health clinic network that serves nearly 1 million patient visits annually. “I am always in the know whether I am at work or remote and I only have to deal with one vendor.” The company uses BTI networks for CCTV, access control and burglar alarms and selected them to address an operational challenge they faced with poor camera quality from a prior vendor.
“It works as a security partnership,” said Lomboy. “They are the experts on security coverage, but they also listen to our needs based on what we know to be our healthcare workflow and security vulnerabilities. We require expert on-demand support to manage a large network of clinics. Our experience has been that they will go out of their way to take care of us.”
With a proactive model far fewer IT resources are used. This minimizes the impact on daily operations and enables an IT department to focus on the core business rather than babysitting systems for lower level network needs.
At Heart Care Centers of Illinois, strong IT support comes down to having a partner who can be relied on to be responsive. “We really depend on the consistency of immediate access to highly qualified support,” said Stephen. “Our IT partner adds value and I love the fact that the same technical support and management contacts have supported my IT department for nearly 15 years. They operate as an extension of our team with a single point of contact. This makes my IT team much more efficient.”
Technologies are advancing at a breakneck speed bringing new integration opportunities. With limited budgets, IT departments need to maximize their ROI. This means adopting a network-centric view of how each point solution fits, finding an IT partner that can exploit the convergence opportunities, while proactively supporting the network to minimize security risks.
When such technology procurement and support can be orchestrated with transparent pricing and terms, an IT department can maximize their IT budget and their overall network performance.
Stephen Armstrong is a Tustin, Calif.-based freelance writer. He has researched and written about industrial technologies, healthcare, automotive and international trade for the past 15 years. For more information on BTI Communications Group, please visit https://www.btigroup.com.