IT Trends, Change and The Future...A Conversation With an Industry Veteran

Mark Johnson, VP Managed Services

Mark Johnson, VP Managed Services

As a technology and healthcare centric marketing firm, we at illumeture work with emerging companies in achieving more right conversations with right people. Part of that work comes in learning and sharing the thought leadership and subject matter expertise of our clients with the right audiences. Mark Johnson is Vice President with GuideIT responsible for Account Operations and Delivery.  Prior to joining GuideIT, Mark spent 23 years with Perot Systems and Dell, the last 6 years leading business development teams tasked with solutioning, negotiating and closing large healthcare IT services contracts.  We sat down with Mark for his perspective on what CIOs should be thinking about today. 

Q:  You believe that a number of fundamental changes are affecting how CIOs should be thinking about both how they consume and deliver IT services – can you explain?

A:  Sure.  At a high level, start with the growing shift from sole-source IT services providers to more of a multi-sourcing model.  A model in which CIOs ensure they have the flexibility to choose among a variety of application and services providers, while maintaining the ability to retain those functions that make sense for a strategic or financial reason.  The old sourcing model was often binary, you either retained the service or gave it to your IT outsourcing vendor.  Today’s environment demands a third option:  the multi-source approach, or what we at GuideIT call “Flex-Sourcing”.

Q:  What’s driving that demand?

A:  A number of trends, some of which are industry specific.  But two that cross all industries are the proliferation of Software as a Service in the market, and cloud computing moving from infancy to adolescence.

Q:  Software as a Service isn’t new.

A:  No it isn’t.  But we’re moving from early adopters like salesforce.com to an environment where new application providers are developing exclusively for the cloud, and existing providers are executing to a roadmap to get there.  And not just business applications; hosted PBX is a great example of what used to be local infrastructure moving to a SaaS model in the cloud.  Our service desk telephony is hosted by one of our partners – OneSource, and we’re working closely with them to bring hosted PBX to our customers.  E-mail is another great example.  In the past I’d tee up email as a service to customers, usually either Gmail or Office365, but rarely got traction.  Now you see organizations looking hard at either a 100% SaaS approach for email, or in the case of Exchange, a hybrid model where organizations classify their users, with less frequent users in the cloud, and super-users hosted locally.  GuideIT uses Office365 exclusively, yet I still have thick-client Outlook on my PC and the OWA application on both my iPhone and Windows tablet.  That wasn’t the case not all that long ago and I think we take that for granted.

Q:  And you think cloud computing is growing up?

A:  Well it’s still in grade school, but yes, absolutely.  Let’s look at what’s happened in just a few short years, specifically with market leaders such as Amazon, Microsoft and Google.  We’ve gone from an environment of apprehension, with organizations often limiting use of these services for development and test environments, to leading application vendors running mission critical applications in the cloud, and being comfortable with both the performance/availability and the security of those environments.  On top of that, these industry leaders are, if you’ll excuse the comparison, literally at war with each other to drive down cost, directly benefiting their customers.  We’re a good ways away from a large organization being able to run 100% in the cloud, but the shift is on.  CIOs have to ensure they are challenging the legacy model and positioning their organizations to benefit from both the performance and flexibility of these environments, but just as importantly the cost. 

Q:  How do they do that?

A:  A good place to start is an end to end review of their infrastructure and application strategy to produce a roadmap that positions their organization to ride this wave, not be left behind carrying the burden of legacy investments.  Timing is critical; the pace of change in IT today is far more rapid than the old mainframe or client-server days and this process takes planning.  That said, this analysis should not be just about a multi-year road-map.  The right partner should be able to make recommendations around tactical initiatives, the so-called “low-hanging fruit” that will generate immediate cost savings, and help fund your future initiatives.  Second, is to be darn sure you don’t lock yourself into long-term contracts with hosting providers, or if you do ensure you retain contractual flexibility that goes well beyond contract bench-marking.  You have to protect yourself from the contracting model where vendors present your pricing in an “as a service” model, but are really just depreciating capital purchased on your behalf in the background.  You might meet your short-term financial objectives, but I promise in short order you’ll realize you left money on the table.  At Guide IT we’re so confident in what we can deliver that if a CIO engages GuideIT for an enterprise assessment, and isn’t happy with the results, they don’t pay.

Q:  You’ve spent half your career in healthcare – how do you see these trends you’ve discussed affecting the continuity of care model?

A:  Well we could chat about just that topic for quite some time.  My “ah-ha moments” tend to come from personal experience.  I’ll give you two examples.  Recently I started wearing a FitBit that syncs with my iPhone.  On a good day, the device validates my daily physical activity; but to be honest, too often reminds me that I need to do a better job of making exercise a mandatory part of my day.  Today that data is only on my smartphone – tomorrow it could be with my family physician, in my PHR, or even with my insurer to validate wellness premium discounts.  The “internet of things” is here and you just know these activity devices are the tip of the iceberg.  Your infrastructure and strategy roadmap have to be flexible enough to meet today’s requirements, but also support what we all know is coming, and in many cases what we don’t know is coming.  Today’s environment reminds me of the early thin client days that placed a premium on adopting a services-oriented architecture.

Second is my experience with the DNA sequencing service 23andme.com.  I found my health and ancestry data fascinating, and though the FDA has temporarily shut down the health data portion of the service, there will come a day very soon that we’ll view the practice of medicine without genome data as akin to the days without antibiotics and MRIs.  Just as they are doing with the EMR Adoption Model, CIOs should ask themselves where they’re at on the Healthcare Analytics Adoption Model and what their plan is to move to the advanced stages - the ones beyond reimbursement.  A customer of mine remarked the other day that what’s critical about the approach to analytics is not “what is the answer?” but rather “what is the question?”  And he’s right.