We heard this recently from a health system CIO, and it's a sentiment that has echoed across multiple conversations with health care technology leaders. Cloud computing, or "the cloud," is not a new or untried concept in health care. But this year, many organizations are doubling down and expediting their transitions to the cloud. According to a recent HIMSS report, adoption has doubled since 2018 and 58% of health care IT workloads and infrastructure are now in the cloud.
Why organizations are transitioning to the cloud
But why are organizations doing this now, with so many other demands pressing on health system resources? Because Covid-19 has drastically changed how people work, live, and interact—including health care workers and consumers.
An investment in the cloud is necessary to support the expanding remote workforce and unprecedented demand for telehealth. The flexibility of the cloud allows technology leaders to hedge against potential shifts in these trends. Unlike expensive hardware or data centers, a cloud investment can be easily scaled down or repurposed as needed.
The benefits of the cloud—agility, scalability, and lower costs—are well known, and it is now a mainstream technology that most health care organizations are leveraging or thinking about. Below are four insights to help technology leaders on their journey to the cloud.
1. Take an application-specific approach.
The greatest benefits of moving to the cloud come once you reach a certain level of scale. But to get that tipping point often requires an incremental, application-specific approach rather than a big-bang-style shift.
If your organization is just starting out on its cloud journey, consider what applications you already have for which the vendor offers a proven, cost-effective cloud-based solution. This has two advantages. First, moving to the cloud doesn't have to mean reinventing all your existing applications and relationships. Second, working with a vendor that provides a reliable cloud-based solution gives you single point of contact—or as one CIO memorably told us, "one throat to choke"—when problems arise.
Then as you look to expand your cloud footprint, identify any major upgrades or implementations you have planned in the future. Explore opportunities to use a cloud-based solution anytime you are adding to your portfolio or making significant changes.
2. Consider the costs of not moving to the cloud.
Many organizations have already invested heavily in data centers and want to make the most of these investments. But while building the data center is a sunk cost, maintaining the data center comes with recurring long-term costs. As server size and physical footprint continue to shrink, data centers will require ongoing investments in generators and cooling. Servers also need to be refreshed regularly.
While it may make sense to keep certain bandwidth-intensive legacy applications in a data center, the variable costs of running a large on-premise data center will only increase over time. Establish a framework to compare the data center maintenance and cloud costs as part of your cloud strategy.
3. Remain vigilant about information security.
The default assumption in health care for many years was that the cloud is less secure than a data center. But attitudes in the industry have changed. The cloud is now widely regarded as the more secure location. This is at least partly because big tech vendors like Microsoft and Amazon have become prolific suppliers of cloud technologies across providers and vendors—and unlike most health systems, they have hundreds of experts dedicated to information security.
Nonetheless, technology leaders should always remain vigilant about how information is handled. Ask your vendors who is hosting their cloud solution, and exercise caution when partnering with vendors hosting an application on their own cloud, especially if they do not have previous experience.
4. Establish clear processes to hold vendors accountable.
While moving to the cloud can relieve your staff of certain arduous tasks, it will also introduce new workflows. You will need to develop internal processes to enforce the stipulations in your contracts with vendors. Determine how you are going to monitor the service level agreements in your contracts, including uptime, latency, and response time requirements.
As you move more data to the cloud, your in-house data team won't be able to solve as many performance issues on their own. This means you also need a clear process for documenting and escalating issues to your application vendor. Make sure all staff members are trained on these process changes before you flip the switch.
Infographic: Learn what edge computing can do for your organization
Edge computing is a form of cloud computing. It takes place closer to devices and users, and further from the centralized cloud—at the “edge” of the network. Download this infographic to learn more.