We’ve got a great new product. Now what?
In late 2015, I was asked to join the leadership team at Holon to help them develop an operations group and grow their business. Because it was my friend and past colleague Rob Connely asking, I figured something interesting must be happening there, plus, he owed me lunch. So I went and met the new Holon leadership team, Rob, Saurabh Mathur, and Bryant Castleton. As they say, the rest is history. If you’ve read through Holon’s recent blogs, you’re up to date on what that “something” is, but in short, Holon had designed and built a capability to sense what chart was open in an EMR, meaning, which patient was under review, and it was garnering a lot of excitement from those in the industry that had seen it. The ambulatory care workflow implications of this simple but new perspective had legs, and there were a lot of pegs waiting for a company with the right hammer.
As always, creating a software solution is only a first step to success. There’s always the inevitable transformation it goes through as a few early adopters get their hands on it (product management), but also the effort to create or expand on the less-shiny things like productization for sale, implementation, and support theory. This is where my involvement began, and continues to this day.
Thinking with the left brain
We all have our talents. Some of us are visionary thinkers, some of us are adroit negotiators, and some perhaps find new answers to old questions. But then, some of us are the planners, the detail-oriented process-driven executors. You know – the boring stuff.
When I first joined up with Rob in 2006, he was part of the startup his father Robert had co-founded with Alok Mathur, as well as Saurabh Mathur, Alok’s cousin. Novo Innovations produced some truly innovative products, and it was an early entry into the interoperability game. As cool as the technology was, my job there at Alok’s dining room table was basic to all operations theory: to create all the services capabilities we would need to install and support a large and ever-growing number of endpoints. This experience was the formative time where I learned what it meant to deploy at scale. What do you need as process? What people do you need? How do you estimate timelines? How do you package something that is inherently technology-heavy to be something non-technologists can use, and that support desks can support? These sorts of challenges were in the forefront of our thinking for years, and living that sort of “mantra” proved to be life lessons for me professionally.
It’s pretty easy to summarize what the lessons are, and they’ll probably sound like common sense to any reader who knows what it’s like to be responsible for some form of operations-centric success in your company. I try to use these guidelines in every discussion I have, every product management session we hold, and every negotiation with a customer or user:
- The solution should be making things better. Better workflow, better care, easier data access; doesn’t matter.
- The solution really shouldn’t make things worse. “Better” can have a contextual perspective (for example, better for the ACO’s metrics doesn’t necessarily translate to better for a clinician’s workload). Let’s strive for “Do No Harm”, but set some expectations.
- Customers come in all forms, and from both internal and external places. A favorite example is that I have a super-cool product, and yet it is breathtakingly hard to install and support. Something will eventually go poorly for my organization with that shortsightedness, even if the product solves a specific technology or business problem beautifully. So, I say include considerations of efficiency and repeatability of deployment as well as features in design theory. Heck – give me an “easy” button to put the thing in….
- I love developers and technical types as much as the next guy, but honestly, the buzzword bingo is just overwhelming at times. Whether I am speaking to a person, writing an FAQ, or doing slides at a project kickoff event, I try to go through the concepts using straightforward terms and phrases, examples, and imagery. There’s nothing like speaking to a team of clinicians who are gathered in the audience for a kickoff for a practice project, and being asked “Is it secure?” and answering “Transport is TLS 1.2 with limited cipher set, data is encrypted with AES-GCM-256.” Realistically, for that audience, “It’s fully compliant with industry best practice and HIPAA regulations” answers that question just fine.
- There should always be an ability to offer an educated or trained customer (again, from outside or inside the organization) to self-support. There are the obvious things like password reset capability or auto-upgrading, but what else could we do? How could product enhancements, process changes, better logging, automated alerts, etc. be provided so that someone who is interested (or responsible) for making it work is empowered and productive?
- A wise man once told me, if a human is doing it over and over, software can do it instead. Most commonly it’s a concept applied to how much work it takes to install or build something, I love it for the basic premise that there’s no need to go through mind-numbing drudgery. There always seems to be plenty of work for humans to puzzle out, so why waste time on the other stuff?
The plan comes together, hopefully with all the above-mentioned considerations and designs in place, and it all just works perfectly when we tried it, right? Reality is that early in the evolution of a solution, we just have to make our best effort, and then with feedback from internal and external customers, we evolve the techniques and effort. And that is what we’ve done (and continue to do) at Holon. We have a solution set that is focused on the point of care, is fundamentally a hybrid cloud/local implementation, and therefore has many touchpoints with our clients’ customers.
As an example, we’ve been working with our customer Great Lakes Health Connect (GLHC) in Michigan on sponsoring deployments of our Referrals solution within their HIE. We have enjoyed the privilege of working with their highly motivated and talented professional services team, and the ongoing rollout of the product has been very successful and well received by the end-user community. We partnered closely with all project stakeholders so that each problem, be it software or process, would be addressed, remedied, tracked, and then precluded next time. For example, product deployment with a large physical footprint undoubtedly benefits from automatic upgrades (no visiting 1300 practices to upgrade), but how do you pilot a new version in production in a limited scope? We just had to make some changes that allowed for segmentation of the community so that controls are placed on scope of updates. Common sense in retrospect perhaps, but the team faced the problem, worked through questions, designed, tested, and implemented a very clean and manageable software feature to set scope for updates.
Another great story is the partnership we have with our customer Banner Health in Arizona. Banner brings a truly process-driven team to the Holon Insights project under way. While early in the deployment from a numbers perspective, this group of stakeholders, including Banner, Holon, and multiple analytics vendors, have marched through the project knowing tasks, dates, and resources mapped to specific objectives and business success. As a sponsor, Banner provides not only the literal ownership role, but also the coordination of all these parties and moving parts. Always observant of the relationship they have with their affiliated practices, no move is made without consideration of impact (good or bad) to a practice resource. This guidance has fit well with my personal perspectives on healthcare IT solutions as I’ve written in this article, and regardless of tactical issues encountered, lead to success at virtually every practice with which we’ve engaged.
Taking Holon Forward
As Chief Operating Officer at Holon, it’s my responsibility to enable our customers to take our innovative solutions and operationalize them into their organizations. Ultimately, I’m responsible for our delivery and customer experience.
Our CEO, Bryant Castleton, wrote in his blog:
We like to think of ourselves as “Data Liberators.” But our commitment is bigger than shoes or EMRs or data. We’re committed to changing lives; to putting patients and physicians first. That’s what drives us.
We are focused on value, scalability, and meeting the high expectations our forward-thinking customers have for us. Our solution is incredibly powerful and was thoughtfully designed to minimize the implementation burden on our customers and serving to augment and enhance the power of their HIT investment as a complimentary solution. Keeping the transformative impact our solution has on physicians and patients as our priority continues to drive the collaborative relationship we have with each of our customers: what do you need, how can we do better, what’s next? We are all in this together. Take a look at what we are doing and let us know how Holon can help you.