By Kevin Torf, co-founder and managing partner, T2 Tech Group.
IT outsourcing by hospitals has been booming the last couple of months, due in part to the pandemic. Effective outsourcing enables hospital IT staff to spend less time on infrastructure and more time on key projects, ultimately allowing the bigger team and executive leadership to focus more on core healthcare delivery and management – a top priority for most.
Finding the right IT partner isn’t always easy though, resources and guidance can be scarce as hospitals try to keep up with ever-changing requirements for IT services. What’s needed is a trusted IT partner to guide healthcare systems through both short- and long-term strategic plans. The ideal consultant should not only be knowledgeable across the IT ecosystem but also understand how emerging toolsets can be used in clinical workflows to better serve patients.
Well-executed outsourcing can solve difficult internal problems cost-effectively, but poorly executed outsourcing can worsen those problems or create new ones. It’s an important and difficult task to pick the right partner for your IT needs, so how can hospitals identify top-performing, healthcare-savvy IT consulting firms in an industry brimming with hundreds of options? Consider these criteria when evaluating a partner:
- Look for IT Consulting that Demonstrates Relevant Experience
It’s critical to ask the tough questions, just as you would during a job interview: What projects have they completed? Who are their clients? What is their reputation in the industry? What referrals can you reach out to? Understanding what obstacles a firm has faced in the past and how they overcame them can paint a better picture of how they’ll work and collaborate with partners.
It’s also important to ask about the team members who will be supporting your needs. What type of experience and qualifications do those individuals have? Will your team and theirs have good chemistry? For your full-time employees, it can be intimidating to bring someone in who claims to know more than them or who claims to do the job better than they currently are. Eliminate those feelings immediately with your team by reassuring them these consultants are experts and complementary to their efforts – you are all working toward the same goal.
- Accessibility and Communication
Good communication is at the heart of every relationship, and that is no different from a business partnership. Most importantly, an effective consulting firm should be able to listen. Make sure they pay attention to your needs and provide constructive, honest opinions about what obstacles you’re facing and how they can be overcome. If you don’t feel like they are listening during your first meeting, it’s likely a sign they won’t listen in the future.
Clear, concise communication between stakeholders and team members should happen on a predetermined cadence, often daily or weekly. Establishing a routine will help eliminate any surprises down the road. The time and effort may seem daunting at first, but in the long run, you’ll appreciate the time and costs saved by avoiding potential obstacles. These discussions will also help build a culture of collaboration among teams, both internally and with your consultants.
- Flexibility of Response and Solutions
If you’re looking for a strategic IT partner, you won’t want a firm that relies on easy, pre-cooked solutions. Your evaluations should identify if the potential IT consulting firm has a methodology to ensure that teams can work on projects, while also completing existing operational responsibilities. All teams – IT, business and clinical – have to work together to prevent service disruptions and make sure there are limited risks and downtime.
Using an Agile-based project management approach will ensure the flexibility needed in project execution. Incremental results are achieved through short-duration tasks, with frequent feedback and assessment needed. These opportunities for prompt reflection and correction give you peace of mind that your projects will maintain a proper course. Roadblocks will happen, but you’ll be able to overcome them along the way and early warning signs will also help control costs and ensure consistent results.
- Goal-Focused Alignment with Your Mission
Goal alignment is certainly one of the most important considerations in finding IT consulting firms. It is vital that you clearly explain your goals and how you measure success upfront to manage expectations. If the firm can’t immediately demonstrate that they understand your goals, it’s an early sign of miscommunication. Although you may think you’re speaking the same language, it can be helpful to explain your terminology to the consultant to ensure that there are no ambiguities about what you actually mean.
Another area that you should be very clear about is the scope of work and the business outcome you are expecting from the consultant. When clarification is needed, take the time to discuss and define the results further. Remember, as partners you should both be aiming to provide the best patient care through information technology.
- Core Values in IT Consulting
Choose a partner, not just a vendor — a firm you trust, with leadership that you trust, and that shares your hospital’s culture and values. A vendor provides basic service delivery, meanwhile, a genuine partner is committed to achieving much more to proactively help you improve your IT operation and its organizational impact. This type of trusted partner looks for new and better ways to continuously improve your users’ experience, the overall quality of performance and cost-effectiveness.
Make sure the firm practices what they preach as you start to have your conversations. Look for red flags, such as:
- Unable to keep scheduled meetings
- No accountability for their actions with past clients
- Can’t provide current biographies for their team (including credentials)
- Don’t offer training or support throughout the lifecycle of the project
Another crucial question is: What’s their monetary interest in vendor selection? Be sure to ask what types of relationships they have with software and hardware vendors so you know if their recommendations are truly objective, with your best interest at heart.
Following the above criteria, your IT consulting team should be able to form a holistic strategy. Ensure your solution provider has proven experience in these areas and ask for a portfolio identifying their past and current projects, so you can see consistency in growth-driven approaches first-hand. You’ll want to look for evidence those approaches have helped the client achieve all of their goals while streamlining operations across the board. After all, the best IT consulting firm for you will be one that works with your team at all organizational levels.