If Nicholas Carr is correct, IT isn't a "strategic differentiator."
Maybe. Maybe not.
One thing I do know: IT can mean the difference between a successful, thriving operation and a business disaster leading to lawsuits, regulatory fines, lost business and possibly lost lives.
This week, a disturbing story from the healthcare industry demonstrates the best and worst examples of how data integration can make all the difference.
Does that sound too dramatic? It's not, as a Baseline article on Kaiser Permanente's failed kidney transplant center shows.
According to Baseline, the story unfolded as follows:
Kaiser decided to open its own transplant center in 2004 -- a move that made sense for the HMO, which provided before-and-after care for transplant patients. It stopped outsourcing the transplants in Northern California and informed some 1,500 that they must transfer to its new renal transplant center in San Francisco if they wanted their care covered. Some of those patients had already been on the transplant waiting lists for years at the two University of California medical centers, where Kaiser had outsourced its transplants.
What did not happen next is why the center closed two years later. Kaiser didn't plan its patient information migration, including how to integrating and reconcile its patients records with the data from UC medical centers, according to Baseline.
Even though the technology tools existed -- both externally and internally -- they weren't used. Clearly, no one had a sit-down with Kaiser's CIO on this project.
The next year, Baseline says:
"...twice the number of patients died waiting for kidneys at Kaiser as received transplants the reverse of regional trends, according to the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients (SRTR), a research group in Ann Arbor, Mich., that tracks U.S. transplant data. All 56 patients who received kidneys at Kaiser that year were still alive one year later, a key metric tracked by SRTR. However, Kaiser managed kidney transplants for just 6% of the patients on its waiting list, while UC-San Francisco, for example, transplanted 7% and UC-Davis 27%."
Kaiser's CEO and chairman George Halvorson is quoted as saying, "We really did screw up on the administrative side of those transfers."
Well. That's one way to put it.
Contrast Kaiser's "integration project" with Initiate Systems's work in the healthcare industry.
Initiate is a customer data integration provider that specializes in healthcare. Initiate uses a probablity-based system to integrate customer data. That's the IT end; the business end is that duplicate patient records are identified then unified, ensuring health care providers have a more complete picture of the patient's medical history.
I recently asked Initiate's senior vice president and chief scientist, Scott Schumacher, what healthcare could teach the rest of us about integration
Starting in health care caused us to focus on three areas: real-time searching and matching, matching accuracy, and implementing in an environment with diverse legacy systems. When a patient presents at an acute-care facility, being able to find any prior information about the patient could be critical -- in some cases a matter of life or death. Other industries are adopting this model, calling it master customer service or master data service, where they can get a complete, accurate picture of their customer.
Ironically, Kasier relied on IT to help transfer data as it closed the center down and sent patients back to the other medical centers.
Too bad for Kaiser, and its kidney transplant patients, that it didn't contact a company like Initiate to help with data integration.