How smart IT solutions are inspiring fresh ideas among the workforce
by Alison Weiss
American inventor Thomas Edison once challenged, “There’s a way to do it better—find it.” But according to Cultivating Business-Led Innovation, a survey conducted by Oracle and the Economist Intelligence Unit, innovative ideas are generally confined to the research and development, product development, and marketing functions of a company.
While managers in the modern enterprise are unlikely to match Edison’s more than 1,000 patents for innovative inventions, there are ways to inspire fresh ideas among rank-and-file workers. The Oracle/Economist Intelligence Unit survey found that the IT department has a significant role in cultivating business innovation (see “Six Steps to Innovation”). Big ideas are great, but giving the workforce tools to translate ideas into business reality is much better.
On the face of it, University of Louisville (U of L), a state-supported research university in Louisville, Kentucky, and News Limited, one of Australia’s largest media companies, would appear to have little in common. But executives in these organizations realized that implementing technology could add innovation to staffers’ daily jobs.
For decision-makers at Uof L’s Health Sciences Center, which encompasses the School of Medicine, the School of Nursing, the School of Dentistry, and the School of Public Health and Information Sciences, innovation began with the notion that social engagement could improve healthcare and reduce cost—and position Uof L as the “Facebook of medicine.”
Due to privacy concerns, many health services professionals are reluctant to use social media to answer medical questions from patients. But a partnership between Uof L’s Russell W. Bessette, MD, associate vice president of health affairs at Uof L, and Priscilla Hancock, PhD, vice president of information technology/chief information officer, inspired a new approach.
The concept: use social engagement technology to help change the medical reimbursement payment system. Today, most physicians are reimbursed by health insurance companies for medical services based on negotiated prices. Leaders at UofL would like reimbursement to be based on patient health outcomes instead. Social engagement technology can provide a way for caregivers and patients to communicate better, helping identify health concerns earlier. And, patients with similar health issues can connect with each other and manage their health more effectively. Both efforts can prevent expensive medical procedures and reduce costs.
“University of Louisville is passionate about healthcare services and improving the health of Kentucky’s diverse population,” says Bessette. “The ability for people with chronic illnesses to relate to one another and share medical treatment stories and ways to cope is a very important aspect of improving healthcare at a much lower cost.”
Because 70 percent of a medical diagnosis comes from blood test data, Bessette and his team focused on making that data easier to understand. “Laboratory data is often confusing to folks, and they don’t routinely remember the ranges for a given test or the organs that a test is checking,” he says.
These days, time to market is critical for innovation projects. You want to be able to add new features and functionality very quickly and go live without waiting too long.
In October 2012, the university launched KnowYourColors.com, a Web-based software system that allows patients to create personal health profiles and have their medical blood test results translated into a color-coded display that makes it easy to monitor health status. It also features access to MedLook, a Facebook-like portal where patients can communicate with each other to build camaraderie among those with similar medical conditions.
The system uses Oracle WebCenter to manage content and deploy portals and Websites. Access to patient data is managed by Oracle Advanced Security, an option of Oracle Database, Enterprise Edition. “We want to honor people’s data,” says Hancock. “From the beginning when we get the data until we present it out in the portal, we follow all HIPAA recommendations.”
Amit Zavery, vice president of product management, Oracle Fusion Middleware, believes that selecting Oracle WebCenter as the core technology was a smart move at Uof L because the platform can be implemented quickly and fits well with the university’s existing Oracle infrastructure. “These days, time to market is critical for innovation projects. You want to be able to add new features and functionality very quickly and go live without waiting too long,” he says.
KnowYourColors.com initially includes 178,000 patient records from a health services insurance provider serving Medicaid patients in Kentucky. It also includes associated patient test results from medical laboratories. The system uses an algorithm created by Bessette to score illness severity based on patients’ blood chemistry values and translates those values into easy-to-understand illness complexity scores. When the score reaches a certain level, it can indicate the probability of hospitalization.
The system changes the way disease managers do their jobs. Previously, they might have names of patients and a diagnosis, but little else. Or, they might learn about a patient crisis only after a costly hospitalization.
KnowYourColors.com gives disease managers access to graphs and illness complexity scores, allowing them to identify the sickest patients and take action, proactively preventing sickness and hospitalization. Based on projections, if KnowYourColors.com can provide this kind of intervention for just 5.7 percent of Kentucky’s Medicaid population, over three years this could save US$256 million.
According to Bessette, KnowYourColors.com eventually will be able to scale to serve 1 million people and will generate large sets of data where patient metrics can be linked with all paid payer claims. This will provide a way for medical researchers and analysts to compare objective changes in health to the cost of achieving it. Then, value-based health outcomes can be evaluated over time for individual patients. “This repository of data is vitally important for the public health, ” he says.
In the near future, the “Facebook of Medicine” side of the system will be optimized to help patients connect and offer content such as videos and other patient-related information. “Part of our outreach is to the underserved Medicaid population,” Hancock says. “Oracle WebCenter represents a very elegant, easy, intuitive portal to use and goes well with the populations we are serving.”
The change technology has brought to medical care has also visited executives at News Limited as they observe the newspaper industry shifting from print to digital and mobile distribution. They knew definitive action was necessary to address these changes. So in 2011, the company became one of the first in Australia to introduce digital subscriptions across some online newspaper properties, offering premium content to customers. At the same time, they developed a mobile tablet solution to appeal to readers on the go.
Number of US-based newspapers with some form of online paywall in place—twice as many as in 2011. (Source: Newspapers & Technology)
According to technology manager Jason Brock, both projects were very complex; just creating and launching a subscription platform took almost 18 months. It was imperative wherever possible to use technology that could be easily embraced by the nontechnical editorial staff because one of News Limited’s key strengths is how quickly stories get published. At peak times, more than 250 editors can simultaneously publish stories in just 90 seconds.
Rather than seek out completely new technology to accommodate next-generation content management tasks, company leaders decided to extend the capabilities of the existing Oracle WebCenter Sites implementation. Back in 2009, the Oracle solution was put into place to host eight of News Limited’s newspaper Websites on a shared platform, including sites for the Australian, the Herald Sun, and the Daily Telegraph. Each property has its own look and feel, and specific areas of content expertise.
“In the past, content management had been very technical work,” says Brock. “The flexibility of Oracle WebCenter Sites put additional tools in the hands of our nontechnical editorial staff, enabling them to quickly create content and manage the look and feel and the day-to-day production.”
For Hasan Rizvi, executive vice president, Oracle Fusion Middleware and Java development, this emphasis on self-service technology is critical. “Oracle WebCenter provides a much more business-friendly, user-friendly interface so line-of-business users can actually use the product and make changes and modifications without calling IT all the time,” he observes. “And from a line-of-business perspective, better self-serviceable technology makes it possible to show value faster and achieve results more quickly.”
Despite the fact Brock and his team worked tirelessly to provide new, innovative back-end functionality to Oracle WebCenter Sites, the complex functionality is effectively hidden from the nontechnical editorial staff. They can easily flag stories as being premium, subscriber-only content. They can also report on what content is premium, what content is not premium, and what the percentages are across the properties. On the front-end, new identity management and subscription management components are integrated into the system to help manage access to premium content. Initially, the digital subscriptions were introduced to two of News Limited’s online properties: the Australian and the Herald Sun.
And even though the mobile tablet solution uses a platform that sits outside Oracle WebCenter, content is served from the solution. “Oracle WebCenter’s functionality makes it easy to export content in a way that’s compatible with and optimized for our mobile platform,” observes Brock.
Response to the introduction of digital subscriptions and the mobile tablet application has been positive. Company analysts can tell customers are happy because the subscription numbers for the paywall and mobile solutions have surpassed expectations.
Looking ahead, News Limited wants to continue to improve workflow within Oracle WebCenter to make it even easier for editorial staff to create, package, and publish content. There is particular interest in the real-time decision-making features available in the latest version of Oracle WebCenter.
Brock has sage advice for organizations looking to implement tactical innovation. “When you talk about transformational programs, try to solve the problem as simply as possible because it will minimize the amount of risk you will deal with once you put your solution or product out into the market,” he says. “And the faster you can reduce risk and implement change, the bigger lead you’re going to have over your competitors.”
Alison Weiss is a freelance writer in the San Francisco Bay Area and a frequent contributor to Profit.
Oracle Fusion Middleware Innovation Awards
This year Oracle recognized 30 customers with Oracle Excellence Awards for their innovative use of Oracle Fusion Middleware and their significant results. The winners were selected across eight product categories from 11 countries spanning diverse industries around the world.
Congratulations to the 2012 winners: