Top systems integrators see an unprecedented level of opportunity this year in health care, one of their traditional powerhouses. But with a changing health care landscape and the emergence of new adversaries -- particularly former systems integrators who are now the services arms of tier one vendors -- the competition, too, is unprecedented.
That was the takeaway at last week's Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) in Atlanta, where various VAR500 stalwarts describe needing to align strategies around where health care dollars were headed: stimulus opportunities, certainly, but also the influx of new technologies and trends, such as cloud and open source, into the vertical.
"The industry is starting to formalize what it's going to do, and it's started at the state and local levels," said Tori Sullivan, healthcare sector manager for Capgemini (2009 VAR500 rank: 7). "It's progressing. Not as fast as we would like, but it's progressing. But on the other side of the coin, there's a lot on the plate. There's too much going on, and that slows anybody from pursuing anything in particular."
Health-care organizations are being hit with double and triple regulatory whammies on a regular basis, from the "meaningful use" standards that will define electronic medical record (EMR) systems to ICD-10, the World Health Organization's new set of codes for diseases and diagnoses whose root work goes back to 1983.
Sullivan, who chairs HIMSS' ICD-10 task force, said the glut of regulatory moves is forcing many health care enterprises to turn to consulting for help sorting it all out. Therefore, the role for systems integrators -- and outsourcers, and business analytics providers, and other solution providers -- is expanding.
"There are too many decisions to be made and things that have to be done to make those decisions, and that's at a federal level and at a corporate level," she said. "Some of it's a huge distraction. But the technology is being embraced. We've gone through phases where the industry's been hesitant because the technology has been changing faster than the industry. But providers are also much more agile in how they can implement these. We're embarking on a huge wave of emerging technology."
Among emerging technology trends, one of the most dominant is open source -- or, more specifically a move away from rubber stamping proprietary systems, said Amy King, vice president of Health IT Programs at Northrop Grumman (2009 VAR500 rank: 8).
"You're seeing that move," she said. "But the security of health information is still the big thing. I tell you, one 9/11 or cyberattack or something bad happens to all of this data? All bets are off. I think you'll see more influence on health care from the intelligence world. That's going to drive new types of solutions to the security problem, because in health care, security is still what keeps our customers up at night."
"There's still the question of HIPAA," said Ron Lindsay, health-care manager for Emtec (2009 VAR 500 rank: 206). "The stimulus package is opening doors for us to lead with point products and then begin conversations about infrastructure. But they all want to know how safe it is."
Lindsay said the stimulus, though more than a year old, has taken a long time for many health care organizations to understand. Clarified regulation, including "meaningful use," means that many are beginning to make their IT investments now. If they aren't yet ready to embrace cloud-based infrastructure and the promise of cloud computing, they're asking questions, he said.
"We can integrate hardware, software and cloud, which for them can be a big thing," Lindsay added. "But they just don't have the oomph yet, to do it, and they're afraid of cloud backup and recovery. Cloud is in its very early stages here."
Next: The Integrator Picture Gets Cloudier