Insights From The Top

A hospital CIO sheds light on Microsoft's successful rise in the health-care market

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As the developer of the world's most popular operating systems, software and office-productivity applications, Microsoft is not broadly known for its exacting solutions tailored to suit customers in vertical markets.

But make no mistake, thousands of .Net developers and scores of integration partners are changing all of that.

Microsoft is making forays into vertical markets. In fact, it's showing how a vendor without a massive global integration or consulting unit, working in conjunction with a legion of partners, can have an impact. Where? Try financial services, legal, manufacturing and other fields. In fact, Microsoft is making advances normally believed to be the vertical domain of more established IT giants including IBM, Hewlett-Packard and others.

The company is achieving these gains in several ways. For starters, Visual Studio .Net and other titles are making it easier to build true line-of-business applications. Secondly, the company is assigning key personnel to make successful forays into a significant number of verticals. For example, Steve Shihadeh has been appointed general manager of Healthcare and Life Sciences so that the company can get closer to the needs of customers. Microsoft's gains are coming so fast and furious in health care that some institutional customers have joined together to take stock of the company's explosive growth. That's where the Microsoft Healthcare Users Group (MS-HUG), an offshoot of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) Users Group Alliance Program, comes in.

The 40-year-old HIMSS aims to increase awareness and development of specific technologies and initiatives among its members. Despite concerns over security, open standards and legacy systems, scores of HIMSS members are interested in learning more about Microsoft. That's especially true as government initiatives, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and ongoing privatization, which is forcing companies to deploy ever more cost-effective IT solutions, spell opportunity for Microsoft, which looms as not only an up-and-coming supplier of software to this space, but a potentially dominant force. In Microsoft's case, for example, the organization goes as far as recognizing hospitals, clinics, health plans and leading health-care providers that demonstrate excellence in the use of Microsoft products in the patient-care arena.

Jaime B. Parent, vice president and CIO at Maryland General Hospital of Baltimore, is one of many MS-HUG members following Microsoft's advance into this fast-growing vertical. The 124-year-old institution is a teaching hospital with more than 30 specialties, 500 doctors and 1,500 employees. Parent recently took the time to connect with VARBusiness to share his view on a range of subjects.

VARBusiness: Before we get to Microsoft, how about taking a look at some macro issues. In your space, what are the biggest pain points that remain under-addressed in your industry?

Parent: Since you indicated under-addressed, my top five would be:

• ROI in health-care IT

• Lack of a clear understanding of what IT really does

• Enhancing the quality of health care

• End-user acceptance and misinterpretation of IT capabilities and resources

• Lack of CEO/president vision

• CIO changeover

VB: What technologies in the Microsoft stack are having a profound impact on health care? Share Point? .Net? Windows Server? Tablet PCs? Others?

Parent: I think "profound" is too strong a word. While Microsoft has made some impressive gains in partnering with VARs and the use of the technologies you mentioned, one has to remember that health care is a very diverse field with many different (and older) players in many different (and older) niches. I look forward to more certified partners using Microsoft to solve key problems for health-care CIOs in the future.

VB: Over the past five years, has Microsoft gained significantly in health care? If so, at whose expense? Or at which technology's expense? Would it be Unix? Other programming environments? Mainframe or minicomputer systems?

Parent: I find a simile with the Microsoft Xbox. Gained significantly? No. Expense of others? Somewhat. Gaining momentum? Probably. But it's a business-development strategy that will go on for many years to come...not a quick hit here by any means.

VB: Have the efforts of .Net developer community provided professionals such as yourself with new applications options?

Parent: For me personally, no. For others, yes.

VB: In what area of health-care IT systems do you see the most progressive work around the Microsoft platform?

Parent: For me, the hands-down winner is Microsoft SQL. As one who has been hampered by a number of difficult legacy systems, Microsoft SQL has been a blessing for those of us struggling with the retrieval, consolidation and presentation of data.

VB: Are there concerns in the health-care IT community that Microsoft's clout is too great?

Parent: Only from competitors and certain bloggers. But CIOs and others should use what works for them, and not rely on a single vendor, Microsoft or otherwise, for all of their IT needs.

VB: Microsoft has made strides in improving the security of its technology. But are they trustworthy enough for professionals such as yourself?

Parent: It has been for me. Developers have this problem...Microsoft is a big target. I, too, have worked for big targets. The New York Yankees are big targets.

There will always be someone out there trying to take their shots. It's the nature of the business and the game. No one understands this more than Microsoft.

VB: How much of an impact has open-source software made in health care?

Parent: None, and it's disappointing. The lack of progress on an open EMR only demonstrates that it's not just big companies that are the obstacles; it's legislation and politics at multiple levels in and out of government that are the bottlenecks.

VB: Does Microsoft's portfolio adequately address HIPAA needs and requirements?

Parent: Yes.

VB: Do Web services offer sufficient security for health-care institutions today?

Parent: The technologies exist, but sometimes human factors do not allow for them to be used properly, or at all.

VB: After spending greatly on HIPPA, are health-care IT budgets likely to fall in coming years as a percent of overall revenue?

Parent: Profitable health-care institutions will continue to grow and so will their investment in IT. Others will continue to struggle and view IT as cost containment.

The phenomenon is, for most hospitals, their stuff still works, and if you're a break-even hospital, it's hard to invest in an area that keeps humming in the background.

Advice From A CIO
Which Calling Cards Work, Which Don't

As CIO of Maryland General Hospital of Baltimore, Jaime B. Parent is used to a lot of pitches--grand and small. But before you cold-call him, try understanding his true wants and needs. Below, he offers his best advice for any third party vying for his, or any other health-care CIO's, business.

1. Forget the cold calls...they don't work.

2. Partner with other companies that have achieved success and share your vision.

3. As you would for a job interview, find out what a CIO needs before you call or visit. It's not easy.

4. After the sale, invest in your customer and build a relationship. Look for the win-win even if it eats into your profits.

5. Listen carefully and try to find solutions even outside of your company's realm. Your business may not have an answer to a need right away. But six to 18 months from now, it might. Try to see if you can solve another problem, even if it doesn't put dollars in your pocket right away. That CIO will remember.

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