Posted by: Jack Santos
Part of the Gartner/Burton integration plan calls for, of course, integration of benefit plans. I have some particular insight here, since I have been on both sides of that equation – in health insurance IT, and as a health care provider CIO.
Insurers have always been on the leading edge of technology usage – and that continues to be the case. There is extensive use of websites, online modeling, customer based data entry, and self help. It’s cool stuff.
But it’s also an example of a nascent problem with “cloud computing” – or even its red-headed step child: e-business.
As businesses have found that an internet-based delivery model solves many issues (and reduces many costs) they have gone at it with a vengeance. So has government – health plans are becoming increasingly complex (HSAs, HFSAs, CDHP are all in the alphabet soup), because a side effect of increasing automation is that it is (ostensibly) easier to develop more complex plans, and easier to deliver them. Hence, like water flowing into an empty glass, the level of complexity rises.
The role of IT leaders is changing – no longer are we just the advocate of automation, we must be the advocate of appropriate and judicious automation – whether it’s through participation in business strategy, or government regulatory frameworks. An excellent primer on this is “The Laws of Disruption – Harnessing the New Forces That Govern Life and Business in The Digital Age” by Larry Downes.
This issue is not unlike a situation I found myself in a few years ago. After months of bake-offs, evaluations, vendor grilling, RFIs, RFPs, etc, we were about to make a major software decision, and were reviewing vendor contract terms (it was a 15-20MM dollar purchase). Of course, the contract was internet accessible, PDF format; And it was littered with hyperlinks to terms on web pages, references to commitments on web pages, and detailed product features on web pages.
I wouldn't sign it; they were reluctant to change it, and it almost cost the deal.
Besides the complexity of referencing material outside of the signed document, there was the issue of audit – clearly those web pages change frequently, almost at whim – with no clear audit trail of who/when/where/why. God forbid we should get into an argument at a later date (inevitable) and both parties look at the terms – just to find they were written on beach sand that had been scoured by hundreds of successive tides of changes…..In the end, they dutifully printed out all of the referenced web pages, we reviewed them, and explicitly included them in the contract.
I submit this is an example of yet another potential unintended consequence of cloud computing; we are attracted by the dynamic and elastic aspects of cloud, but those same features can be detriments to a long term, sustainable business model.
A potential way to deal with this may come out of design thinking and hybrid thinking approaches. Gartner research is exploring that genre of ways to think about IT solutions, and the impact on business strategy…
When I had 20 different websites open from 5 different companies, and multiple time-sensitive modeling and data capture pages in process, it occurred to me that the benefits enrollment process is approaching lunacy-- not any one business’ fault, just a zeitgeist. I am not sure whether health care reform (if it ever happens) will worsen or improve this situation. But issues around appropriate automation, user interface design, and silo integration are at the heart of what should be on an IT leader’s agenda for the coming years….and cloud computing will only add fuel to the fire…
Now if I can only get Fidelity to stop insisting that I only rely on web-based statements and alerts….