WellPoint Seizes the Cloud

13 June 2012 | Dr. Dennis Schmuland, Chief health strategy officer, U.S. Health and Life Sciences, Microsoft
​Health plans today operate in a competitive landscape, where the future of their business is oftentimes dependent upon making the most of limited resources. As a result, we are seeing more and more health plans turn to the cloud as a means to increase productivity and agility, realize new economies, and free up resources.
Yet for many healthcare organizations, the cloud remains uncharted territory. What is the cloud, why are health plans and providers making the move, and how can health organizations achieve the same benefits that earlier adopters, like WellPoint, have realized?
To put it simply, the cloud means being able to store and act on anything that’s digitized, such as a CMS star rating report or a clinical practice guideline, from a number of devices. It means using a thousand machines for one hour instead of one machine for a thousand hours – and only paying for increased traffic or usage when you need it. And the cloud means access to powerful programs and applications that you don’t have to install or maintain.
So in thinking about the challenge facing health plans today, why does the cloud make sense? First, the cloud shifts the IT department’s focus from “keeping the lights on” to rolling out new applications, that are strategic or critical to future growth.
The cloud also provides power, speed and agility. Not only can health plans deliver applications more quickly to customers, but they can respond even more quickly to changes in demand. Health plans need to be able to expand or contract quickly to, for example, seasonal campaigns like flu-shot availability and open enrollment drives. With the cloud, they only pay for what they use, saving money when such campaigns are off season.
Last but not least, the cloud allows for a new IT consumption model - provider and plans no longer need to run and maintain large datacenters or buy and provision new servers. This means that they can pay just for what they use, when they use it, reducing the demands of managing IT.
So how is one of the largest health benefit companies in the world harnessing the powers of the cloud to quickly respond to change and opportunities, reduce IT operating costs and free resources for more strategic uses?
I recently sat down with WellPoint senior vice president and chief information officer, Andrew J. Lang, to discuss WellPoint’s Microsoft Office 365 implementation in more detail.
Let’s talk about the cloud. Why did WellPoint turn to a cloud-based productivity solution, and what advantages and benefits do you think other healthcare organizations can find in the cloud?
Lang: We knew that we were facing various challenges – limited file size restrictions on email, outdated communications technology, and inefficiencies in cost and productivity. We knew this was a source of dissatisfaction among our WellPoint associates and needed a solution that met our current and evolving needs. The appropriate solution was unified collaboration and communications, with email, desktop video and instant messaging. With a more collaborative communications process we promoted a more efficient means for associates to work together in virtual work environments resulting in reduced travel costs. The move to Office 365 enables us to add more capacity for our email users. Now, associates can spend their time replying to emails rather than cleaning out their mailboxes for more file space. The cloud environment also provides increased space for our internal collaborative worksite – SharePoint.
This new technology allows us the flexibility to perform upgrades, plan for added capacity, respond quickly to user growth, and create a more manageable cost model.
You recently implemented Office 365. What were the main goals behind this implementation?
Lang: Beyond the main goal of implementing a unified collaboration and communications platform in a security-enhanced cloud environment, we wanted to ensure there would be minimal disruption to our associates, especially our executive leadership team. This migration to the cloud included more than 65,000 email boxes. We had to be mindful of department workloads, yet work with an aggressive timeline to save costs. We also wanted our associates to gain confidence in the new environment which meant quickly addressing and solving any issues.
Was the security and privacy of member data a major consideration when selecting a cloud-based productivity solution?
Lang: As a health benefits and services company, security and privacy are always primary considerations. WellPoint’s information security team reviewed third party audits and certifications of Office 365 and was engaged throughout the migration process.
Can you share some specific examples of how Office 365 is being used to improve the customer experience and engage members in their health?
Lang: Anytime we can improve our internal communications processes, our customers’ experience will be enhanced. Our partnership with Microsoft provides the support we need to help provide our customers with the best service in the industry. When our associates can communicate in a collaborative, efficient manner, our customers receive prompt, efficient service. WellPoint is working toward more coordinated care delivery for our customers, which includes the latest medical evidence and accurate and complete member information contained within a security-enhanced cloud environment. Office 365 serves as the foundation for our internal communications and we want to eventually offer the same collaborative communications to our providers and customers.
Dr. Dennis Schmuland
Chief health strategy officer, U.S. Health and Life Sciences, Microsoft