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For Hackensack Meridian Health CIO, a Year of Change

For Hackensack Meridian Health (HMH), 2021 was a year of big change.

The New Jersey healthcare network with 17 hospitals rolled out thousands of Chromebooks to staff to support a rapid shift to remote work for many workers. The deployment was also the first step in a wider project that involved replacing Office 365 with Google Workspace for 40,000 employees and the adoption of Google’s Cloud Platform.

HMH’s move to Google was accelerated by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, driven by the sudden the need to support staff that were able to working outside healthcare facilities.

“At the beginning of the pandemic…, we did not have a full UC platform rolled out,” said Mark Eimer, senior vice president and associate CIO and CTO at Hackensack Meridian Health. “Most of our applications work very well within our four walls, but they didn’t work for a true mobile workforce.

“The pandemic forced us to pivot very quickly. When our CEO said everyone that’s not doing direct patient care needs to work from home, we purchased 3,000 Chromebooks, got them configured in kiosk mode and basically sent people home.”

Hackensack Meridian Health
Mark Eimer, senior vice president and associate CIO and CTO at Hackensack Meridian Health.

The rollout of Chromebooks was a success, said Eimer, and led to an increase in the number of telehealth visits carried out during the pandemic. And with remote worker productivity rising during this time (to the extent that HMH hired a chief wellness officer to address employee burnout) the hospital network plans to continue its hybrid remote strategy long term.

The hardware rollout has also now been extended to 5,000 Chrome OS devices to more frontline staffers. What began with non-direct patient care this year, as well as 50 ambulatory sites, will be expanded to all hospitals beginning in January. (Staffers access HMH’s Epic health record system via Citrix Workspace on the Chromebook devices.)

“By the end of 2022, we will be one of the few, if not the only, large integrated delivery health networks that have rolled out Google Workspace and Chrome OS across the board,” he said.

Ransomware threats

Why did HMH choose to distribute Chrome OS-based devices?

“Security is one driving factor, simplicity is another,” said Eimer. “If I think about operational support in the field…, there’s so much complexity on a Windows device. We’re removing all of that, which enables the device to boot up faster, and allows a clinician to log in quicker because of the simplicity of the Chrome OS platform.”

In terms of security, ransomware is a key consideration for any healthcare organization, with the industry itself a growing target. It’s particularly pertinent for HMH, which fell victim to a ransomware attack two years ago.

Eimer said that Chrome OS devices are a less likely target for ransomware than Windows devices, due to the prevalence of Microsoft’s operating system.

“There are 12 ransomware attacks on companies every single day,” he said. “We know that Microsoft Windows is a targeted platform. Whether it be to a Linux-based platform on the desktop or in the data center, our goal is to try to move off as many Microsoft platforms as we can, because it is hugely targeted.”

Swapping Office 365 for Google Workspace

Another aspect of the Google partnership has been a switch from Microsoft’s Office 365 to Google’s Workspace productivity and collaboration application suite. This meant moving all 40,000 HMH employees in a single “big bang” migration. “We’re past implementation and we’re now in optimization,” said Eimer.

HMH uses most of the apps in the Workspace suite, including Docs, Meet, Chat and Spaces, as it phases out Microsoft’s productivity and collaboration software suite.

“We were on Office 365 for years. If you look at Office 365…, Microsoft tried to patch together a lot of applications. They’re not very seamless, they don’t work well together.”

Users have found that moving between Workspace apps is more intuitive, with the individual tools integrated more effectively. “While some of this is available in Office, it isn’t stitched together as seamlessly as it is in Google,” he said.

Workspace app features and functionality are just one aspect of move. As a healthcare organization with tight budgets, saving money was another key driver for the switch, said Eimer.

“Microsoft is continuing to increase the price around Office 365…. The average healthcare provider has a 2% operating margin: I can’t continue to pay exorbitant rates on the Microsoft side and still have both state and federal governments keep reducing reimbursement rates: I’m getting squeezed on both sides,” he said.

The migration of 40,000 staffers to Workspace

Managing the migration of tens of thousands of staff from familiar Office 365 tools to Google’s suite was no small feat, least of all during a pandemic. Support from senior leaders was crucial, said Eimer.

“I sat very closely with our executive leadership team to ensure, multiple times, that I had executive leader buy in and support. If I didn’t have that, then I wasn’t moving forward,” he said.

Nevertheless, managing the project was a major undertaking. “We spent a significant amount of time on organizational change management. [This included] partnering with our learning and development team within HR. We built a resource site with self-paced, web-based training, so that everyone could learn on their own time and own schedule,” he said.

Other aspects of the rollout included hosting webinars on the use of Workspace apps, as well as sessions for executive admins who needed to support multiple executives, and department-level training where required.

“We over-communicated multiple times about the resource site and schedule,” said Eimer. “We also spun up a specific Google service desk, specifically for the ‘go-live,’ and we had a command center to address any issues and concerns at the time.”

Because the two platforms operate in different ways, change can take some adjusting to.

“We spent a lot of time on explaining ‘in Word, you do this, and in Google Docs, you do it this way,’ because a lot of people tried to take what they learned in Microsoft and do it in Google. It’s really just about acclimation, because Workspace, for the most part, is about 80% [feature] parity-even with Office.”

Although most of the migration is done, there’s still a way to go to complete the transition from to Workspace. “We still have 5,000 people using Microsoft Office, and the goal is to fully get rid of Microsoft Office, so we’re still working on that.”

HMH is talking with Google executives about tailoring Workspace apps to suit the workflows specific to healthcare staff. The hospital network will also continue to expand its use of the Google Cloud Platform, particularly around the use of Big Query databases going forward.

“Our goal at Hackensack Meridian Health is to pull out the bulldozer and build a whole new path for healthcare and life sciences, leveraging the Google platform to be the productivity and end user device platform of choice, and to get it to work seamlessly in healthcare,” said Eimer.

Original Article: computerworld.com

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