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Cloud Provides a Competitive Edge

Different paths to cloud and SaaS enablement yield similar major benefits for Press Ganey and Planview

The next VMworld innovator panel discussion focuses on how two companies are using aggressive cloud-computing strategies to deliver applications better to their end users.

We'll hear how healthcare patient-experience improvement provider Press Ganey and project and portfolio management provider Planview are both exploiting cloud efficiencies and agility. Their paths to the efficiency of cloud have been different, but the outcomes speak volumes for how cloud transforms businesses.

To understand how, we sat down with Greg Ericson, Senior Vice President and Chief Innovation Officer at Press Ganey Associates in South Bend, Indiana, and Patrick Tickle, Executive Vice President of Products at Planview Inc. in Austin, Texas.

The discussion, which took place at the recent 2013 VMworld Conference in San Francisco, is moderated by Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions. [Disclosure: VMware is a sponsor of BriefingsDirect podcasts.]

Here are some excerpts:

Gardner: We heard a lot about cloud computing at VMworld, and you're both going at it a little differently. Greg, tell us a bit about the type of cloud approach you’re taking at Press Ganey.

Ericson: Press Ganey is the leader in a patient-experience analytics. We focus on providing deep insight into the patient experience in healthcare settings. We have more than 10,000 customers within the healthcare environment that look to us and partner with us around patient-experience improvement within the healthcare setting.

Ericson

We started this cloud  journey in July of 2012 and we set out to achieve multiple goals. Number one, we wanted to position Press Ganey's software as solution products of the next generation and have a platform that was able to support them.

We went through a journey of consolidating multiple data centers. We consolidated 14 different storage arrays in our process and, most importantly, we were able to position our analytic solutions to be able to take on exponentially more data and provide that to our clients.

Gardner: Patrick, how has cloud helped you at Planview? You were, at one time, a fully a non-cloud organization. Tell us about your journey.

Tickle: Planview has been an enterprise software vendor, a classic best-of-breed focused enterprise software vendor, in this project and portfolio and resource management space for over 20 years.

Tickle

We have a big global customer base of on-premise customers that built up over the last 23 years. Obviously, in the world of software these days, there's a fairly seismic big shift about being in software as a service (SaaS) and how you get to the cloud, the business models, and all those kinds of things.

Conventional wisdom is for a lot it was that you can't get there unless you start from scratch. Obviously, because this is the only thing we do, it was pretty imperative that we figure out a way to get there.

So two or three years ago, we started trying to make the transition. There were a lot of things we had to go through, not just from an infrastructure standpoint, but from a business model and delivery standpoint, etc.

The essence was here. We didn’t have time to rewrite a code base in which we've invested 10-plus years and hundreds of thousands of hours of customer experience to be a market-leading product in our space. It could take five years to rewrite it. Compared to where we were 10 years ago, when you and I first met, there are a lot more tools in the bag for people to get to the cloud that there were then.

So we really went after VMware and did the research sweep much more aggressively. We started out with our own kind of infrastructure that we bolted together and moved to a FlexPod in our second generation.

We have vCloud Hybrid Services now, and leveraging our existing code base, and then the whole suite of VMware products and services, we have transformed the company into a cloud provider. Today, 90 percent of all our new Planview customers are SaaS customers. It's been a big transition for us, but the technology from VMware has been right in the center of making it happen.

Business challenges

Gardner: Greg, tell us a little bit about some of the business challenges that are driving your IT requirements that, in turn, make the cloud model attractive. Is this a growth issue? Is this a complexity issue? What are your business imperatives that make your IT requirements?

Ericson: That’s a great question. Press Ganey is a 25-year-old organization. We pioneered the concept of patient experience and the analytics, and insight into the patient experience, within the healthcare setting. We have an organization that's steeped in history, and so there are multiple things that we're looking at.

Number one, we have one of the largest protected health information (PHI) databases in the United States. So we felt that we had to have a very secure and robust solution to provide to our clients, because they trust us with their data.

Number two, with the healthcare reform, the focus on patient experience is somewhat mandatory, whereas before, it was somewhat voluntary. Now, it's regulated or it's part of the healthcare reform. When you look at organizations, some were actually coming to us and saying, "We want to get however many patient surveys out that we need to satisfy our threshold."

Our scientists are also finding a correlation between the patient experience results and clinical and quality outcomes.

Our philosophy is why would you want to do that? We believe that if you can understand and leverage the different media to be able to fill that out, you can survey your entire population of patients that are coming into not only your institution but, in the accountable care organization, the entire ecosystem that you’re serving. That gives you tremendous insight into what's going on with those patients.

Our scientists are also finding a correlation between the patient experience results and clinical and quality outcomes. So, as we can tie those data sets together in those episodic events, we're finding very interesting kinds of new thought, leading thought, out there for our clients to look at.

So for us, going from minimally surveying your population to doing census survey, which is your entire population, represents an exponential growth. The last thing is that, for our future, in terms of going after some of those new analytics, some of the new insight that we want to provide our clients, we want to position the technology to be able to take us there.

We believe that the VMware vCloud Suite represents a completeness of vision. It represents a complete a single pane of glass into managing the enterprise and, longer-term, as we become more sophisticated in identifying our data and as the industry matures, we think that a public cloud, a hybrid cloud, is in the future for us, and we're preparing for that.

Gardner: And this must be a challenge for you, not only in terms of supporting the applications, but also those data sets. You're getting some larger data sets and they could be distributed. So the cloud model suits your data needs over time as well?

Deeper insights

Ericson: Absolutely. It gives us the opportunity to be able to apply technology in the most cost-value proposition for the solutions that we’re serving up for our customers.

Our current environment is around 600 server instances. We have about 300 terabytes (TB) running in 20 SaaS applications, and we're growing exponentially each month, as we continue to provide that deeper insight for our customers.

Gardner: Patrick, for your organization what are some of the business drivers that then translate into IT requirements?

Tickle: From an IT perspective, it changed the culture of the company, moving from being a on-premise perpetual kind of "ship the software and have a customer care organization that focuses on bug and break-fix" to a service-delivery model. There were a lot of things that rippled through that whole thing.

We had to move from an IT culture to an OPs culture and all the things that go along with that, performance and up time.

At the end of the day, we had to move from an IT culture to an operations culture and all the things that go along with that, performance and up-time. Our customer base is global. So it was being able to provide that around the globe is. All those things were pretty significant shifts from an IT perspective.

We went from a company that had a corporate IT group to a company that has a hosting and DevOps and Ops team that has a little bit of spend in corporate IT.

Out of the gate, the first step at Planview was moving to colo. SunGard has been a great partner for us over the last couple of years as our ping, power, and pipe. Then, in our first generation, we bolted together some of our storage and computer infrastructure because it wasn’t quite all the way there. Then, in our most recent incarnation of the infrastructure we’re using FlexPods at SunGard in Austin, Texas and London.

OPEX spend

We're always having to evaluate future footprints. But ultimately, like many companies, we would like to convert that infrastructure investment from a capital spend into an OPEX spend. And that’s what’s compelling with vCloud Hybrid Service.

What we've been excited about hearing from VMware is not just providing the performance and the scalability, but the compatibility and the economic model that says we’re building this for people who want to just move virtual machines (VMs). We understand how big the opportunity is, and that’s going to open up more of a public cloud opportunity for us to evaluate for a wide variety of use cases going forward.

Gardner: How big a deal is it when we can, with just a click of a mouse, move workloads to any support environment we want?

Tickle: It's a huge deal. Whether it’s a production environment or disaster recovery (DR) environment, at the end of the day it's a big deal for both of us. For a SaaS company the only matter is renewals. It’s happy customers that renew. That transition from perpetual-plus maintenance to a renewal model, where you're on the customer service watch at another level, and it's every minute of every day.

Everything that we can do to make the customer experience, not just from our UI and our software, but obviously the delivery of the service, as compelling as possible, allows us to run our business. That can be a disaster scenario or just great performance across our geography where we have customers and then to do that in a cost effective way that operates inside our business model, our profit and loss.

So our shareholders are equally pleased with their turn off. We can't afford to have half of the company’s OPEX go into IT, while we’re trying to make customers as successful as they possibly can. We continue to be encouraged that we’re on a great path with the stack that we're seeing to get there.

Gardner: I think it's fair to say that cloud is not just repaving old cow paths, that cloud is really transforming your entire business. Do you agree, Greg?

Rejuvenate legacy

Ericson: I agree. It allows us, especially an organization that’s 25 years steeped in history, to be able to rejuvenate our legacy applications and be able to deliver those with maximum speed, maximizing our resources, and delivering them in a secure environment. But it also allows us to be able to grow, to flex, and to be able to rejuvenate and organically transform the organization. It's pretty exciting for us and it adds a lot of value to our clients indirectly.

Gardner: Greg,what are some of the more measurable pay-offs when you go to cloud? Are these soft payoffs of productivity and automation or are there hard numbers about return on investment (ROI) or moving more to a operation cost versus capital cost? What do you get when you do cloud right?

Ericson: We justify the investment based on consolidation of our data centers, consolidation and retirement of our storage arrays, and so on. That’s from a hard-savings perspective. From a soft-savings perspective, clearly in an environment that was not virtualized, virtualizing the environment represented a significant cost avoidance.

Our focus is on a complete solution that allows us to really focus in on what's important for us, what's important for our clients.

Longer-term, we're looking at how to position the organization with a robust, virtual secured infrastructure that runs with a minimum amount of technical resources, so that we can focus most of our efforts on delivering innovative applications to our clients.

The biggest opportunity for us is to focus there. As you look at the size of the data set and the growth of those data sets, positioning infrastructure to be able to stay with you is exciting for us and it’s a value proposition for our clients.

Entire environment

With a minimum amount of staff, we were able to move in nine months and virtualize our entire environment. When you talk about 600 servers and 300 TB of data, that's a pretty sizable enterprise and we're fully leveraging the vCloud Suite.

Our network is virtualized, our storage is virtualized, and our servers are virtualized. The release of vCloud Suite 5.5 and some of the additional network functionality and storage functionality that’s coming out with that is rather exciting. I think it's going to continue to add more value to our proposition.

Gardner: Some people say that a single point of management, when you have that comprehensive suite approach, comes in pretty handy, too.

Ericson: It does, because it gives you the capability of managing through a single pane of glass across your environments. I was going to accentuate that we’re about 50 percent complete in building on our catalog.

For our next steps, number one is that we’re looking at building upon the excellence of Press Ganey and building our next-generation enterprise data warehouse. We’re looking at leveraging from a DevOps perspective the VMware vCloud Suite, and we already have some pilots that are up and running. We'll continue to build that out.

Not only are we maximizing our assets in delivering a secure environment for our clients, but we're also really working toward what I call engineering to zero.

As we deploy, not only are we maximizing our assets in delivering a secure environment for our clients, but we're also really working toward what I call engineering to zero. We’re completely automating and virtualizing those deployments and we're able to move those deployments, as we go from dev to test, and test to user acceptance testing, and then into a production environment.

Tickle: As we all know, there are lot of hypervisors out there. We can all get that technology from a wide variety of sources. But to your question about the value with the stack, that’s what's we look at and again. What's important now is not just the product stack, but the services stack.

We look at a company like VMware and say, "Site Recovery Manager in conjunction with vCloud Hybrid Services brings a DR solution to me as SaaS vendor and that fits with my architecture and brings that service stack plus."

There's no comparing another hypervisor vendor to build out that stack of service. Again, we could probably talk about probably numerous, but that’s when I listen to the things that go on at the event and get to spend time with the people at VMware. That whole value stack that VMware is investing in is what looks so much more compelling than just picking pieces of technology.

Gardner: Looking to the future, Greg, based on what you've heard at VMworld about the general availability of vCloud Hybrid Services and the upgrade to the suite of private cloud support, what has you most excited? Was there something that surprised you? What is in the future road map for you?

A step further

Ericson: A couple of different things. The next release of NSX is exciting for us. It allows us to be able to take the virtualization of our network a step further. Also to be able to connect hypervisors into a hybrid-cloud situation is something that, as we evolve our maturity in terms of managing our data, is going to be exciting for us.

One of the areas that we're still teasing out and want to explore is how to tie in that accelerator for a big-data application into that. Probably, in 2014, what we're looking at is how to take this environment and really move from a DR kind of environment to a high-availability environment. I believe that we’re architected for that and because of the virtualization we can do that with a minimum amount of investment.

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More Stories By Dana Gardner

At Interarbor Solutions, we create the analysis and in-depth podcasts on enterprise software and cloud trends that help fuel the social media revolution. As a veteran IT analyst, Dana Gardner moderates discussions and interviews get to the meat of the hottest technology topics. We define and forecast the business productivity effects of enterprise infrastructure, SOA and cloud advances. Our social media vehicles become conversational platforms, powerfully distributed via the BriefingsDirect Network of online media partners like ZDNet and IT-Director.com. As founder and principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions, Dana Gardner created BriefingsDirect to give online readers and listeners in-depth and direct access to the brightest thought leaders on IT. Our twice-monthly BriefingsDirect Analyst Insights Edition podcasts examine the latest IT news with a panel of analysts and guests. Our sponsored discussions provide a unique, deep-dive focus on specific industry problems and the latest solutions. This podcast equivalent of an analyst briefing session -- made available as a podcast/transcript/blog to any interested viewer and search engine seeker -- breaks the mold on closed knowledge. These informational podcasts jump-start conversational evangelism, drive traffic to lead generation campaigns, and produce strong SEO returns. Interarbor Solutions provides fresh and creative thinking on IT, SOA, cloud and social media strategies based on the power of thoughtful content, made freely and easily available to proactive seekers of insights and information. As a result, marketers and branding professionals can communicate inexpensively with self-qualifiying readers/listeners in discreet market segments. BriefingsDirect podcasts hosted by Dana Gardner: Full turnkey planning, moderatiing, producing, hosting, and distribution via blogs and IT media partners of essential IT knowledge and understanding.

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