Successful ERP integration can feel a lot like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. If you dump a jigsaw puzzle out on a table it is just a bunch of pieces laying in a pile, but when you put them all together, the result is a seamless, beautiful picture. In many ways, this is the work health IT professionals find themselves in when piecing together often disparate and siloed EHR and ERP systems to gain perspective of the business needs required to provide high quality clinical care.
Health systems across the country have been focused on implementing and optimizing their EHR for some time now. With much of that work completed, implementing and upgrading integrated business systems is quickly becoming the next priority. ERP integration is an excellent focus because it routinely results in business process efficiencies, greater visibility into clinical and business data and satisfied patients and employees.
Start With The Why
Like a jigsaw puzzle, knowing where and how to start is important. One approach is to first sort the pieces, making sure they are all flipped to the right side and sorted by color, and only then start to assemble the corners and edges. Knowing where and how to start is important because otherwise, the task at hand can seem impossible and discouraging. The same can be said for starting any health IT strategic plan or journey. Getting started requires vision into the desired result and an answer to the “why are we doing this?” question. Just like the picture of the completed puzzle on the box, organizations have a picture in mind of what they want for the future. For an integrated ERP and EHR system, here are 3 important answers to the “why” to consider:
- Actionable Data – Actionable data from these systems enables organizations to have efficient economies of scale and supports a value-based care model. Clear visibility into the business systems that support clinicians is vital to make this happen.
- Efficient Business Processes – When things are connected, they just work better, and organizations can see business processes become streamlined. Yes, they can save money, but more importantly smooth, efficient processes increase the satisfaction of employees and customers. Employee satisfaction is essential because as many organizations focus on retention, retaining the best people continues to be challenging and expensive.
- It is the Right Time and Right Thing to Do – The transition to value-based care has the healthcare industry focused on how we can do better. By integrating all these systems, organizations can focus on ways to improve the entire system across the board. This ultimately leads to happier patients, reduced physician burnout and simultaneous cost savings across the organization.
Turn The Vision Into Reality
Once organizations have the vision and the “why” established, the next area of focus is pre-work to get organized and understand where the current state is in comparison to the vision for the future. Ultimately, the goal should be to develop a strategic plan and roadmap that is inclusive of all clinical and business systems planning. To keep it simple, here are 5 practical steps to turn a vision into a reality:
- Do your research – This can be as simple as watching webinars, networking with people you trust or listening to podcasts. Be a sponge to learn about the capabilities and the possibilities of integrated systems. Reach out to colleagues and trusted advisors and ask questions. Be sure to take advantage of the hard-earned lessons of those who have already done it.
- Understand where your organization is today – This might be the most important thing to do. You need to know what systems you have, how they work, who uses them and how they use them. You must ask a lot of questions and document findings. You need to truly know your business, not what people say happens or what is written down, but what actually happens in practice. It is better to understand your reality now than to find a surprise during the execution phase.
- It is going to take a village – You will likely have experts on your existing team that can do the work, but do they have capacity to maintain current systems while engaging in this new project? Alternatively, are there technical skills lacking on your team that can be learned during this process? You need people with experience as you develop your strategy, as well as experts focused on assessments and documentation. Engaging with a third-party brings an objective perspective with no pre-conceived bias.
- Be diligent when choosing a partner – The biggest takeaway is to make sure you have partnered with the right technical integration experts. Ask for experience and insist on real-life examples. Ask, “tell me how you have done this in the past?” because there is no plug-and-play model. Since every organization has numerous, different puzzle pieces and every system is different, a partner should bring a strategic vision that fits your organizational profile, including culture. Partners should work as “player-coaches” to increase the aggregate knowledge of your internal team and set them up for long-term success.
- Identify a strong testing coordinator – When you integrate, that means you are sending information from one system to another. Testing in this situation is more important than ever because in this type of work you are integrating systems that may not be designed for seamless integration.
Just like EHR work, it is important to think of ERP integration as a major program that will span several years. Although it can be daunting, by following 5 steps, you can easily tackle the work and find yourself viewing a beautiful puzzle that looks just like the picture on the box.
Joe Clemons, Director, Engagement Management, Data Analytics & ERP contributes practical experience and guidance to his clients through his advisory and ERP practice leadership role at Pivot Point Consulting.
Joe brings over 17 years’ experience in healthcare IT strategy, EHR and ERP planning and implementation, merger and acquisition execution, process improvement, change management and organizational development. His expertise intersects the clinical components of the EHR with the business components of ERP to drive organizational strategy and value. He routinely contributes to industry articles, podcasts and video interviews and the development of methodology and best practices. Joe serves on the Oregon Chapter of HIMSS Board of Directors as the Sponsorship Chair. He holds a BS in Healthcare Administration.