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Before partnering with tech giants, healthcare CIOs should look within

To partner with tech giants or not to partner with tech giants? Gartner analyst Laura Craft offers advice on how healthcare CIOs can think through that question.

Tech giants like Microsoft, Google, Apple and Amazon are disrupting the healthcare space. But before healthcare CIOs decide to form partnerships, they need to think through the real value they offer.

Gartner analyst Laura Craft, an expert in healthcare data, analytics and industry trends, said CIOs only need to look at recent headlines to see the kind of waves these healthcare disruptors are making. Indeed, Cerner recently announced its partnership with Amazon Web Services as its preferred cloud provider to drive health IT innovation.

"Cerner, Epic, almost all the big vendors are working with one of these digital giants for cloud-based services," she said. "It's part of the reason why we suggest that most healthcare delivery organizations are going to have some kind of substantial relationship with a digital giant moving forward."

In this Q&A, Craft explains why tech giants are becoming healthcare disruptors and talks about how healthcare CIOs can prepare to work with them. One big takeaway: The more prepared a healthcare organization is to form a partnership, the stronger the relationship will be.

Why are tech giants like Google getting into healthcare?

Laura Craft: I think it's clear that the healthcare market is badly broken and it needs new models of management -- some of the digital giants might be better at creating new models of healthcare than others are. I don't think every digital giant is approaching disruption in healthcare from quite the same angle. We also know that healthcare has a lot of data, tons of data, and for digital giants, that's really their sweet spot. Data is their DNA. Some of the digital giants, like Google, they're using their capabilities within data and analytics to amass healthcare data and help with data and analytics to an extent that the typical healthcare organization wouldn't be able to do. So that's a real benefit.

How can healthcare CIOs prepare to work with tech giants?

Laura Craft, Gartner analystLaura Craft

Craft: CIOs need to understand where there's a real value-add from working and partnering with the digital giants and where doing so will augment, accelerate and provide benefits. [They should think] about, 'Do I want to use them to help me scale my analytics platform? Do I want to work with Amazon's platform to really crack the code on some of that unstructured data?' There are hidden gems of value within those datasets that are difficult to get at. These are all important decisions that a CIO needs to make: their needs for more of the capabilities that the giants can offer, and will it add value to their current configurations, specifically within their analytics platforms.

There are also decisions to be made in terms of partnerships with somebody like Apple and Apple's health record, watches. That's almost a device decision that a CIO who is looking to understand what kind of patient engagement platforms are we looking at, what kind of remote monitoring tools are we looking at to help patients be self-aware, stay on their care path and report in their wellness, will need to make.

How can CIOs partner with tech giants? Do they have to create partnerships?

Craft: Understand first of all where the digital giants are playing in your space, what it might mean to partner with a digital giant and what your readiness is to partner with a digital giant. CIOs could absolutely do nothing; they could figure out there's really no reason to partner with them. For those who might think they're disruptive in a negative way, they could decide to resist the digital giant. There is also the opportunity to keep pace with them … or maybe there is an opportunity to partner with them where it's advantageous.

Doing nothing, resisting them, keeping pace with them and figuring out how to partner with them, or leading the pack and creating your own digital giant market itself, is the framework I'd recommend for CIOs.

How can CIOs assess their ability to partner with tech giants?

If you do want to partner with digital giants, you have to understand your readiness to be able to do that.
Laura CraftAnalyst, Gartner

Craft: If you do want to partner with digital giants, you have to understand your readiness to be able to do that. Have you got your data access in line so you know how you're going to share with them? You've got your organization's policy on data sharing, you know exactly the form of the data you might want to put on a Google or Microsoft platform. You understand what your organization's appetite is to co-innovate and co-brand data products. Sometimes that's what the digital giants are going to want the data for, so they can develop and co-brand. What is your organization's readiness to do that and the legal environment to do that?

Once you take the step to say the digital giants add value and meaning to our strategies going forward, there are things within your whole data and analytics environment and strategy that need to be intact and have good structure and form in order for you to work successfully with the digital giants and take the most advantage of partnering with them.

Can CIOs trust that tech giants will keep the organization's data secure?

Craft: There is increasing momentum to suggest that the digital giants are far more secure and compliant and have much more fortitude than you might have within your own environment. But I think it's extremely important to understand that if you partner with a digital giant and even if they do have that HIPAA-compliant or GDPR-compliant infrastructure, there's still a huge burden of responsibility within your own security team to flip the right switches and make sure it's working successfully within your environment.

What are some of the biggest concerns around tech giants?

Craft: The biggest concern is always around the data and the abuse and the nefarious use of it, potentially. That's why a lot of assessing the readiness to partner with a digital giant is around making sure that you understand your organization's policy on data sharing. You understand what data is appropriate and what's not, and how that data might be used.

Editor's note: Responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.

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