12 keys to handling challenges of IT transitions

Healthcare organizations need a game plan to support two systems while making the switch to the new technology.

12 top challenges in making an IT transition

Most provider organizations often feel highly motivated to make a switch to a new vendor, for example, in efforts to upgrade their electronic health records system or improve the exchange of data between diverse IT systems now in place. While much attention is paid to the selection process, the switchover is often difficult, as legacy systems must remain in place and accessible, even after a go-live. IT systems transitions are never easy, but proper planning and due diligence when it comes to retiring legacy systems can minimize challenges related to this key aspect of the project. Hayes Management Consulting offers the following suggestions in planning a change from a legacy system.

Covering legacy costs in the transition

While new systems are expected to deliver financial rewards, there is a cost in achieving those benefits, and HIT executives need to budget carefully to cover those costs. In a typical IT transition, nearly half of the overall expense is for internal and external resources needed for the implementation—some resources will have to be devoted to keeping the legacy system operating during the transition.

Designating dollars

There are three main areas for budgeting to support legacy systems:

* Staff augmentation, to bring qualified personnel in-house to work next to full-time employees to support gaps during the migration.

* Managed services, which is a traditional approach to IT outsourcing where the supplier assumes control over the help desk and offers service delivery commitments to maintain service level agreements for the legacy system.

* Receivables management, providing support to perform accounts receivable tasks, relationships, processes and wind down.

Addressing staff morale concerns

Change can be stressful for most people, and transitioning an IT system falls into the “highly stressful” category. Maintaining a healthy environment requires clearly defining expectations. Team members shouldn’t be pulled in two directions—they might feel like they need to maintain levels of services in their present roles with the legacy system while feeling pressure to become conversant in the new system. To eliminate these frustrations, assign staff so they clearly know responsibilities and can focus on them.

Maintaining help desk functions

Appropriate resources need to be set aside to maintain help desk response levels. Failing to adequately staff this key function can prevent users from doing their jobs, which will add to IT staff’s stress and frustration.

Rotating assignments

HIT executives should rotate IT staff so they move from legacy system duties to new implementation tasks, enabling them to get training on the new system. Getting all staff up to speed on the new system will get the entire team involved, which helps morale.

Communicating throughout the process

A major source of frustration for IT staff comes from not knowing what’s happening. HIT executives need to spell out each step of the transition to make sure everyone knows the current status, challenges and expected outcomes.

Handling accounts receivable

If the system replacement is going to affect financial systems, one of the more critical challenges in a transition is properly managing the wind down of accounts receivable. The A/R strategy should focus on identifying all receivables, estimating their collectability and determining how best to manage the collection activity. Transition staff may be necessary to fill key positions during any change of systems, and expertise in the phase-out system is important to provide good service to customers.

Archiving data and other storage issues

Data from legacy systems needs to be maintained and accessible throughout the transition and beyond. That requires a clear understanding of regulatory requirements and internal organizational mandates for record retention. HIT executives then must decide whether to handle archiving and storage internally or to outsource the project to a third party.

Documenting policies and procedures for storage

Whether archiving and storage is handled internally or externally, HIT staff must document policies and procedures for retrieving archived patient information to enable clinicians to have access when they need it. The key is making sure data remains available for reporting for any access that may be required after the old system is phased out. Additionally, transitions resulting from mergers or acquisitions often are more complex, and organizations must clarify which entity has the ultimate responsibility for records before executing a storage strategy.

Seeking third-party support

Temporary third-party resources to manage legacy systems can help offload burdens from overwhelmed staff. Staff augmentation and contracting managed services can help fill support gaps while full-time staff is involved in migration efforts.

Using staff support to control costs

Staff augmentation can help cut costs by enabling an organization to wind down a legacy system quickly and efficiently, eliminating some of the cost of running two systems. It also can enable existing IT staff to provide high-level support that users need during go-live. Third-party support can provide “hands-on” staff at the operational and management level who can work closely with leadership to not only fill gaps but help manage the change process.

A third-party support vendor should have a cost-effective support model, and should offer a cooperative partnership with a flexible approach and a variety of cost-effective staffing models. The vendor also should continuously monitor activity and requirements during the engagement, looking for opportunities to downsize their resources as volumes dictate.

Managing challenges with multiple systems

As transitions occur, and two systems need to work simultaneously for a time, organizations can expect challenges in operating multiple systems. A support vendor can offload some of the burden, particularly if they have significant experience with multiple systems and have healthcare expertise.

For more information

Hayes Management Consulting offers additional information on planning a legacy system conversion—its roadmap is available here.

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