With a close look at the business process platform – and companies’ growing experience with it – I can see a set of Top 10 reasons for the healthcare industry to embrace the concept.
- The platform offers great re-usable elements. A well-designed business process platform not only provides useful service definitions, it also delivers The Process Component Landscape for Healthcare that implement the services in a robust and reliable fashion. Orientation toward standards such as IHE in the area of patient administration, for example, ensures maximum re-use across vendors, partners and customers.
- The platform protects investments. This is valid not only for SAP’s partners, but also joint customers. For example, T-Systems’ occupancy management solution sits on top of the existing SAP infrastructure. It offers additional functionality, but does not disturb the existing application landscape. In this particular case, training efforts for the users of the new composite application will be minimal because the system uses familiar, well-known user interface concepts.
- The platform offers a composition environment to speed up development. Too often, good ideas about how to improve a business process have failed because implementation using traditional programming methods was too costly. With the introduction of WebServices, we see a great variety of new development environments. Development can be as easy as using a widget or using the SAP NetWeaver Visual Composer (part of SAP NetWeaver Composition Environment). While some may argue that these relatively new environments aren’t perfect yet, I think the direction is clear, and I am convinced that the days of the good old spaghetti-code will soon be over.
- The platform is open. Openness is a must today, because it creates more choice – and more choice equals better solutions in the end. Of course, I would like to see Meierhofer’s MCC on a SAP web application server, but they have chosen .NET as their toolset. That makes sense for them if you consider the customer segment they sell into. So ultimately, it is great that they can use our services and we can use theirs. In the end, we have much better integration than before-and that’s what counts.
- The platform fosters a focus on processes rather than data or application features. All participants in the Community Definition Groups that we ran in 2007 stated that it was a big benefit to start our work from a process perspective. Many said there was great value in discussing among their peers how they organize the work. The IT people in the group liked this approach as well because it reduces the risk of implementing solutions that don’t satisfy users’ needs. In many cases, I also observed a much more holistic collaboration between different roles in an organization. Of course, all of this holds true SAP, as well. I joined SAP when it was much smaller than it is today, when integration sometimes took place in one single head. In large organizations, where that is not feasible, process-oriented thinking ensures such integration across many people and even beyond organization boundaries – which is especially important in the healthcare industry.
- The platform brings together IT and business departments. Discussing new processes or improving existing ones is an ongoing activity in all organizations. Enterprise service oriented architectures (SOA) and re-usable platform elements can be used to bring business departments and IT department closer together. Why is that? The business process platform reduces the traditional barriers that made it difficult for business users to express their needs or even create working prototypes using code-free tools. At the same time, the process-oriented content of the platform brings the IT people closer to the business.
- The platform ensures flexibility. T-Systems’ intention is to offer a composite application to support a central occupancy management solution for multiple institutions – most likely within a provider group. Using well-defined services and a commonly accepted interaction model, the occupancy management solution can work not only with SAP Patient Management, but also with other Hospital Information Systems, provided they implement the right resource services. This is a real-life scenario, even for the customers that have a largely harmonized IT landscape running on SAP. We have private provider organizations that are expanding (I like to think they are successful in part because of their good IT foundation….). Sometimes, these providers acquire new hospitals with legacy hospital information systems that they might keep for awhile. In those cases, a flexible design pays off immediately.
- The platform reduces complexity through models. Models powerful enough to satisfy the need of an integration engineer yet simple enough to be understood by a business user bridge the traditional gap between techies and business people. We have used different Engineering a Business Process Platform for Healthcare – Part 3 The value of models depending on what we wanted to discuss: basic responsibilities for business objects, communcation details of common integration scenarios, or a “white-box” view to depict the services provided by a process component.
- The platform fosters innovation. Give people simple-to-use, basic infrastructure elements and “room” to collaborate, and you’ll be astonished by what kind of creative solutions emerge. In reality, innovation often happens when existing things or ideas are re-combined in a new context. Thus, the extraction of great existing business functionality out of an application like SAP ERP, combined with an easy-to-use environment for recombining elements, acts as a catalyst for innovation. When a global community of experts is involved, this effect is multiplied.
- The platform drives interoperability through standards. Technical as well as semantic interoperability is key to ensuring that healthcare organizations have choice and aren’t locked into one proprietary technology. In this regard, it’s quite impressive to see how technology has advanced in the last years. From a technical perspective, for example, the developers of the Meierhofer solution needed nothing more than the WSDL file of the SAP platformservices to integrate the service calls in their .NET-based product. The real challenge now lies with the semantics. We have seen some good progress there, but we’ve also found that many business scenarios are not yet covered by IHE integration profiles, for example. In the T-Systems case, standard integration profiles between a scheduling component and a resource management component do not yet exist. In such cases, however, we took advantage of standard terminology (in this case provided by HL7) or the principal notion of actors and components to jointly define the services needed for integration.
Overall, my conclusion is that the service-oriented business process platform introduced in 2007 proved to be valuable, and we expect even more adoption case studies to share in 2008. So, stay tuned for good news – and stay engaged with our growing community.