Curing the cloud skills gap? It pays to partner

healthcare avatarHealthcare organizations have historically been skeptical about cloud computing, primarily because of privacy and security concerns. Fast forward to modern day, and healthcare is one of the industries leading the way in terms of rising cloud investment levels, according to the IBM Business Tech Trends study. The study indicates that, among healthcare providers, investment in cloud computing is increasing faster than in analytics, mobile or social. But there’s a looming complication.

Click to interact with dashboard
Click to interact with dashboard

According to that same study, healthcare lags behind just about every industry when it comes to having sufficient cloud skills, with 60 percent of organizations reporting major to moderate skill gaps. How will this shortfall impact future cloud-based innovation? How can leading healthcare providers close this gap and stay ahead of the curve?

Cloud is core to industry innovation

A big part of the story is the industry’s struggles with privacy and change, both from a regulatory standpoint and with respect to new business models. A focus of healthcare reform has been the shift from fee-for-service to value-based care, which has regulatory implications across the healthcare ecosystem. Couple these regulatory pressures with an increasing emphasis on security and you can begin to see some of the barriers to cloud technology adoption, especially for healthcare providers.

Despite the hurdles, healthcare organizations have already begun to realize the benefits of cloud technology, primarily in storage, where the increase of electronic health records (EHRs) and large image files require flexibility in storage options. But the benefits of cloud in healthcare go far beyond traditional storage applications. IDC predicts that by 2020, 80 percent of healthcare data will pass through the cloud at some point in its lifetime.

As the Business Tech Trends study shows, cloud is at the core of integration across almost all developing technologies. Fifty-seven percent of pacesetters in the study use big data and analytics on the cloud, 53 percent use social on the cloud, and 55 percent use mobile on the cloud. While the healthcare industry is just beginning to test social media engagement strategies, analytics and mobile are quickly growing and evolving across the healthcare ecosystem. IDC also predicts 70 percent of healthcare organizations worldwide will invest in consumer-facing mobile applications, wearables, remote health monitoring and virtual care by 2018. These initiatives will likely drive accelerated investments in big data capabilities and analytics – but only if organizations have the necessary skills and resources to tap into the value of these developments.

Across all industries, pacesetting companies partner more. Click to enlarge.

Closing the gap

Although partnering for skills was a key trait of pacesetters in the Tech Trends study, partnering in healthcare is not always as simple as in other industries. Compared to retail, where the most sensitive customer information may be credit card data, healthcare has much more complex security concerns with drastic ramifications. Recent breaches have leaked birth dates, social security numbers, employment information and income levels. The stakes are clearly high, and this puts particular pressure on the inherent risks of partnering.

The expertise required to safeguard data and boost analytics capabilities on the cloud is rapidly changing, highlighting the need for external partnerships. And yet for some reason, likely security concerns, healthcare hasn’t fully tapped into the benefits of these kinds of relationships. However, with the rise of HIPAA business associate agreements (more on BAAs here) – or contracts between healthcare organizations and business associates that are used to protect personal health information in accordance with HIPAA guidelines – there will be fewer barriers for healthcare organizations to partner. As in other industries, these new partnerships will lead to skills transfer and training in addition to traditional IT development and execution, helping overcome a historical barrier and close the skills gap.

Cloud is really just the beginning. Coupled with mobile, analytics and one day social technologies, healthcare organizations can begin to truly revolutionize the way we receive care. These fresh developments will necessitate innovation, new skills and resources that perhaps only partnerships can provide. As the regulatory and healthcare ecosystems continue to evolve, the value of partnerships will only grow. Pacesetters will need to stay ahead of this curve but more importantly; those organizations looking to partner will need the security and regulatory practices in place in order to capitalize earlier than others.

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