In Part I of this series, our experts discussed outsourcing options to help healthcare IT shops balance “keeping the lights on” with pursuing strategic initiatives and the benefits of partial outsourcing with a managed services partner. Part II of the series will focus on best practices for contracting with and onboarding a managed services partner.

When healthcare IT teams need help with routine system maintenance and other tasks that are necessary to “keep the lights on,” partial outsourcing of specific tasks to a managed services partner may be the right choice. But just as in every new business relationship, it’s important to start out on the right foot.

Taking the time to create a smooth onboarding process for a new managed services partner will help CIOs and their teams get the most out of their relationship while minimizing risk and maintaining governance.

“One of the advantages of working with a managed services partner is that you can get the partnership up and running relatively quickly — providing that the right change management strategy is in place early in the planning process,” said LeAnne Wintrode, Epic Practice Director at Healthlink Advisors. “However, rushing the contracting or onboarding process or skipping important steps can lead to problems.”

Contracting Considerations: SLAs, Goal-Setting, and Measurement

Although onboarding a managed services partner is a relatively speedy process, contracting can take time.

“Managed service providers are very broad in their capacity, so it’s critical to clearly outline the goals, priorities, and skill sets required, as well as what specific tasks should be outsourced,” said Wintrode. “As a result, organizations need to be very careful about defining service level agreements (SLAs).” Because managed services contracting can be complex, hiring a consultant to assist in defining SLAs can help to streamline the process.

However, no matter how robust and comprehensive the SLAs may be, healthcare IT organizations still need to keep track of whether their managed services partner is meeting expectations — and that means defining success for the partnership as a whole, as well as metrics for success and monitoring progress.

“Organizations need to be ready to measure and report on their metrics,” said Wintrode. “If an organization has a metric for the time it takes to close a support ticket, the ticketing system needs to have the functionality to provide that detailed reporting. Other metrics might require a survey on end-user satisfaction or access to a PMO system. Organizations might need to get creative to generate the reports they need to understand if the managed services partner is meeting the standards you have set for your baseline level of service.”

“Measurements may involve escalating milestones at 30, 60, and 90 days consistent with an increase in SLA targets as the managed service provider becomes more acclimated to the partnership,” said Wintrode.

Internal Considerations: Communications, Information-Sharing, and Governance

After the vendor is selected and during the contracting process, there are a few steps healthcare CIOs can take to ensure a more seamless transition to a managed services partnership:

1. Develop a communication plan for staff.

After the organization decides to bring in a vendor, clear communication is critical to preventing problems and countering any resistance regarding the decision. One of the worst mistakes an organization can make is springing a managed services partnership on staff during a site visit or onboarding call.

“Early in the process, it’s important for CIOs and IT management teams to internally market the transition by explaining why the move makes sense for the organization,” said Wintrode. “Developing consistent talking points for future communications is a great way to keep everyone on the same page.”

Be sure to consider your current staff and be as honest and open as possible. A reorganized workload or the option for re-badging may be a welcome change for some but also could cause significant concern for others. If staffing changes or reductions are necessary, be direct and empathetic in your communications.

2. Prepare resources for your managed services partner.

Although it may be tempting to let a managed services partner dive in and figure out how to swim, putting together a transition plan for information sharing and onboarding support is an important investment in a long-term partnership. Review your documentation to ensure build and workflows are documented in an easily consumable way.

3. Establish governance for work completed by the managed services partner.

Take advantage of the opportunity to review existing change control processes and make tweaks to accommodate the new partnership. No one wants to add any additional red tape to existing processes, but consulting with auditors, legal, risk management, and other stakeholders about governance issues can save significant headaches down the road.

Considerations might include:

  • Additional controls for non-FTEs performing build migration to a production environment
  • Decision-making steps for approving changes in response to user requests
  • Necessary changes to approval and communication workflows, both to other project team members and end-users
  • Processes for securing access to offsite resources and any related hardware and software needs

Depending on the maturity of your managed service partner, you may need to invest in a consultant to prepare your organization to begin the partnership. “Hiring a consultant can help organizations manage their managed service provider,” said Wintrode. “Ideally, a consultant can fix problems before they occur by recommending appropriate SLAs to address the organization’s needs, as well as highlighting governance concerns and risks.”

4. Prepare to problem-solve.

Despite the best efforts of both parties, items will be missed in the transition planning and onboarding processes. When these inevitable issues occur, organizations should be prepared to come to the table with a problem-solving mindset.

Looking for the “why” behind the problem — such as undefined requirements, problems with approvals, or gaps in information-sharing — can help IT departments work with their managed services provider to find an acceptable solution within the scope of the SLAs.

“Every healthcare IT organization wants to get their money’s worth and wants their managed service provider to go above and beyond, but the best managed services relationships happen when the organization is prepared to act as a partner,” said Wintrode. “Organizations that work collaboratively with their managed services partner from the beginning are more likely to achieve successful long-term partnerships.”