Defining Technology Collaboration
Sponsored by an educational grant from Siemens Medical Solutions and EMC Corporation

Ken Lawonn, Senior VP and CIO, Alegent HealthTechnology collaboration may be one of the most overused and least understood terms in health information technology. Both healthcare enterprise and vendors promote strategic alliance arrangements, and certainly, both organizations want to tap into the associated benefits. In many cases, however, the arrangement goes awry, and neither side realizes the anti-cipated gains.

Five years ago, Alegent Health and Siemens Medical Solutions signed on the dotted line and began a technology collaboration that redefines the term. Today, both sides tout the benefits of the relationship. Like any successful relationship, technology collaboration requires give and take and a long-term vision. Ken Lawonn, Alegent Health Senior Vice President and CIO and a chief architect of the strategic alliance between Alegent Health and Siemens, shares some insight.

Can you describe the rationale of the technology collaboration? Why would a healthcare enterprise choose the strategic alliance route over the best-of-breed approach?

Strategic alliances are the key to improving quality and containing costs. Healthcare can realize significant gains through standardization. Collaborating with one or two primary vendors facilitates standardization.

Plenty of facilities boast about technology collaborations. How do your arrangements with Siemens and EMC differ from the typical strategic alliance between a healthcare enterprise and vendor?

It is fairly standard to select a collaborator. Many sites select collaborators, but they fail to follow through and behave as true collaborators.

Alegent Health went through a careful evaluation process, assessing its needs and engaging staff across the enterprise in the transition into the integrated digital environment. Five years ago, Alegent Health was in a massive replacement cycle and prepped to invest $150 million over 10 years. We choose to align with Siemens because they offer solutions that meet most of our needs in radiology, cardiology and health IT; and we knew Siemens is committed to this market. Similarly, EMC leads the storage market. Alegent Health wanted to be on the leading edge and leverage emerging technology in digital image and data storage to avoid costs and challenges associated with an upgrade. EMC was the natural choice.

Once Alegent Health made the commitment to work with Siemens, we began inviting their sales and technology staff to our long-range planning meetings. To many sites, this is anathema, akin to inviting the fox into the henhouse. But opening the process to our collaborators helps them make us more effective. For example, when Alegent Health considered investing in additional 16-slice CT scanners, Siemens advised the organization to wait for the upcoming Somatom Sensation 64-slice scanner as it was a better fit for our long-range vision, which focused on cardiac CT angiography. Siemens sales staff realizes that they may need to sacrifice short-term goals to help us meet our long-term objectives. Over the long term, we all benefit.

What else do you do to make the alliance work?

We constantly manage the relationship. We have an executive level meeting with Siemens every quarter to review our progress and address any issues we are experiencing.  We also host annual planning meetings with both Siemens and EMC to review the direction of each organization and to establish priorities and goals for the coming year.

Can you describe the benefits of the open book approach to vendor collaborations?

Our staff works with Siemens every day; Siemens is genuinely vested in our success. As Alegent invests in solutions to help optimize quality and patient care, Siemens helps Alegent make the most of our investments. Alegent Health is involved with product development and beta tests many new Siemens systems.

The relationship between our staff and Siemens sales representatives has changed as well. Sales are interested in our long-term vision and success rather than the individual product sale.

How do you see the relationships with your collaborations evolving in the future?

Healthcare faces a massive challenge. We need to move beyond storage and determine how to handle and process massive amounts of data. To do that, we need to integrate workflow from beginning to end and take out as many steps and streamline the process as much as possible. Alegent Health is just beginning to tackle this process and plans to involve our vendor collaborators to help address the problem.