How Large Health Orgs Are Finding Success With Lean IT Shops


By Diane Burton, SCCA

The Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA) represents a union of patients and doctors, physicians and researchers, care and cures in the pursuit of better, longer, richer lives for patients. According to its website, SCCA “combines powerful science with devoted collaboration, where boundary-pushing discovery happens — care and science working together. It is our fundamental belief that working in partnership with our patients is essential to who we are today and in the future.”

While SCCA touts its partnership with patients, it’s the organization’s approach to IT that brought it to Business Solutions’ attention. To that end, SCCA’s IT Client Services Manager, Diane Burton, took time to speak with Business Solutions about the organization’s outsourced IT service desk which operated reasonably well, but a desire for improved efficiency and cost savings drove SCCA to seek out another solution.

Burton is responsible for the client computing experience for over 3,400 users in a unique environment that supports end users from Fred Hutch Cancer Research, University of Washington Medical, and other visiting medical professionals whose mission is to find a cure for cancer and transition cancer patients into cancer survivors.

Q: Tell us a little bit about the size of your IT shop and some of the challenges your team faces.

Burton: Our IT service desk is staffed with six IT service desk professionals, as well as a senior hardware technician and two AV Support personnel serving a population of approximately 3,500 business partners. Our environment is very unique — not only do we support our SCCA employees, we also provide service and support to our partners from the University of Washington Medical Center and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center when they are on the SCCA campus. Overcoming the IT-staff-to-end-user ratio has been somewhat of a challenge for us.

Q: What did the old IT service desk at SCCA look like versus what it looks like today?

Burton: Prior to the inception of the SCCA IT service desk in January 2012, the help desk function was outsourced resulting in slower response times for both requests and incidents. Now we much more responsive and agile in completing requests and resolving incidents by having highly skilled technicians answering the phones, offering remote support to our business partners, providing desktop support, and having a walk-up IT service for those on campus.

Q: When you decided to make improvements to the IT service desk, what did you look for in a solution?

Burton: The IT service desk as a team looked at our repeatable processes to see where we could streamline things and basically create “standard work.” We were able to, over time, come up with roughly 150 ideas for improvements that would allow us to be more consistent in the delivery of services to our business partners. As we looked to improve, we continued the practice of looking at our processes to see if there were better ways to perform our work. Ultimately, we wanted a solution that would help make us more efficient.

Q: What solution did you end up going with and what results have you seen?

Burton: We chose Cherwell Software’s IT service management solution, Cherwell Service Management, and have utilized it for a majority of the efficiency improvements we were looking for. By having a tool that not only has the ability to automate those things we do regularly, but also a tool in which we can make changes to the GUI without needing to be a database administrator and knowing how to code, has allowed us to be much more nimble and productive. Now, our small team of technicians is able to deliver services much more quickly and efficiently. This allows our business partners to concentrate on the great work they do for our patients. We don’t want them to fight with the technology we provide, but rather partner effectively with IT because we are all committed to providing the best care for our patients.

Q: What advice would you give other IT organizations that are looking to mature their IT service management practices and enhance the value they deliver to the business?

Burton: I have spoken to numerous organizations which were looking for an IT service management tool. Their desire, as was ours, was to find a tool that is easy to use, easy to customize, and provides exceptional reporting and real time data analysis. They also want a tool that offers not only Incident and Request Management, but also Problem and Change Management, as well as a powerful knowledge base — without the need or cost of adding modules down the road. In addition, creating customized dashboards that serve the needs of the technicians, managers, directors, and senior executives creates the visibility necessary to understand, at any time, what is happening in the environment. The ability to fulfill all of these requirements and more is invaluable.