CommonSpirit Health finds faith in Google Workspace during COVID-19

Derek du Preez Profile picture for user ddpreez October 13, 2021
The US Catholic health system aggressively rolled out Google Workspace during the height of the pandemic, so that its important work gets done more efficiently.

Doctor working with modern digital healthcare interface © everything possible - shutterstock

CommonSpirit Health was formed back in February 2019, from the merger of non-profit hospital systems: Dignity Health and Catholic Health Initiatives. Now the largest Catholic health system in the United States, with 140 hospitals, 1,000 care sites and 140,000 employees, CommonSpirit entered March 2019 unaware of the scale of the COVID-19 pandemic ahead of it. 

One may assume that being in the midst of a public health crisis might be poor timing to undergo a major technology project, one which requires significant change management to boot - but that would be wrong. According to Jason Richeson, Sr. Vice President of Technology Infrastructure at CommonSpirit Health, who was speaking at this week's Google Next ‘21 event, the timing made the migration an imperative. 

Migrating to Google Workspace, away from a range of disparate systems and processes, was essential. Richeson said: 

When we made the decision it was right at the height of the initial piece of the pandemic, and what we were finding was while that was going on, there were lots of technologies actually getting pushed because of the pandemic. We had done telemedicine for a long period of time just like most other hospital systems across the country, but there was this added push where, in some cases, that was the only way that you could get care. 

There were plenty of times where I was asked the question, do we really want to change collaboration platforms during the pandemic? But for me, the answer was: we needed to, we had to. We had all these disparate systems, it was very difficult to communicate and collaborate across the enterprise and we needed to make a change. So, to me, there was no time like the present to make this happen.

Understandably, the merger of two very large companies meant that there were lots of legacy components, with each using multiple tools, that were not integrated across the new unified piece. Richeson added: 

We had a lot of disparate systems, we had many different Exchange farms across both the legacy companies, multiple versions: 2013, 2016, some Office 365 instances. We had all of that very inconsistent landscape across the entire ministry and it really made it difficult for things like just scheduling a meeting, people couldn't see if each other were busy, people couldn't find each other - because there wasn't one common address list or anything like that. 

The initial thinking from the senior leadership, given the Microsoft foundations, was that the entire organization would now migrate to Office 365. However, Richeson was keen to look at alternatives - with the primary alternative being Google Workspace. So, what swung the decision away from Microsoft? Ubiquity of Google use in the general American population. Richeson explained: 

We started investigating what that would look like. And there's a stat that stuck with me: one in four American workers use Google Workspace on a daily basis. And once you had that stat, you knew even though they might not use it in a work environment, they had some familiarity with the product. Then also when you look at Google Workspace as a product it's second to none when it comes to collaboration…what you're able to do with the file sharing, everybody being able to communicate more efficiently with the toolset

An aggressive approach

CommonSpirit didn't waste any time in its rollout. The whole project, from contract signing to go-live, took just eight months. However, Richeson didn't see the go-live data as ‘job done'. In fact, he describes it as ‘just the beginning', because he recognizes that there is a huge change management process that is involved in ensuring that people use the tools effectively over time. 

Part of this has been establishing personas, to understand how the different roles across the organization use the new digital tools - from clinicians, to practitioners, to those using telemedicine. But one thing is clear: this will be an ongoing process. Richeson said: 

I think the technical teams thought it was aggressive, the customer base thought it was aggressive. But I think the most important thing to remember is that when the ministry went live on April 12, that was really just the beginning. That was really just when everybody got the tools, and so that's really when the journey started for us.

We continue to do user education and have the ability for individuals to continue to evolve and change the processes that they've had for such a long time, doing them more effectively and efficiently. We continue to meet with the customer base to see what's not going well and what are those opportunities we have to make things better.

It's now a little bit over four months in, we're continuing to evolve and continuing to train and re-engineer processes to make them more efficient than they were yesterday. And we also know that Google as a product continues to change and evolve itself right, so we get to stay married to that journey, to make sure that we continue to just keep operating more and more efficiently.

But despite change being constant, and users still being on a learning journey, the consistency of the toolset across CommonSpirit is still a huge draw for Richeson. He said: 

I love the fact that tomorrow when I wake up every user is going to have the exact same set of tools, regardless of the device that they're logging into, or the modality that they're even using to log in. They're going to have the same tools, regardless of whether they're more of an office based worker or they're a clinician sitting at the bedside working with the patient.

For more information on this week's Google Cloud Next 21 event, click here. Or for diginomica's full coverage from Next ‘21, see our dedicated events hub here.

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