Dreamforce 2019 - HMSA cures never-ending IT project syndrome with unified Salesforce platform shift

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan November 21, 2019
HMSA has digitally transformed in order to break out of the habit of never-ending IT projects.


US health plan provider Hawaii Medical Services Association (HMSA) had an ailment that will be familiar to far too many organizations in every business sector - technology roll-outs that run on for years and years and years. 

As Wendy Nakasone, VP of Consumer Solutions at HMSA, puts it:

Overall the company had grown tired of not being able to move quick enough with our technology initiatives. Every time we did something major, honestly, it was taking six or seven years.

And then, because everyone was so fed up with how slow things went, the CEO would just say, 'OK, at the end of December, we're done'.

And we're like, 'Well, but it's not really done'.

'I don't care. It's just done, because we spent so much time and effort and haven't moved things forward quickly enough'.

The diagnosed cure was to move to a unified Salesforce platform, but not for the reasons that are normally cited by organizations. Nakasone pitches it as a sort of ‘escape route’:

It was chosen not so much as a digital transformation [program] -  it turned out to be that - but it was really done as a means of getting out of this point solution craziness.

This was in part driven by the HMSA CEO who wanted the business and IT sides of the organisation to be happier. This was going to require some compromises all round, recalls Nakasone:

We were each going to have be flexible and give up some stuff, give up some control because the business was controlling all the decisions. The poor technology side was just trying to make us happy, but the business was not all on the same page. We had worked I think for six years on a CRM system and there was fighting between the sales side and the service side as to who got to make the decisions and who got all the resources, which project was going next and so on.

I was in charge of a line of business and they yanked me out and they said, 'OK, you're in charge of this whole thing now'. I was like, 'I don't want to be in charge of CRM', because it had had such a negative reputation. Our CEO was like,' You're not looking at looking at it the right way - it's not just a CRM platform'.

It turned out that the CEO was correct, admits Nakasone:

The honest to God truth is we have been able to do so much. I know there are people in the company were not very happy with me, but in less than two years we've done seven implementations. So we've got a large part of our sales processes on Salesforce. We're moving off with the mainframe for servicing.

All of our lines of business are now on Salesforce. We've implemented Marketing Cloud. We've implemented an employee community, we've worked with [Salesforce partner] Vlocity in terms of helping us on the sales side, individual and Medicare sales, Medicare, consumer and broker portals and we're now starting small group sales and underwriting.


For project implementation, Nakasone says that HMSA operated a “light touch” approach:

That  might scare some people, but I actually think that has been one of the keys to our success. I report to the Chief Business Operations Officer - in other companies probably called the COO. That person and our CIO have been responsible for our entire implementation. They are the executives on our steering committee. We meet with them weekly. Every other week we have joint meetings with a bigger team and they then report and keep the communication between the senior officer team and our project going.

I think, personally, I've been very fortunate because our executive sponsor has given me a lot of leeway. It's put a lot of trust in our team. Obviously, that didn't come overnight - we had to start small. The first two implementations were delivered on time and on budget, less than six months. If you compare that to the six years it was taking for other projects, they're like, 'Ok, keep going'. We built the momentum.

Not everything went smoothly. Of course we would run into bumps, but we always try to work them out.  I also think because we had had such trouble in our company, moving forward, that both the business side and the technology side were really motivated to do it right this time, so people were much more willing to compromise and solve problems together. Because of that we have been allowed the luxury of having a very light touch with governance.

Another luxury was being able to secure decent funding out of the corporate IT budget. HMSA had set aside "a pretty big chunk of money "at the beginning of 2018 for a three year digital transformation with three or four projects competing for that money. At the same time the organization planned to shut down its mainframe to do a lot of upgrading on the claims system:

There was more money left for somebody like me who is working on something new, so I had definitely had a larger share of the budget for my year one and year two and then next year I'll probably have less as the other projects are becoming more prominent.


HMSA did a lot of work upfront in preparation for the go live of the Salesforce system in order to encourage adoption and counter user resistance to change. This included making movies, recalls Nakasone:

We did cute little videos to help them understand the new Salesforce terminology. We did a movie theme, so we had a bunch of movie trailers, we had posters all around the company letting people know something's coming, coming soon and all of that. We did some other videos for our sales lines which were like astronaut related. And I would say we had really good leadership commitment to allow us the time to make training mandatory for their teams.

But sometimes some people just don't get it. Some people are head buried in the sand, 'I don't want to know what the new thing is',  'It's going to be a flash in the pan and then I can go back to my old thing’ or 'I like my old spreadsheet better'. We had to know that going in and you have to just deal with that one person at a time.

We had a bunch of support teams ready on go live days. We had people walking around and standing over people's desks, helping them with the new systems. We tried many different things because what works for one person doesn't work for another. But you do have to put a lot of time and effort into that and plan for it, because there's just some people who don't adapt to change. Certainly in our business and health insurance [it can be] very conservative. We have a lot of people like that, so you just have to be ready for that and make sure you've got all the commitments lined up.

There was also a little bit of stick to go with the carrots:

We had our CEO and our COO sending out messages to teams saying, 'Hey really excited you guys are going to be using this. We look forward to seeing all the reports that are going to be coming out of the new system'.

We had to set a rule that if you don't put your information in Salesforce, then it doesn't exist. There's a report that comes out on jeopardy accounts and [if] you didn't put your information in there, then the CEO or the Head of Sales comes by and says, 'I guess you don't have any jeopardy accounts this month, right?'. So you had to kind of learn the hard way. But there's a bunch of stuff that you have to do. You have to spend time on it.

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