BI in Health Care—and Everywhere Else

June 22, 2009
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In which Jill observes that the maxim, “Physician, heal thyself” can have several meanings.

Hospital by carlsonimkeller via Flickr

Several years ago, Baseline Consulting received a blind Request for Proposal from an HMO. The RFP was for help building a BI strategy. Right up our alley. Trouble was we didn’t have many references in the healthcare sector. At that time our largest competitor had a practice dedicated to healthcare. While Baseline routinely won competitive bids in retail, financial services, gaming, insurance, communications, and other verticals, our competitor had healthcare locked up.

Moreover, like many consultants and vendors, we tend to be suspicious of blind RFPs. Being asked to answer a lot of complicated questions, and even divulge some IP, by a prospect where there is no pre-existing relationship, no referral, and no attempt at personal outreach can be a dicey proposition. One BI vendor of note refuses to even entertain blind RFPs. “When you get something out of the blue like that, it usually means you’re column-fodder,” their sales executive said recently. Blind RFPs are like the guy on the Times Square side street who wants to show you some nice Rolexes. You want to check them out, but you’re

In which Jill observes that the maxim, “Physician, heal thyself” can have several meanings.

Hospital by carlsonimkeller via Flickr

Several years ago, Baseline Consulting received a blind Request for Proposal from an HMO. The RFP was for help building a BI strategy. Right up our alley. Trouble was we didn’t have many references in the healthcare sector. At that time our largest competitor had a practice dedicated to healthcare. While Baseline routinely won competitive bids in retail, financial services, gaming, insurance, communications, and other verticals, our competitor had healthcare locked up.

Moreover, like many consultants and vendors, we tend to be suspicious of blind RFPs. Being asked to answer a lot of complicated questions, and even divulge some IP, by a prospect where there is no pre-existing relationship, no referral, and no attempt at personal outreach can be a dicey proposition. One BI vendor of note refuses to even entertain blind RFPs. “When you get something out of the blue like that, it usually means you’re column-fodder,” their sales executive said recently. Blind RFPs are like the guy on the Times Square side street who wants to show you some nice Rolexes. You want to check them out, but you’re dubious.

The combination of these two factors led us to send the HMO’s contact a polite “thanks anyway” note, congratulating them for realizing the promise of BI in an information-rich industry, and wishing them luck on their BI journey.

Surprisingly our VP of Client Services received a call from the HMO contact right after she received our no-bid notice. Danielle was the HMO’s BI Program Director, and she was insistent. “We really want a proposal from Baseline,” Danielle said.

Our V.P. thanked her and explained that we were pretty sure who the competition was, and that we didn’t have their healthcare industry chops and thus had decided to forgo the proposal process. But Danielle was unrelenting. She made her case, firmly explaining that the HMO’s evaluation process was multi-dimensional and involved more than just healthcare expertise. We would be given a fair shot at the business.

So we bid it, proposing our BI Portfolio service and roadmap, and waited for the inevitable “thanks anyway” e-mail. Instead, we received an e-mail from the HMO’s procurement manager informing us that we’d won.

In a meeting with the HMO’s CIO a few weeks later, still dazed by our unexpected success, we asked about their consulting evaluation process. We’d been honest about our lack of healthcare experience, and wondered why they’d picked us in spite of it.

The CIO replied, “You guys don’t get it, do you? You won because you DON’T know healthcare.”

My team and I could only look at one another.

 “What impressed us was your experience with customer intelligence,” the CIO continued. “You guys showed examples of the value of the 360-degree view of customer, customer profiling, and tracking a customer across his or her relationship with a retailer. That’s exactly what we need to do with our patients. We want your knowledge of retail. Honestly, that’s where healthcare’s headed.”

The CIO didn’t know how prescient he was. In the subsequent engagement and several more after that, we learned that applying customer intelligence principles from the retailers, banks, gaming companies, and other industries we’d worked with was nothing less than innovative in healthcare. After all, the idea of a  customer relationship lifecycle, with its myriad channels and touchpoints, mirrors the continuum-of-care goal of most of today’s healthcare providers. And all the user adoption challenges we’d seen in other industries paled in comparison to those in healthcare where physicians—notoriously set in their ways—now use BI to make smart decisions about patient care—not in an office or a cubicle, but at the bedside.

In an increasingly competitive industry where disruptive new entrants are taking healthcare administrators by surprise and the question of wholesale reform is not an “if” but a “when,” the patient-centric view is nothing less than strategic. “We don’t need experience in healthcare,” the CIO concluded. “As it is, we already have more than enough ourselves.”

Photo by carlsonimkeller (via Flickr)

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