The golden rule is to make technology easy to use, to make the complicated simplePeter Radich, Abano Healthcare
“It is like building a concrete foundation for a new building,” says Peter Radich of Abano Healthcare.
“Unless you have the right foundation – the power cables, plumbing, and pipes in the right places – you cannot build a really nice building on top of it.”
The CIO at Abano Healthcare uses this analogy to highlight how critical data management is to the success of their business.
“The more data we can collect on our customers’ behaviours, preferences and buying habits, the more important it is,” he explains.
He says better data can mean their practices can anticipate and meet the oral hygiene needs, as well as deliver the right services in the right locations to the right customers.
“We can also use data to more efficiently run our practices, improve utilisation of dentists’ time, and help identify opportunities for training and upskilling our staff.”
Abano, an NZX listed company, is a key player in the $11 billion dental market on both sides of the Tasman. It owns the dental practices Lumino in New Zealand and Maven in Australia.
Abano employs around 2,300 people across more than 230 dental practices, some 125 of which are in New Zealand.
Data in the cloud
The company started in 2002 with the acquisition of Geddes Dentists in Auckland.
As the group grew with acquisitions across New Zealand and Australia, they realised how on premise data across the organisation was limiting their ability to scale. It also impacted their ability to deploy newer technologies like advanced analytics, machine learning and AI for the organisation.
At the same time, they were changing from having two separate organisations – one in Australia and another in New Zealand – into a “true trans-Tasman model.”
According to Radich, this means having the same business technology leadership and one team across both countries, as well as one system and directory for people on both sides of the Tasman.
He became CIO of the group in 2011. Before that, he was CIO at Bay Audiology, which was part of Abano Healthcare.
To prepare the group to move to one data ecosystem, the healthcare group worked with NOW Consulting.
The latter recommended migrating their data warehouse to Microsoft Azure cloud, and use the WhereScape RED data warehouse automation tool to manage the migration.
“We were really interested in Microsoft Power BI as an analysis toolset, and in artificial intelligence and machine learning to do analysis of data,” says Radich on a further driver for the migration.
“We wanted great analytics,” he adds. “We wanted to roll out live KPI dashboards to our practices and to make it easy for executives to access data.”
Post-migration of their data in the cloud, he shares that some of the benefits they realised were cost savings, faster systems, and easier collaboration among staff.
Radich has four IT staff in New Zealand and another four in Australia; and they have gained a lot more skills in Office 365 and Azure.
He discloses that their role is mainly to look after their dental practices.
The backend core systems are maintained by their technology partners, but his team will take the first line of call.
He says the best thing about the migration is that the board and the executive team did not notice the change was happening.
“It just worked seamlessly,” he says. “Now if they want to get information and data, it is easier to do so.”
“I could deliver power BI dashboards and start to utilise machine learning, without actually spending more money, to get more functionality,” he adds.
He explains the data is synchronised from the data warehouse to Power BI, and the reporting is done a lot more frequently.
Radich shares that one example he often uses is how they have three people who do the analytics in Auckland. These three spent a week each month preparing their reports.
The report is turned into a PDF that is posted back to the clinicians, for example, to show how their KPIs are tracking.
“We don’t do that now because the dashboards are now generated automatically, in real-time.”
Daily data insights
The clinicians and practice managers have a link to the Power BI on their dashboards, or use the app on their phone or tablet.
“It is also more secure than the previous paper based system,” he says. With the latter, “You can leave pieces of paper around for other people to read.”
“Security is a big thing for me,” he stresses. “With the new system, I can track who and when they logged in.”
In addition, the clinicians – dentists and hygienists – can get their KPIs delivered daily, instead of monthly.
Radich says there is a number of KPIs they track, both financial and non-financial.
One of these is the net promoter score (NPS). On a daily basis, they can actually look at their NPS and see if there is a problem with the NPS dropping.
They can, for instance, drill straight into patients’ comments and do something about it.
“Before, they couldn’t get into that level with details. That is why we are running with an NPS of well over 70, which is a very good score.”
Keeping it simple
Pressed for pointers for success, Radich turns to the famous mantra of Steve Jobs of keeping technology simple.
“The golden rule is to try to make technology easy to use, to make the complicated simple,” he states.
“They don’t have to ask for the information, or find the right analyst to tell them what their revenue is for that day. It is all available on their fingertips.”
He further adds that, “The goal for me is to make it easier for the dentists to do their job, which is dentistry. It is not analytics.”
The managers are running a practice and customer service is of the highest priority for them. “We don’t want them to be wasting time trying to figure out how to get a report.”
Radich says he also talked to other organisations that have done a similar data management overhaul,”to find out what they have learned”.
He says critical to any undertaking of this nature is the support they got from the board, the executive team, and the CEO Richard Keys.
“You have got to have that support, because a project like this changes the way people work,” he shares.
“At the end of the day, I have to justify the business case,” he adds. “The good thing is the business case stacked up and had a reasonable payback period.”
Radich expounds that, “We saved money doing more. Automation has also brought further savings through a more efficient allocation of resources.”
He shares another critical piece of the programme: “Communication, communication, communication.”
You have got to focus on communicating that ‘it is a business, not a technology change’Peter Radich, Abano Healthcare
“We have to communicate the change ahead,” he says.
For this, Abano used a range of ways – town hall sessions, SharePoint, Yammer (on their intranet), email, and newsletters.
He says they had a full-time project manager who focused on this aspect of change management.
“You have got to focus on communicating that ‘it is a business, not a technology change.’”
Radich further stresses that, “You can have all the reports and all the data insight, but unless people do something and change behaviours, it is actually not valuable.”
A good way to start is to get the data out into all parts of the business.
“Get the dashboard in front of people so they see it on a daily basis. They get interested, and that is fantastic.”
He says their new data ecosystem also provides the platform to work on new technologies.
According to Radich, the company is currently trialling a chatbot, which it developed with Intergen and Microsoft.
For instance, if a patient is asking a question on root canal procedure, the chatbot will provide information around the procedure.
“You can ask questions and it will ask you questions,” he explains. “Essentially, it will triage what your issue is.”
The chatbot can also provide a list of dental practices where the patient can book an appointment.
“But the powerful thing for the dentist is that they can see that the patient is coming in on a certain day and he or she is interested in getting a crown, or has got [to manage] pain.”
He adds that, “You can prepare for that patient. You are not sitting there for 10 minutes asking the same questions.”
“It is pretty exciting stuff,” he says on how they are able to deploy these initiatives.
For organisations that are also on the same data optimisation path, Radich advises, “Don’t think you’re finished.”
“I think we are just starting.”