Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Download the transcript. Sponsor: VMware.
Dana Gardner: Hello, and welcome to a special BriefingsDirect podcast series coming to you from the 2013 VMworld Conference in San Francisco. We're here to explore the latest in cloud-computing and virtualization infrastructure developments.
Our next innovator panel interview focuses on how two companies are using aggressive cloud-computing strategies to deliver applications to their end users. We'll hear how healthcare patient-experience improvement provider Press Ganey and project and portfolio management provider Planview are both exploiting cloud efficiencies and agility.
To understand how, please join me now in welcoming our guests, Greg Ericson, Senior Vice President and Chief Innovation Officer at Press Ganey Associates in South Bend, Indiana, and Patrick Tickle, Executive Vice President of Products at Planview Inc. in Austin, Texas. [Disclosure: VMware is a sponsor of BriefingsDirect podcasts.]
We're hearing a lot about cloud computing here at VMworld, and you're going at it a little differently, thinking about making the best use of infrastructure and services on-premises, off-premises and hybrid. Let's start with you, Greg. Tell us a bit about the type of cloud approach you’re taking, and then we’ll want to learn a little bit more about your businesses as well.
Greg Ericson: We started this journey in July of 2012 and we set out to achieve multiple goals. Number one, we wanted to position Press Ganey's software as solution products of the next generation and have a platform that was able to support them.
Gardner: Tell us a little about your company, what you do, and how people benefit from these applications.
Ericson: Press Ganey is the leader in a patient-experience analytics. We focus on providing deep insight into the patient experience in healthcare settings. We have more than 10,000 customers within the healthcare environment that look to us and partner with us around patient-experience improvement within the healthcare setting.
Gardner: Patrick, how has cloud helped you at Planview? You were, at one time, a fully a non-cloud organization. Tell us about your journey.
Patrick Tickle: I'll answer a little bit about the company, because it sets the context for what we're doing. Planview has been an enterprise software vendor, a classic best-of-breed focused enterprise software vendor, in this project and portfolio and resource management space for over 20 years.
Conventional wisdom is for a lot it was that you can't get there unless you start from scratch. Obviously, because this is the only thing we do, it was pretty imperative that we figure out a way to get there.
So two or three years ago, we started trying to make the transition. There were a lot of things we had to go through, not just from an infrastructure standpoint, but from a business model and delivery standpoint, etc.
The essence was here. We didn’t have time to rewrite a code base in which we've invested 10-plus years and hundreds of thousands of hours of customer experience to be a market-leading product in our space. It could take five years to rewrite it. Compared to where we were 10 years ago, when you and I first met, there are a lot more tools in the bag for people to get to the cloud that there were then.
So we really went after VMware and did the research sweep much more aggressively. We started out with our own kind of infrastructure that we bolted together and moved to a FlexPod in our second generation.
We have vCloud Hybrid Services now, and leveraging our existing code base, and then the whole suite of VMware products and services, we have transformed the company into a cloud provider. Today, 90 percent of all our new Planview customers are SaaS customers.
It's been a big transition for us, but the technology from VMware has been right in the center of making it happen.
Gardner: Greg, tell us a little bit about some of the business challenges that are driving your IT requirements that, in turn, make the cloud model attractive. Is this a growth issue? Is this a complexity issue? What are your business imperatives that make your IT requirements?
Ericson: That’s a great question. Press Ganey is a 25-year-old organization. We pioneered the concept of patient experience and the analytics, and insight into the patient experience, within the healthcare setting. We have an organization that's steeped in history, and so there are multiple things that we're looking at.
Number one, we have one of the largest protected health information (PHI) databases in the United States. So we felt that we had to have a very secure and robust solution to provide to our clients, because they trust us with their data.
Number two, with the healthcare reform, the focus on patient experience is somewhat mandatory, whereas before, it was somewhat voluntary. Now, it's regulated or it's part of the healthcare reform. When you look at organizations, some were actually coming to us and saying, "We want to get however many patient surveys out that we need to satisfy our threshold."
Our philosophy is why would you want to do that? We believe that if you can understand and leverage the different media to be able to fill that out, you can survey your entire population of patients that are coming into not only your institution but, in the accountable care organization, the entire ecosystem that you’re serving. That gives you tremendous insight into what's going on with those patients.
Our scientists are also finding a correlation between the patient experience results and clinical and quality outcomes. So, as we can tie those data sets together in those episodic events, we're finding very interesting kinds of new thought, leading thought, out there for our clients to look at.
So for us, going from minimally surveying your population to doing census survey, which is your entire population, represents an exponential growth. The last thing is that, for our future, in terms of going after some of those new analytics, some of the new insight that we want to provide our clients, we want to position the technology to be able to take us there.
We believe that the VMware vCloud Suite represents a completeness of vision. It represents a complete a single pane of glass into managing the enterprise and, longer-term, as we become more sophisticated in identifying our data and as the industry matures, we think that a public cloud, a hybrid cloud, is in the future for us, and we're preparing for that.
Gardner: And this must be a challenge for you, not only in terms of supporting the applications, but also those data sets. You're getting some larger data sets and they could be distributed. So the cloud model suits your data needs over time as well?
Ericson: Absolutely. It gives us the opportunity to be able to apply technology in the most cost-value proposition for the solutions that we’re serving up for our customers.
Our current environment is around 600 server instances. We have about 300 terabytes (TB) running in 20 SaaS applications, and we're growing exponentially each month, as we continue to provide that deeper insight for our customers.
Gardner: Patrick, for your organization what are some of the business drivers that then translate into IT requirements?
Tickle: As I talked about, obviously the macro trend of SaaS was just a tectonic shift in software. So it was not just an issue of how Planview would evolve as a company in that space, but certainly as someone who has always viewed themselves as market leader, we want to make sure we're as relevant as we possibly can be. More and more customers and prospects were starting to either demand, or at least want to look at, SaaS as an option in our space.
So it was really important, at the end of the day, for us to be able to address the largest addressable market for our solution. If we weren’t going to have a SaaS option, we were going to take big piece of the market off the table.
That was probably the biggest driver. From an IT perspective, it changed the culture of the company, moving from being a on-premise perpetual kind of "ship the software and have a customer care organization that focuses on bug and break-fix" to a service-delivery model. There were a lot of things that rippled through that whole thing.
At the end of the day, we had to move from an IT culture to an operations culture and all the things that go along with that, performance and up-time. Our customer base is global. So it was being able to provide that around the globe is. All those things were pretty significant shifts from an IT perspective.
We went from a company that had a corporate IT group to a company that has a hosting and DevOps and Ops team that has a little bit of spend in corporate IT.
Gardner: Because your resource management and planning activities span many vertical industries, a large geographic area of many users, how have you made the transition to SaaS in terms of deployment? You have a single data center. You do colo. Do you have any plans for hybrid? How does it translate into the best, most efficient way to support all those users?
Tickle: Out of the gate, the first step at Planview was moving to colo. SunGard has been a great partner for us over the last couple of years as our ping, power, and pipe. Then, in our first generation, as I may have said before, we bolted together some of our storage and computer infrastructure because it wasn’t quite all the way there. Then, in our most recent incarnation of the infrastructure we’re using FlexPods at SunGard in Austin, Texas and London.
We're always having to evaluate future footprints. But ultimately, like many companies, we would like to convert that infrastructure investment from a capital spend into an OPEX spend. And that’s what’s compelling with vCloud Hybrid Service.
What we've been excited about hearing from VMware is not just providing the performance and the scalability, but the compatibility and the economic model that says we’re building this for people who want to just move virtual machines (VMs). We understand how big the opportunity is, and that’s going to open up more of a public cloud opportunity for us to evaluate for a wide variety of use cases going forward.
Gardner: Greg, back to your situation at Press Ganey with cloud. What are some of the pay offs? Are these soft payoffs of productivity and automation or are there hard numbers about return on investment (ROI) or moving more to a operation cost versus capital cost? What do you get when you do cloud right?
Ericson: We justify the investment based on consolidation of our data centers, consolidation and retirement of our storage arrays, and so on. That’s from a hard-savings perspective. From a soft-savings perspective, clearly in an environment that was not virtualized, virtualizing the environment represented a significant cost avoidance.
Longer-term, we're looking at how to position the organization with a robust, virtual secured infrastructure that runs with a minimum amount of technical resources, so that we can focus most of our efforts on delivering innovative applications to our clients.
The biggest opportunity for us is to focus there. As you look at the size of the data set and the growth of those data sets, positioning infrastructure to be able to stay with you is exciting for us and it’s a value proposition for our clients.
Gardner: It’s interesting that you're both saying that you don't want to be too much in the weeds, that you want to focus on your businesses, on your logic and data and find the means to transition IT to a more modern infrastructure.
You've said, Greg, that you like the fact that VMware is giving you options across the board. It's not your bolt-on to someone else's, or you go find someone else to integrate what's more of a complete package. Tell me a little bit about this whole greater than the sum of the parts benefit, Greg.
Ericson: That’s an excellent point, at least from my experience. In fact, most recently, I spent tens of thousands of dollars troubleshooting open-source products, and we've had some kernel issues that caused us a significant amount of pain.
So for us, the level of resources and the technical cost of the resources to be able to assemble the components does not represent a value-add to our clients. Our focus is on a complete solution that allows us to really focus in on what's important for us, what's important for our clients.
With a minimum amount of staff, we were able to move in nine months and virtualize our entire environment. When you talk about 600 servers and 300 TB of data, that's a pretty sizable enterprise and we're fully leveraging the vCloud Suite.
Our network is virtualized, our storage is virtualized, and our servers are virtualized. The release of vCloud Suite 5.5 and some of the additional network functionality and storage functionality that’s coming out with that is rather exciting. I think it's going to continue to add more value to our proposition.
Gardner: Some people say that a single point of management, when you have that comprehensive suite approach, comes in pretty handy, too.
Ericson: It does, because it gives you the capability of managing through a single pane of glass across your environments. I was going to accentuate that we’re about 50 percent complete in building on our catalog.
For our next steps, number one is that we’re looking at building upon the excellence of Press Ganey and building our next-generation enterprise data warehouse. We’re looking at leveraging from a DevOps perspective the VMware vCloud Suite, and we already have some pilots that are up and running. We'll continue to build that out.
As we deploy, not only are we maximizing our assets in delivering a secure environment for our clients, but we're also really working toward what I call engineering to zero. We’re completely automating and virtualizing those deployments and we're able to move those deployments, as we go from dev to test, and test to user acceptance testing, and then into a production environment.
Tickle: As we all know, there are lot of hypervisors out there. We can all get that technology from a wide variety of sources. But to your question about the value with the stack, that’s what's we look at and again. What's important now is not just the product stack, but the services stack.
We look at a company like VMware and say, "Site Recovery Manager in conjunction with vCloud Hybrid Services brings a disaster recovery (DR) solution to me as SaaS vendor and that fits with my architecture and brings that service stack plus."
There's no comparing another hypervisor vendor to build out that stack of service. Again, we could probably talk about probably numerous, but that’s when I listen to the things that go on at the event and get to spend time with the people at VMware. That whole value stack that VMware is investing in is what looks so much more compelling than just picking pieces of technology.
Gardner: So we've heard how a data strategy aligns well with the stack. We've heard how software development is moving to more iterations and rapid Agile deployment aligns with the stack. We've heard about how moving toward hybrid cloud models also would align with the stack.
It sounds as if there's a common theme here. Looking to the future, Greg, based on what you've heard here at VMworld about the general availability of vCloud Hybrid Services and the upgrade to the suite of private cloud support, what has you most excited? Was there something that surprised you? What is in the future road map for you?
A step further
Ericson: A couple of different things. The next release of NSX is exciting for us. It allows us to be able to take the virtualization of our network a step further. Also to be able to connect hypervisors into a hybrid-cloud situation is something that, as we evolve our maturity in terms of managing our data, is going to be exciting for us.
One of the areas that we're still teasing out and want to explore is how to tie in that accelerator for a big-data application into that. Probably, in 2014, what we're looking at is how to take this environment and really move from a DR kind of environment to a high-availability environment. I believe that we’re architected for that and because of the virtualization we can do that with a minimum amount of investment.
Gardner: Patrick, you talked about how you like the notion of what I call fungibility of being able to move workloads.
Tickle: We talked about fungibility a long time ago. That word has been in our vocabulary for many, many years.
Gardner: So you transformed your business, moving from client-server to SaaS. What's interesting to you and your future when you can take these work loads, choose where they're going to be, and get that built in DR and business continuity benefit?
How big a deal is it when we can, with just a click of a mouse, move workloads to any support environment we want?
Tickle: It's a huge deal. Whether it’s a production environment or DR environment, at the end of the day it's a big deal for both of us. For a SaaS company the only matter is renewals. It’s happy customers that renew. That transition from perpetual-plus maintenance to a renewal model, where you're on the customer service watch at another level, and it's every minute of every day.
Everything that we can do to make the customer experience, not just from our UI and our software, but obviously the delivery of the service, as compelling as possible, allows us to run our business. That can be a disaster scenario or just great performance across our geography where we have customers and then to do that in a cost effective way that operates inside our business model, our profit and loss.
So our shareholders are equally pleased with their turn off. We can't afford to have half of the company’s OPEX go into IT, while we’re trying to make customers as successful as they possibly can. We continue to be encouraged that we’re on a great path with the stack that we're seeing to get there.
Gardner: I think it's fair to say that cloud is not just repaving old cow paths, that cloud is really transforming your entire business. Do you agree, Greg?
Ericson: I agree. It allows us, especially an organization that’s 25 years steeped in history, to be able to rejuvenate our legacy applications and be able to deliver those with maximum speed, maximizing our resources, and delivering them in a secure environment. But it also allows us to be able to grow, to flex, and to be able to rejuvenate and organically transform the organization. It's pretty exciting for us and it adds a lot of value to our clients indirectly.
Gardner: Well, great, I'm afraid we'll have to leave it there. We've been talking about how healthcare patient-experience improvement firm Press Ganey and portfolio and project management provider Planview are enhancing their services and even transforming their businesses vis-à-vis cloud-computing infrastructure and a unified approach to cloud-infrastructure management.
So a big thanks to our guests, Greg Ericsson, Senior Vice President and Chief Innovation Officer at Press Ganey Associates. Thanks, Greg.
Ericson: Thank you.
Gardner: And also Patrick Tickle, Executive Vice President of Products at Planview. Thanks, Patrick.
Tickle: Absolutely. It's great to be here.
Gardner: And thanks also to our audience for joining this special podcast coming to you directly from the recent 2013 VMworld Conference in San Francisco. I'm Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions, your host throughout this series of VMware sponsored BriefingsDirect discussions. Thanks again for listening, and come back next time.
Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Download the transcript. Sponsor: VMware.
Transcript of a BriefingsDirect podcast on how two companies are enhancing their services and transforming their businesses using VMware cloud-computing infrastructure and a unified approach to cloud-infrastructure management. Copyright Interarbor Solutions, LLC, 2005-2013. All rights reserved.
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