Tuesday, June 15, 2010

McKesson Shows Bringing Testing Tools on the Road Improves Speed to Market and Customer Satisfaction

Transcript of a BriefingsDirect podcast from the HP Software Universe 2010 Conference in Washington, DC on field-testing software installations using HP Performance Center products.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes/iPod and Podcast.com. Download the transcript. Sponsor: HP.

Dana Gardner: Hello, and welcome to a special BriefingsDirect podcast series, coming to you from the HP Software Universe 2010 Conference in Washington, D.C. We're here the week of June 14, 2010, to explore some major enterprise software and solutions trends and innovations making news across HP’s ecosystem of customers, partners, and developers.

I'm Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions, and I'll be your host throughout this series of HP sponsored Software Universe Live discussions.

Our customer case-study today focuses on McKesson Corp., a provider of certified healthcare information technology, including electronic health records, medical billing, and claims management software. McKesson is a user of HP’s project-based performance testing products used to make sure that applications perform in the field as intended throughout their lifecycle.

To learn more about McKesson’s innovative use of quality assurance software, please join me in welcoming Todd Eaton, Director of Application Lifecycle Management Tools in the CTO’s office at McKesson. Welcome to the show, Todd.

Todd Eaton: Thank you.

Gardner: Todd, tell me a little bit about what's going on in the market that is making the performance-based testing, particularly onsite, such an important issue for you.

Eaton: Well, looking at McKesson’s businesses, one of the things that we do is provide software for sale for various healthcare providers. With the current federal government regulations that are coming out and some of these newer initiatives that are planned by the federal government, these providers are looking for tools to help them do better healthcare throughout their enterprises.

With that in mind, they're looking to add functionality, they're looking to add systems, and they look to McKesson, as the leader in healthcare, to provide those solutions for them. With that in mind, our group works with the various R&D organizations within McKesson, to help them develop software for the needs of those customers.

Gardner: And what is it about performance-based testing that is so important now. We've certainly had lots of opportunity to trial things in labs and create testbeds. What is it about the real-world delivery that's important?

Eaton: It's one thing that we can test within McKesson. It's another thing when you test out at the customer site, and that's a main driver of this new innovation that we’re partnering up with HP.

When we build an application and sell that to our customers, they can take that application, bring it into their own ecosystem, into their own data center and install it onto their own hardware.

Controlled testing

The testing that we do in our labs is a little more controlled. We have access to HP and other vendors with their state-of-the-art equipment. We come up with our own set of standards, but when they go out to the site and get put in to those hospitals, we want to ensure that our applications act at the same speed and same performance at their site that we experience in our controlled environment. So, being able to test on their equipment is very important for us.

Gardner: And it's I suppose difficult for you to anticipate exactly what you're going to encounter, until you're actually in that data center?

Eaton: Exactly. Just knowing how many different healthcare providers there are out there, you could imagine all the different hardware platforms, different infrastructures, and the needs or infrastructure items that they may have in their data centers.

Gardner: This isn’t just a function of getting set up, but there's a whole life-cycle of updates, patches, improvements, and increased functionality across the application set. Is this something that you can do over a period of time?

Eaton: Yes, and another very important thing is using their data. The hospitals themselves will have copies of their production data sets that they keep control of. There are strict regulations. That kind of data cannot leave their premises. Being able to test using the large amount of data or the large volume of data that they will have onsite is very crucial to testing our applications.

Gardner: Todd, tell me the story behind gaining this capability of that performance-based testing onsite -- how did you approach it, how long has it been in the making, and maybe a little bit about what you’re encountering?

Eaton: When we started out, we had some discussion with some of the R&D groups internally about our performance testing. My group actually provides a performance-testing service. We go out to the various groups, and we’re doing the testing.

We always look to find out what we can do better. We’re always doing lesson learns and things like that and talking with these various groups. We found that, even though we did a very good job of doing performance testings internally, we were still finding defects and performance issues out at the site, when we brought that software out and installed it in the customer’s data center.

After further investigation, it became apparent to us that we weren’t able to replicate all those different environments in our data center. It’s just too big of a task.

The next logical thing to do was to take the testing capabilities that we had and bring it all out on the road. We have these different services teams that go out to install software. We could go along with them and bring the powerful tools that we use with HP into those data centers and do the exact same testing that we did, and make sure that our applications were running as expected on their environments.

Gardner: Getting it right the first time is always one of the most important things for any business activity. Any kind of failure along the way is always going to cost more and perhaps even jeopardize the relationship with the customer.

Speed to market

Eaton: Yeah, it jeopardizes the relationship with the customer, but one of the things that we also drive is speed to market. We want to make sure that our solutions get out there as fast as possible, so that we can help those providers and those healthcare entities in giving the best patient care that they can.

Gardner: What was the biggest hurdle in being able to, as you say, bring the testing capability out to the field. What were some of the hang-ups in order to accomplish that?

Eaton: Well, the tool that we use primarily within McKesson is Performance Center, and Performance Center is an enterprise-based application. It’s usually kept where we have multiple controllers, and we have multiple groups using those, but it resides within our network.

So, the biggest hurdle was how to take that powerful tool and bring it out to these sites? So, we went back to our HP rep, and said, "Here’s our challenge. This is what we’ve got. We don’t really see anything where you have an offering in that space. What can you do for us?"

Gardner: How far and wide have you been able to accomplish this? Are you doing it in terms of numbers of facilities, in what kind of organizations?

Eaton: Right now we have it across the board in multiple applications. McKesson develops numerous applications in the healthcare space, and we’ve used those across the board. Currently, we have two engagements going on simultaneously with two different hospitals, testing two different groups of applications, and even the application themselves.

I’ve got one site that’s using it for 26 different applications and other that’s using it for five. We’ve got two teams going out there, one from my group and one from one of the internal R&D groups that are assisting the customer and testing the applications on their equipment.

Gardner: From these experiences so far, are there metrics of success, paybacks, not only for you and McKesson, but also for the providers that you service?

Eaton: The first couple of times we did this, we found that we were able to reduce the performance defects dramatically. We’re talking something like 40-50 percent right off the bat. Some of the timing that we had experienced internally seemed to be fine, well within SLAs. But as soon as I got out to a site and onto different hardware configurations, it took some application tuning to get it down. We were finding 90 percent increases with our help of continual testing and performance tweaks.

Items like that are just so powerful, when you are bringing that out to the various customer, and can say, "If you engage us, and we can do this testing for you, we can make sure that those applications will run in the way that you want them to."

Gardner: How about for your development efficiency? Are you learning some lessons on the road that you wouldn’t have had before that you can now bring into the next rep. Is there a feedback loop of sorts?

Powerful feedback

Eaton: Yes. It’s a pretty powerful one back to our R&D groups, because getting back to that data scenario, the volume and types of data that the customers have can be unexpected. The way customers use systems, while it works perfectly fine, is not one of the use cases that is normally found in some applications, and you get different results.

So, finding them out in the field and then being able to bring those back to our R&D groups and say, "This is what we’re seeing out in the field and this is how people are using it," gives them a better insight and makes them able to modify their code to fit those use cases better.

Gardner: Todd, is there any advice that you would give to those considering doing this, that is to say, taking their performance testing out on the road, closer to the actual site where these applications are going to reside?

Eaton: The main one is to work with your HP rep on what they have available for this. We took a product that everybody is familiar with, LoadRunner, and tweaked it so it became portable. The HP reps know a lot more about how they packaged that up and what’s best for different customers based on their needs. Working with a rep would be a big help in trying to roll this out to various groups.

Gardner: Okay, great. We’ve been learning about how McKesson is bringing performance-based testing products out to their customers’ locations and gaining a feedback capability as well as reducing time to market and making the quality of those applications near 100 percent right from the start.

I want to thank our guest. We’ve been joined by Todd Eaton, Director of Application Lifecycle Management Tools in the CTO’s office at McKesson. Thank you so much Todd.

Eaton: You’re welcome. Nice talking to you.

Gardner: And, thanks to our audience for joining us for this special BriefingsDirect podcast, coming to you from the HP Software Universe 2010 Conference in Washington, DC.

Look for other podcasts from this HP event on the hp.com website under HP Software Universe Live podcast, as well as through the BriefingsDirect Network.

I’m Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions, your host and moderator for this series of HP-sponsored Software Universe Live Discussions. Thanks for listening, and come back next time.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes/iPod and Podcast.com. Download the transcript. Sponsor: HP.

Transcript of a BriefingsDirect podcast from the HP Software Universe 2010 Conference in Washington, DC on field-testing software installations using HP Performance Center products. Copyright Interarbor Solutions, LLC, 2005-2010. All rights reserved.

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