Senior living executives long have acknowledged the need to increase technology spending — and driven by COVID-19, that priority has taken on new urgency.

Providers have doubled down on technology investments in the past five years, and that is not on pace to change. With advances in technologies, and a growing cultural acceptance of virtual care, the time is ripe to get the most out of your investments. 

Great news, right? Hopefully, yes. Most operators, however, do not have a clear understanding of their needs and a clear plan for achieving their goals. Having consulted on IT strategy and solutions implementation for almost 30 years, I’m not surprised.

By evaluating desired technology through these three lenses, you will set your organization up for a successful implementation — and a successful adoption:

  1. What is the project’s return on investment and expected timeframe for results?
  2. Is the project viable given the product’s maturity and your organization’s governance and resources?
  3. Will the project transform your organization’s operations or brand to yield a competitive advantage?

Mapping ROI with diligent project oversight

Financing a project and ROI go hand in hand, which is why understanding whether your technology upgrade promises short- or long-term results is the starting point in any comprehensive evaluation process.

Regardless of whether it’s a capital expenditure or an operating expense, you need a sound financial analysis of the expected returns, a timeline for seeing them, a set of objectives for evaluating success over time, and strong governance and project management.

The leaders responsible for the project must have transparency to allow for progress audits. It’s crucial to set up interim “gates” to ensure projects are tracking on schedule and routinely inspect best-practice GANTT chart reviews to deliver the expected ROI. The saying “inspect what you expect” holds true with tech projects.

Larger capital expenditures such as electronic medical records often take major priority in organizations, because they are transformational projects worthy taking on. But not all projects can or should have an explosive ROI. Hardware and software refreshes, for example, are mandatory for maintaining service level agreements and end-user satisfaction levels.

Probability of project viability

The information technology highway is littered with false promises, vaporware and project mismanagement. Based on my experience, this happens when two critical questions remain unanswered.

First, has your organization fully identified the requisite level of leadership and resources necessary to successfully deliver the project requirements? It’s critical to identify the tasks, money and time involved and gather the corporate “will” to make it happen. Ensure that you have full buy-in from the C-suite and staff.

In my consulting experience, I recall a client engagement in which we had acquired a two-campus continuing care retirement community and needed to swap out its EMR system for the version we were using while simultaneously upgrading our own legacy software to the latest platform. The rollout did not go smoothly. Clinical staff didn’t bother showing up for training sessions, viewing the project as strictly an IT issue. It took a senior leader from Asbury to intervene and convince CCRC leadership that the project was, in fact, an operations matter that directly affected their workflow.

Carve out adequate time to introduce the project, communicate through all stages of implementation, and provide adequate facilities and time for training and post go-live support. Equally important is to plan a detailed communications campaign for the project. 

The high costs of software and implementation pale in comparison with the staff costs necessary to successfully deploy a project. The leadership team also will need to allocate significant time to properly train staff and optimize the system. It may not be realistic to expect staff to perform two jobs for several weeks if you can hire temporary workers or shift duties to ensure long-term project success. If the leaders affected by a new technology don’t champion that technology to their teams, then you’ll be in trouble pretty quickly.

Secondly, but of equal importance: Have you fully vetted the current state of the technology and the vendor’s commitment and ability to fully deliver what was promised? We all know a product demonstration is just the starting point for a much longer, more detailed conversation and research process on the product development pipeline. Some things to consider:

  • Is the product part of the company’s long-term strategy, so you can be assured of ongoing support and improvements? 
  • Does the vendor have the expertise to analyze your company’s ability to execute on the product’s capabilities? Its representatives should be able to have candid conversations identifying potential risk areas.
  • Can they relate detailed experiences from similar implementations and lessons learned?
  • Does the vendor have hands-on, go-live support?
  • Have you had talked with other clients about the vendor’s experience during the implementation and the ongoing support provided?

Identify transformative tech

Risk can be difficult for an organization to tolerate and manage properly. It may be appropriate to hedge investments given the risk/reward calculations. There are times when it’s worth swinging for the fences if a project is going to have a transformational effect, however, especially if the project involves breakthrough technology that will upend the competition.

Analyze your internal preparedness, the project’s organizational impact, its effect on your marketplace competitiveness and the vendor’s capability to deliver. If, after doing so, you believe it will substantially elevate your organization and significantly improve your customers’ experience, then it may be appropriate to greenlight the project. Just be prepared to invest what it takes to really make it work and truly transform your company.

With competition increasing and consumer expectations rising, now is the time to strengthen and expand your technology investment. By keeping these three IT project analysis fundamentals in mind, you’ll be on your way.

Steve McDonald is chief commercial officer for Asbury Integrated Technologies, which began more than 20 years ago as a consulting arm of Asbury Communities. He joined the organization with a 30-year track record in the healthcare industry, including hospital, ambulatory care and information technology sectors. He worked in executive leadership roles at Meditech and Cerner as well as Beacon Partners (now KPMG) and Impact Advisors. He earned his undergraduate degree from Boston College and an MBA from the University of Texas in Austin.