It might surprise you to know that virtually all major practice management system vendors in Australasia have released, or are planning to release, their next generation solutions on the cloud. This is a trend that is sure to accelerate over time and is a transformation that will have a significant impact on the day-to-day operation of Practices and Practice Managers across all healthcare domains.
As Best Practice Software is undertaking the development of our own cloud-based platform, we are often asked by our clients what cloud computing entails, and what the benefits are over traditional desktop software. The following provides a brief insight into these questions.
What is Cloud Computing?
Cloud computing is a model for enabling on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.
That’s quite a mouthful and not necessarily easy to understand, but it essentially identifies the five common characteristics of true cloud computing:
- Broad network access
This refers to the fact that resources in the cloud are available over multiple device types, ranging from common devices like laptops and workstations, to mobile phones and the like. Providers are no longer tied to the desktop or the location of their data, the benefits of which are becoming increasingly clear in these times.
- On-demand self-service
This refers to capabilities that manage provisioning and back-office functions. In non-cloud or traditional desktop environments, where the end user can self-provision without interacting with the provider, the downstream result has historically been inefficiency and waste. These new technologies now enable us to provide our customers with true self-service without incurring these penalties or service costs.
- Resource pooling
The scalability of the cloud is one of its most defining fundamental concepts. Without pooled computing, networks and storage, these services must be provisioned across multiple silos at great cost. Through resource pooling, multiple customers are sharing resources stored in the cloud with their peers, in much the same way as a telephone network operates. Because of this, the cost of resources is also shared between multiple customers.
- Measured service
These pooled resources can be easily monitored and reported, providing visibility into rates of resource consumption and the allocation of the costs associated with said consumption.
- Rapid elasticity
Elastic resources are critical in reducing costs. When accessing a cloud-based service, you only access the resources as and when you need the capacity. For most practices, a large percentage of costs associated with deploying applications stem from provisioning and maintaining a range of hardware resources. The purchase and rollout of these hardware resources requires forecasting of anticipated demand, rather than actual demand with a fixed capital expenditure commitment. The elasticity of the cloud means that you simply get what you need as and when you need it, and you only pay for what you use, resulting in a significant reduction in costs.
Cloud computing is not a single service fits all model.
There are a number of deployment models to suit different organisations. The two most prevalent deployment models used in the healthcare industry are the private cloud and public cloud.
Private cloud is generally only implemented in larger organisations due to the increased infrastructure costs that can be spread across greater number of users. They are generally designed by and built for a single customer to support specific functions critical for the success of a single line of business, and usually require more technical proficiency to maintain.
Public cloud is what is most people think of when they hear cloud computing system; it is multitenant capable and shared by a number of customers who may have nothing in common. They are typically less expensive to maintain, and leverage infrastructure provided by large tech providers such as Amazon with its AWS service and the competing Microsoft Azure service. This is the deployment model that is generally best suited for small Practices, and the variant that most Practice Managers will deal with and is the deployment model that Best Practice Software has selected for its cloud offering.
In summation, the incremental and exponential advances made in recent years has created a significant shift towards cloud computing adoption. The large number of practice management software and other health software vendors refreshing their products with cloud enablement underscores this.
Vendors benefit through shortening the time to market for new products and features, whilst at the same time delivering drastic cost reductions to customers.
The adoption of these cloud-enabled healthcare platforms will grow as users experience the benefits of a shortened enhancement lifecycle, without the associated operational disruption that comes from frequently installing desktop or client-server-based software solutions. Cloud computing brings the promise of never having to do a manual data update, or to endure the long wait for new releases to introduce new features or defect fixes. This cycle gets compressed from months, to weeks and days.
However, not all platform migrations to the cloud have been successful. Ultimately, the organisations that will be successful are those that understand that a move to the cloud is not merely a porting of technology, but rather a new way of thinking as to providing healthcare as a service, one that maximises all of the components of cloud computing.
Manager of Product Management at Best Practice Software