In the final chapter of our special report on healthcare business intelligence (BI), consultant Lou Agosta discusses the key IT roles that healthcare BI project teams need to include and the responsibilities that different IT professionals have on BI projects.
Table of Contents
Healthcare business intelligence systems: an IT laggard no more?
Healthcare BI software in action: real-world examples, best practices
Business intelligence project management tips for a healthcare BI team
Key IT roles on healthcare business intelligence project teams
The roles played by IT professionals on healthcare business intelligence (BI) project teams map to the components of the software architecture that is being deployed. The individuals who handle those roles may continue to be members of the general IT team, merely putting a “BI spin” on one part of their assigned duties. Also, just because there are, say, six new roles that need to be filled on a BI team, an organization doesn’t necessarily have to hire six new IT staffers. Depending on the size and scope of a given healthcare BI initiative, individual workers may have an opportunity to wear multiple hats.
On the other hand, if an organization is creating a centralized business intelligence competency center (BICC) to manage its BI projects and systems, the plan might include giving the involved IT staffers full-time BI positions. The BICC is still largely an emerging concept, though, and many enterprises that have set up competency centers or similar BI groups have made them virtual units in which the members remain in their existing jobs and devote only part of their time to BI activities.
The key IT roles on BI projects, including healthcare BI implementations, begin with data modeling. A BI data model is more – much more – than the layout of an electronic health record; it also must include indexes for fast data access and a logically optimal representation of the data being put into the BI system, including all of the data’s relevant business and clinical dimensions.
The role of data administrator may overlap with that of the data modeler or data architect, although in large enterprises with tens of thousands of data elements, the data admin is often a stand-alone position.
The data admin “defines” the individual elements that collectively make up the BI data structure, interviewing users, investigating application documentation and documenting semantic distinctions in order to produce a data dictionary. In aggregate, the data model and data dictionary are important components of the metadata that underpins a BI system and enables different parts of it to interoperate with one another – for example, source and target data stores during the data migration and loading process. Data administrators also may take the lead on enterprise-wide data governance programs.
ETL creates choke point on healthcare business intelligence projects
Another important IT member of the BI project team is the extract, transform and load (ETL) developer. That’s the case even in the increasingly unlikely event that an organization doesn’t have a packaged ETL tool, since the ETL processes must then be hand-coded and manually maintained. The ETL software is a choke point in the BI system architecture much like the Strait of Hormuz is in the Persian Gulf: Many different streams of data have to navigate through the passage from transactional systems to a data warehouse or data marts. That makes good ETL design and practices a must on healthcare BI projects.
And of course, the BI team requires a database administrator to oversee the physical implementation and operation of the data warehouses, data marts or other databases that hold BI data. Also needed is a business intelligence analyst who can work with end users and help translate their business and clinical needs into a coherent set of healthcare BI system requirements.
With the formation of healthcare information exchanges and the arrival of grid and cloud computing technologies, BI teams increasingly may find themselves working closely with network administrators.
The same goes for security administrators, only even more so. Data security is a vast area, especially for healthcare organizations that have to comply with the security and privacy rules set by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
Another IT position to take into account when planning and managing healthcare BI projects is that of the CIO. One of the unique situations in healthcare is that CIOs often are physicians themselves, giving them both medical and IT hats to wear. That usually is a plus, because the CIO should understand the business of healthcare and can gain credibility with other executives as a result.
But what happens when the CIO faces a choice between buying an expensive medical imaging device and spending those dollars on BI software or other IT tools? This is a dilemma that occurs frequently within healthcare organizations but is rarely noted or confronted head-on. BI directors and project managers looking for funding for healthcare BI deployments should be aware that they may need to lobby the CIO to coach business and medical executives that IT needs to get a turn during the capital improvements budgeting process.
About the author: Lou Agosta, Ph.D., is an independent industry analyst specializing in data warehousing, data quality, data mining, business intelligence and healthcare IT. Keyword: data. Agosta's book, The Essential Guide to Data Warehousing, was published by Prentice Hall PTR. Lou can be reached at LAgosta@acm.org.