Thursday Oct 03, 2013

The MedicAlert Story: Sustaining Modern IT & Overcoming The IT labor Shortage in Small Town America

by Jim Lein | Programs Management Sr. Principal | Oracle Midsize Programs | @JimLein

Post 6 in the series, "The Growing IT Labor Shortage"

It’s one thing to hire and retain top IT talent in a major urban area teeming with knowledgeable and experienced IT professionals. Imagine trying to accomplish those same goals in a small city known for top notch dairy milk and almond production rather than as an incubator for developing and nurturing top tier IT talent.

Such was the major challenge facing Karen Lamoree, Chief Operating Officer for The MedicAlert Foundation (MedicAlert), as she led the organization’s executive team in modernizing their information technology systems. MedicAlert, based in Turlock, California, is well known as the originator of iconic silver bracelets engraved with potentially life-saving personal medical information. Today, the organization offers diversified medical information and emergency services to over four million members worldwide.

In 2012, MedicAlert deployed DAZ Systems, Inc.’s Oracle Accelerate Solution for Non-Profit Organizations along with eVerge’s Oracle Siebel CRM solution. Combined, these solutions replaced about thirty legacy solutions, including ERP that was last updated over Y2K concerns.

Adapting to Ever-changing IT Talent Pool Realities


Lamoree has worked with many major companies, especially in the area of business transformation. She recognized that by leapfrogging ahead to a modern IT system would require almost a complete retraining of MedicAlert’s IT staff. Several existing IT staff members would transition to other roles and these positions were backfilled with new hires that had Oracle-specific skills and knowledge.

“It was a nightmare whenever there was a problem with our legacy systems,” recalls Lamoree. “We needed help from lots of outside vendors. Individuals on our IT staff were cross trained across many of our custom solutions, yet there were times when people would look at each other, shrug their shoulders, and just dive in to figure out how to fix the problem. They couldn’t wait to get a new system.”

A key component during the analysis of and review of potential solutions was sustainability: the ability to deploy, adopt, and maintain systems with limited internal and remote resources.

“Yes, there is a shortage of qualified IT resources but there really always has been,” says Lamoree. “Costs will continue to go up. It’s always going to be hard to find top talent, especially outside an urban area. And companies will continue to strive to be more efficient with their IT resources. Consequently, there will continually be demand for people who are highly qualified, well trained, and knowledgeable about specific products.”

During her career, Lamoree has observed how changing technologies have impacted the IT talent pool.

“IT systems in general used to be less complex,” says Lamoree. “It used to be that a single person could handle system security, development, and administration roles. Now those are specialized fields. Technology graduates today understand IT concepts and approaches but they are missing the practical application of everything they have learned. Companies need to recognize that if they bring a Computer Sciences graduate on board without a previous internship or IT job, they are going to have to teach them how to apply what they’ve learned to their new job requirements.”

Building a Cost-Effective IT Team Outside an Urban Area


Lamoree’s approach to restructuring MedicAlert’s IT staffing strategy began with selecting a Top Tier, modern solution.

“We wanted job candidates to know we are focused on the future,” says Lamoree. “We are remaking the company. We have a cool new system and people should want to work here.”

MedicAlert has adopted an IT mantra of “configure, not customize”. The Oracle solutions were deployed in alignment with the industry best practices embedded in the applications. Candidates recognized that MedicAlert’s new systems are clean and chock full of capabilities. They won’t have to worry about tackling one off requirements that might be challenging and distracting to individual career aspirations.

Finally, the MedicAlert team worked with the Oracle partners during the pre-project phase to identify training needs. This time was also spent in determining where support contracts would be required to provide IT roles and support in a cost effective model beyond what the internal IT staff could sustain. Those contracts are provisioned remotely with partner resources located in multiple global locations to meet MedicAlert’s 24/7/365 uptime and customer service requirements.

Exploring a New Normal


MedicAlert’s ambitious project of ERP, Master Data Management, CRM, and Business Intelligence was deployed on budget and on time in seven months. IT support costs are predictable and in line with industry standards. In Lamoree’s assessment, the cost to replace their outdated systems is far outweighed by the benefits of interoperability, system capabilities, efficiency, team dynamics, and the ability to better service customers.

“Our legacy systems had stopped the growth of our company,” says Lamoree. “Thanks to our new IT systems, MedicAlert can now offer different levels and types of membership to a far more diverse group of people than ever before. We know have a 360 degree view of our membership and are excited to explore what more we can offer to our membership well into the future.”

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