RehabCare Group Takes Cloud, Enterprise Mobility to the Next Level
By Tony Kontzer In recent months, I've been hearing increasing rumblings from CIOs about bringing consumer technology into the corporate IT environment. Typically, what they're referring to is adopting fast-growing consumer Web technologies, with social media being the most obvious example.
In fact, growing numbers of IT execs have recognized the potential business value of social networking, and have moved to adopts tools such as Salesforce.com's Chatter, CoTweet, Mzinga Inc.'s OmniSocial, Jive or Yammer.
But then there's Dick Escue, who's taken things one step further. Escue is senior VP and CIO of St. Louis, Mo.-based RehabCare Group Inc., a $1.4 billion-a-year company that owns and operates 35 acute care and rehab hospitals and also provides post-acute services at some 1,600 skilled nursing facilities across the U.S. With a 55-person IT team supporting 19,000 employees--and facing a mandate to meet all of the company's technology needs without growing his staff--it should be no surprise that Escue has embraced cloud computing in all of its forms. What is surprising is that he decided to replace employees' desktop and notebook PCs with consumer devices, issuing them iPhones, iPod Touches and iPads, and began using iTunes as an application management tool.
And to those who might say this sounds crazy, Escue has this advice: "Embrace consumer technology, and don't accept answers that say you can't support these devices."
Escue shared his break with the status quo during a panel discussion at this month's Salesforce.com Dreamforce conference in San Francisco, telling a roomful of eager technologists that once a company gets past its fear of giving up control over the technologies employees use, abundant business benefits await.
For instance, "I don't really have too many device problems since I started using consumer devices," he said. Upon distributing the various Apple devices (he's also distributing some devices running Google's Android OS so as not to be too Apple-dependent), Escue encourages employees to take them home and put all of their own data and media on them. Interestingly, Escue has found that this strategy has resulted in his users taking far better care of their devices, and they're even handling a lot of the diagnosis and repair themselves.
Clearly, this has significantly reduced the support burden for IT, enabling Escue's staff to focus on writing applications instead.
Given that the consumer market now revolves around the cloud, providing employees with familiar consumer devices that are designed to consume cloud services is only furthering RehabCare Group's cloud strategy, as well.
What's more, Escue's approach has made RehabCare Group a hip place to work.
"I can recruit people I'd never have been able to get before," Escue told the Dreamforce audience. "There are a lot of smart IT people who don't want to keep doing the same thing."
It's an important message for IT executives stuck in the past: If you keep doing things as you've being doing them, you'll find yourself in a self-perpetuating cycle, populating your IT department with people who prefer the comfy-cozy status quo.
Conversely, IT execs who want to attract IT professionals looking to push the envelope in an organization that's willing to try new things may find inspiration in Escue's approach. It may not feel comfortable to do so at first, but the potential payoff is huge.
In the case of RehabCare Group, Escue says the benefits of embracing the full scope of consumer technologies "will enable more collaboration, which will lead to better patient care."
The implications are clear: Based on the success of Escue's strategy, it's time for many companies to consider completely blowing up their traditional approach to IT.