Renovating 1860s New Hampshire farmhouses and 21st Century data management systems for healthcare are entirely different efforts that require similar approaches. In both cases, there must be an understanding of the history and current state to facilitate careful planning to be successful. Sometimes they also require a sledgehammer approach to dismantle aging structures and allow for newer, stronger solutions. Karen Way, NTT DATA Services Managing Director, Health Plan Data and Intelligence, is an expert in both.
Q: I understand you’re a bit of a home renovator. Are there any projects that intimidate you?
A: That’s right, I’ve done a lot of home renovation. I transform things at home, and I enjoy driving business transformation for my clients at work. I think for me that the whole concept and passion for renovation is innate. I grew up in Western Massachusetts on a dairy farm. There was always something that needed fixing, whether it was a stall in one of the cow barns, or a tractor, or something else. I grew up around tools, and it gives me a great sense of accomplishment to be able to say, “I did that.”
Almost any effort can be intimidating until you take the time to break it down and understand the nuances of where you are starting from and where you need to go, but that’s part of the challenge (and fun) of it all.
Q: Tell me about your house. I understand that it’s been an ongoing project.
A: We live in an 1860 farmhouse and have been here for about 22 years. My husband and I have raised our two sons here (they are now 25 and 23), and in that time we have done a lot of changes and renovation to the property. With a house that’s almost 160 years old, there’s always something that needs fixing or updating.
Q: I imagine there is history in those walls. How do you preserve that while modernizing?
A: I’m very much a “big picture” person. I like to gather all the pieces of information available to me to build a “transformation blueprint.” Historical information is very important, whether renovating old houses or restructuring data management processes and infrastructure. History informs you about where you’ve been, but it also tells you where you can go
Q: Let’s talk about that transformation blueprint. Renovating historic farmhouses is one thing, but transforming data management systems is another. What have you learned from working on your house that you have applied to serve your clients?
A: When I work with my clients and create a transformation blueprint, I start by pulling the pieces of information from all the data available. And it’s not just the data that the client has generated through their transaction systems, but it’s everything we can find to see the big picture; where is the client starting from and what do they want/need to transform to remain competitive? Whether I am working on the house or for NTT DATA’s clients, I look at the history and the current state, because it is critical to plot the best path forward and not destroy the integrity of the overall effort.
For example, we have traced ownership records back to 1880 for our home, but we know the house is older than that because we found older relics. Tearing out a wall, we discovered a postage stamp from 1860! So we knew there was more to the story. Knowing the house is older than documented influences and impacts the changes we plan to make and how we can implement those changes. The same is true in healthcare data management; knowing the history of how the current systems were architected, built and maintained strongly influences the direction that innovation and transformation can take, all while ensuring data integrity and mitigating risk.
Another factor that needs consideration is what “tools” are available to use in the transformation. Do you need a sledgehammer or a nail punch to countersink finishing nails? In healthcare, one of the newer “tools” is the Social Determinants of Health (SDoH) data. Using SDoH data is just like opening a wall. You never know what you are going to find; sometimes, it provides excellent insight and sometimes it will reveal a barrier to overcome.
Q: But therein lies the challenge, right? Does that motivate you?
A: Whether in home renovations or healthcare data transformations, you don’t know what you are going to find when you first start. I love embracing those kinds of challenges and working with our clients to get to the winning side. It’s that sense of accomplishment that motivates the NTT DATA team and me. That “go-getter” attitude drives us to power through challenges to find the best possible outcomes for our clients.
These renovations don’t work without a plan. There must be a strategy. Otherwise, you’re wildly swinging that sledgehammer.
Q: Where do you recommend that our clients start?
A: The starting point of every small or big home improvement project for me is a solid blueprint and implementation plan. I extend that approach when solving challenges for our clients as well; the only difference being I actively work with them to build a strategic blueprint together. Our team takes the time necessary to better understand our client’s processes, assets, and challenges with an emphasis on the outcomes they want to achieve. Putting it in terms of a kitchen — where do they want the sink? Where do they want the dishwasher? Do they want a gas range, or do they need wall ovens? What are the improvements that can be implemented to make the kitchen more efficient and cost-effective?
We try to be as prepared as we can, but we know that there are going to be some surprises along the way. That’s Murphy’s Law. Honestly, if we don’t have some surprises or barriers to overcome, I get worried.
In the end, it’s not just about painting a wall and saying, “Hey — I painted the wall.” It’s being able to say, “Hey — I replaced that wall because there was a problem with it.” It’s the same thing with our clients. We go in, and they have a problem. We fix the problem, or we find a new way to do business. Meeting that challenge head-on and resolving it to the satisfaction of all. That’s what accomplishment feels like, and it’s a great feeling.
Watch Karen Way’s story here.
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