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HP Software's community for IT leaders // September 2013
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HP enables application transformation for McKesson

The healthcare giant sped development in an increasingly complex IT world through standardization and a stronger user focus.

Beginning in 2005, McKesson Corp., the largest pharmaceutical and healthcare IT company in the United States, embarked on a long-range, pan-IT management transformation that has improved application development and application delivery, and has enabled the company to better leverage an agile, hybrid cloud model.

Andy Smith, vice president of applications hosting services at McKesson, told the BriefingsDirect podcast (audio podcast, transcript) that his company standardized services to become more agile in deploying its many applications. He told host Dana Gardner that in the past year, McKesson’s performance metrics have continued to improve: there’s been a drop in the number of outages from the standardization and automation, the reliability and utilization of the systems has increased, and system admin ratios have increased. “So everything, all the key performance indicators, are going in the right direction,” Smith noted.

Standardization allowed McKesson to make the next shift, which was to focus on how it can better provide capabilities to customers. Now that support time has been reduced, Smith said the next logical step was to focus on faster, better provisioning. In the past, it would take six months to get a computer on the floor after a line of business made the request. Then they could start their development. “Now, you’re down to less than a week and days,” he said. “So they can start their development six months earlier, which really helps us be in a position to capture that new market faster.”

“We’ve been in production now roughly two-and-a-half months,” Smith said. “Rather than delivering on business requests to add some compute capacity in an average of six months, we’re down to less than four days. I think we can get it down to less than 10 minutes by the time we hit the end of summer.”

Consolidation and standardization pave the way for mobile

Consolidating data centers, as well as consolidating and virtualizing servers, has been a cost savings for McKesson, as well as a practical way to support application development. McKesson realized it had to build the next generation of applications, a large part of which relied on perfecting mobile apps. McKesson had to “separate the physical application, the software-as-a-service (SaaS) application, from the display device that the customer is going to use,” Smith said, because “that display device could be almost anything. It might be an Android, an iPhone, or something else, a tablet.”

Smith said he expects that, in the near future, McKesson will rely on more hybrid clouds, hosted in data centers scattered throughout the country. “We’ll host the primary app back in our corporate data center,” he said, “but then the mobile piece, the customer experience piece, is going to have to be physically much closer to where the customer is.” When delivering a SaaS mobile app, he said, “speed of response to the customer, the keystroke, the screen refresh, are really important. You can’t do that from a central data center. You’ve got to be able to push some of the applications and data out to regional locations.”

The always-on environment

In an effort to deploy anywhere, maintain performance, and serve a variety of different end points, Smith envisions a different kind of infrastructure, as well as a different kind of application. Instead of talking about “three nines, four nines, or five nines, we’re starting to talk about [ensuring] the machines are never down, even for planned maintenance,” he said. “That’s where our eye is: trying to figure out how to change the environment to be constantly on.”

“If the application isn’t smart enough to tolerate a piece of machine going down, then you have to redesign the application architecture,” Smith said. Smith added that McKesson’s applications will have to scale out horizontally as customer demand creates peaks and valleys through the day or through the week.

Start your own application transformation at HP.com, and hear more from HP customers such as T-Mobile and United at the “Power to Change” free online conference, Sept. 10.


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