Who Should Build Your Hospital Intranet?

A road sign showing two opposite directions to turn.
The intranet is a critical piece of your hospital’s infrastructure. It’s typically composed of multiple systems, applications and devices that work in concert to provide your staff with the critical resources they need to work effectively. At the center of this oft-dizzying array of systems is the ‘intranet website.’ Sometimes called an ‘employee portal,’ this website is the home base for your employees. It’s where they stay current with recent organizational news and policies. It’s where they find the day’s lunch menu, the CEO’s blog, the most recent vacation policy, contact information for colleagues, links to the other systems and more.
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Taking Stock of 2013: Trends in Release Frequency, Code Quality, Uptime and Client Satisfaction

Since we’ve wrapped up 2013 and announced the last VitalSite CMS release of the year, it’s an opportune time to reflect on how far we’ve come these last twelve months. Let’s start with some metrics related to release frequency.

If you remember, last March we revealed a strategic shift in how we were developing software. Influenced by innovative practices in software development like continuous delivery, we developed our own deployment automation capabilities. This allows us to deliver more features, faster, to the clients who request them.

How did it play out? If we look back on the year, we can see that we’ve had a record number of releases: eleven since the start of 2013, and nine since we started automating our deployments.

A timeline showing the releases of VitalSite CMS in 2013
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From The Department of Redundancy Department

At Geonetric, we build some amazing stuff. But sometimes, we put our engineering talents to use to break things.

In the last year or so, we’ve custom-built a new approach to redundancy for our entire Web hosting infrastructure. The idea is that we can hit the system with any type of failure or disaster and every one of our sites will keep humming along like nothing happened.

During that time, we have completely overhauled our entire hosting infrastructure to provide greater performance, security, and uptime to our clients. First, our design and configuration was carefully planned and implemented to include automatic redundancy from the get-go. We spent months selecting components and working with hardware and software vendors to find the right combination of parts. Then we tested in our pre-production lab. Once everything was finally in place this past spring, we repeated the tests monthly by gracefully failing the systems.

Everything worked like a charm.

But now we wanted to push it even further to simulate possible failures and disasters to make sure the entire system worked as planned even in worst case scenarios. Our team created a brutal series of tests on the new configuration.

And by brutal, I mean pulling plugs out of critical machines. We literally pulled the plug on our core switches. The secondary switches took over, as planned. We unplugged our primary Internet connections. The secondary connections took over the traffic within a few seconds. We pulled the Ethernet cables from our active database server and within 30 seconds our secondary SQL server had taken control and our sites were still online.

For the next hour we moved down our list of eleven tests – unplugging various cables and flicking power switches off. When we were done the sites were still up, as designed. But it wasn’t perfect. We did have a few seconds to a few minutes of transition time as secondary systems took over.

After the high-fives and chest bumps were exchanged, we identified a few areas that, while they worked as designed and failed over as planned, could be improved. Those few seconds to a few minutes are one area of focus. We’d like the failovers, even in a disaster scenario, to have no detectable transition time needed at all.

So next quarter, when we run our tests again, we have an even more brutal set of tests planned.

What’s This Thing Gonna Cost?

CostsBudget time is coming up and if a major upgrade to your Web operations is in the stars for you, figuring out where to begin can be a challenge. Website redesigns are one of those items that most organizations don’t do often. And with changes in the industry and in consumers’ expectations, what’s gotten you by in the past doesn’t necessarily provide you with a path for future success.

The question of what a major site redesign really costs has a very simple answer: it depends. This all comes down to the classic project management triangle. There are three factors that are interdependent – scope, cost and time. Increase the scope and costs go up. Cut the budget and functionality suffers. Set a tight timeline, and you’ll feel pressure on the scope and costs along the way.

To help sort this out, clearly separate your “must have” and “nice to have” items. If you absolutely must have a new site in place by June 30, 2013 because your current vendor will pull the plug on your existing site that day, then that’s a must have. When it comes to scope, you should attempt to budget for the items you want, but it’s useful to understand what you’re willing to give up if you don’t receive all of the funds you’ve requested.

In addition to the items you can’t live without, there are some items that are easy to overlook but can make a huge difference in the final deliverable:

  • Software licensing: You don’t want to build your site using Microsoft Word®. Hospital Web properties require robust enterprise content management systems. Keep in mind, very little enterprise software is purchased. Instead, it’s licensed on a monthly or yearly basis, making the up-front costs much less than they were in the past, and this structure allows you to receive regular upgrades. Just don’t forget to plan for license fees in subsequent budget years.
  • Hosting: Hospital websites don’t belong on a $19.95/year Web hosting solution. You want something with security, redundancy and high performance. Setting up such an environment from scratch is a six-figure investment. External hosting is a steal at prices around a thousand dollars a month and is typically more redundant than what you would create internally.
  • Project management: Nothing is more important to managing a website redesign than the project management expertise that keeps everyone on track. Despite this, too many organizations attempt to short change this area, preferring to invest in “doing” over “planning.” They inevitably pay the price through timing conflicts, rework and schedule overruns.

There are many questions to answer and factors to consider when determining what you’ll need to budget to make your new website a reality. Fortunately, Geonetric is here to help. We have two resources that you’ll find invaluable as you go down this road. First is our latest white paper Top 10 Cost Considerations When Approaching a Redesign and the second is our upcoming June webinar, Budgeting for a Successful Website Redesign, that will walk you through the process.