Cloud

How one healthcare giant embraced digital transformation and reinvented itself with the cloud

The cloud isn't just for startups, but it has helped Express Scripts act more like a startup. Here's how.

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Image: iStockphoto/BackyardProduction

Express Scripts has been in the news lately, and for all the right reasons. One of the biggest pharmacy benefit managers in the world, with $104 billion in annual revenues, the quiet St. Louis-based company slashed prices on medicine for uninsured customers. They also announced that they will begin offering a lower rate for a select group of frequently-used drugs to people without health insurance, or to those who are stuck in plans with such high deductibles that couldn't otherwise afford their medications.

Pretty cool.

Part of what has enabled Express Scripts to innovate in such areas with agility is that it is also a pioneer in transforming healthcare through the cloud. I recently spoke to Brian Gregory, director of cloud strategy and engineering at Express Scripts, to learn more about their cloud initiatives.

SEE: Digital transformation: A CXO's guide (TechRepublic)

Cloud or be clouded

TechRepublic: Silicon Valley gets the all the tech kudos, so it's surprising to discover how far along a Midwestern corporation has come in embracing the industry mantra of digital transformation....

Gregory: When I think about what we're doing with cloud strategy, it's all about coming up with new and better ways to make technology accessible to my 26,000 colleagues, so that each of the 1.4 billion prescriptions we manage is delivered exactly as intended. We're in a very competitive field, with venture-funded startups hoping to disrupt us as the leader. We have to innovate faster, fail faster, and bring new compelling experiences to users faster than our competitors, or we will be disrupted.

SEE: Machine learning as a service to hit nearly $20B by 2025, driven by healthcare and life sciences (TechRepublic)

What has enabled us to maintain our leadership is our adoption of cloud-native applications and agile methodologies. When we explored our move to the cloud, we knew we needed more than infrastructure as a service: We needed a platform to drive transformation and innovation faster. The platform needed to work on multiple clouds, with multiple programming languages. We needed something fast, fault tolerant, and that scaled easily. We wanted to run workloads in different locations, based on the requirements we had, and we wanted it to be seamless and easy.

Getting developers involved

TechRepublic: Nothing in what you just said sounds easy, whether you're on one of the coasts or in Middle America. How did you start down that transformation path?

Gregory: We rewrote a portion of our member services portal with Cloud Foundry to streamline and simplify the registration process for home delivery prescriptions. This seemed like the perfect place to start. We could ultimately impact the user experience for 83 million members by making it easier for them to use our home delivery pharmacy services. The existing process was not agile enough to fully enable our transformation.

SEE: Virtustream launches Healthcare Cloud (ZDNet)

Now, developers can push a button and automate their work. Moving to a platform where everything happens more quickly, and so much is automated, frees our developers to try new things, fail faster, and ultimately deliver more compelling solutions for our customers. Moving to that new system is a disruption, but the platform now enables us to be disruptive in our industry.

The culture of cloud

TechRepublic: How did you become successful in disrupting your organization's previous tools and processes? So much of change in any enterprise is a hostage to how things have always been done.

Gregory: To share our new capabilities with all of our developers, we had to show them what the new platform could do for them. We sponsored cloud native roadshows for our developer community so they can see what our new tooling and platform was able to offer. It sparked a tidal wave of new application development within the company. Our developers, seeing the value and new capabilities, wanted to learn more about cloud-native applications and how the platform could help them accelerate their current and future projects faster.

Adopting cloud-native architecture with Cloud Foundry has enabled Express Scripts to break down barriers and guide us to solve problems in new ways. If our developers produce something valuable to our patients, then we must figure out the fastest and safest way to get this into their hands. The technology, and the DevOps methods it embraces, helps us draw a straight line between the work we do and the benefit we provide patients.

Also see

About Matt Asay

Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.

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