When IT executives hear the words “Internet project,” it likely brings more than a bit of anxiety, and the uneasiness is completely justified. E-business initiatives, once “gotta-have” projects, have repeatedly crashed and burned during the past few years.

It’s little wonder that corporate business leaders, mindful of the millions squandered and lost by other enterprises, are paying strict attention to securing a return on investment when it comes to e-business today.

As one medical company proved, e-business can still succeed and prosper if you’ve got the right leadership, strong tech and business talents, and workable ideas. The Indianapolis-based Community Health Network has undertaken a variety of e-business initiatives, and each has spawned a strong ROI.

Keeping ROI front-of-mind
For Community Health Network, the patients and employees are the focus of each e-business effort—most of which involved reengineering paper-based processes and, in some cases, transforming those processes into thin client applications. Now the facility boasts the following:

  • An online employment recruiting system
  • An improved way of issuing passwords for WAN access
  • A tool to improve efficiency within the hospital pharmacies
  • An online patient registration system

Each and every effort had a clearly identified goal from the start, according to business leaders.

“Everything must support and tie to the network and have an ROI attached to it,” said Dan Rench, Community Health Network’s director of e-business. The healthcare network includes four hospitals, 15 rehabilitation care facilities, and four surgery centers. It employs 10,000 people and conducts 535,000 outpatient visits annually.

The Network’s online employment recruiting system allows job candidates to apply online and request information, and the internal, seven-person HR team uses it to post jobs in real time.

In the past, HR staffers either had to fax or photocopy paper-based applications for routing to department managers. Now applications are automatically routed based on the job category and applicant qualifications.

The hospital has reaped a 17 percent annual return on the initial investment of $113,480—an ROI of $18,900 per year from improved productivity.

And there are intangible benefits as well. Recruiters now respond to applicants within 24 hours, rather than the 72 hours required under the paper-based system. At this point, 85 percent of all nursing applicants submit applications online, and the hospital network has surpassed its goal of hiring 50 registered nurses in each of the first and second quarters of 2002.

Streamlining tech tasks
Another e-business project has streamlined password processes with the hospital’s wide area network (WAN). For a cost of $11,375, the IT team transformed the once-paper-based password process—saving 37 business hours per security code request. With 10,000 employees, the manpower savings can add up.

The tech team also recently launched a thin client application to replace a cumbersome paper-based formulary (a directory and inventory of medications used in hospital pharmacies). Until recently, the formulary was housed in simple three-ring binders filled with inventory sheets. The e-business project replaced the binders with a browser-based application tied to a database. Now pharmacists at four different locations can check and update the real-time inventory. A physician’s desk reference was also placed online, allowing doctors and pharmacists to more easily choose appropriate mediations.

In addition, a preregistration project allows patients to fill out demographic, personal, and health information before a clinic visit. And while only 50 patients a month take advantage of this new service, those who do can cut 15 to 20 minutes off the hospital visit.

In-house talent reduces costs
The healthcare provider’s in-house IT staff, a team of 120 people, has spearheaded all of the efforts. The team includes senior Web developers, database designers, project managers, new media workers, and systems specialists. Using in-house talent keeps costs low, explained Rench. The electronic recruiting process would have easily cost $300,000 or more had the healthcare company chosen an off-the-shelf solution and hired consultants to build it out, he said. But with a roll-your-own development strategy, the healthcare network saved well over $200,000 on that single project.

Strong leadership ensures success
Another success point, said Rench, has been the cooperation and commitment of company leaders. A team of four executives—the CEO, CIO, a representative from business development, and the vice president of marketing—consult with the heads of business units to establish annual technology project priorities. From there, the team picks 10 initiatives and sets funding priorities.

Citing competitive reasons, the hospital declined to divulge its annual budget for e-business initiatives, but Rench said projects are jointly funded by the IS and business development budgets.

As Community Health Network’s techies progress with this year’s IT initiatives, the leadership team is already beginning to discuss project ideas for 2003—one of which is providing handheld devices for physicians. Physician offices are already connected to the network and the clinical applications, whereas in the past, they were “islands unto themselves,” explained CTO Rick Copple.

While each e-business effort has specific goals, the common element is to improve patient care, boost the ability to recruit and retain employees, and provide an ROI.

“We don’t get a blank check by any means,” said Copple. “But projects get funded and supported especially if they’re revenue generating.”