Innovation

What's really mission critical - a dose of perspective

A scary medical procedure performed on his daughter makes one IT consultant reconsider what mission-critical technology and support really is.

Most of the time I write about what I believe to be the very important issues facing IT leaders. Thankfully, every now and then life gives me a reminder of what's really important. And with your permission I'd like to share my little bit of personal perspective this week about what mission-critical technology and support really is.

Usually, when I think about the idea of mission-critical technologies, I think about those business technologies my clients need to run their business, to produce products, to deliver services, and, of course, to get paid.

Well, today I was given a clear reminder of what mission critical is all about.

I say that because I spent the day today with my teenage daughter at Montefiore Children's Hospital in the Bronx, one of the nation's top medical facilities and home to Dr. Robert Pass, who specializes in pediatric electrophysiology  (a portion of electrophysiology involves the study and repair of electrical rhythms of the heart).

My brave daughter was here today for a second cardiac catheterization to address an arrhythmia that has troubled her for a number of years.

Electrophysiology surgery is a super high-tech endeavor. In short, the surgical team inserts 4-6 catheters into the heart that do a number of things, including delivering electrical stimulation to the heart and freezing or burning targeted areas of tissue to correct or "ablate" the arrhythmia. What's more, all this is taking place in an x-ray field that provides the surgical team a "view" into the heart. From the picture of the "cath lab" (as this operating room is known) in Figure A you can see that this ain't your average surgical procedure. Figure A

There are many moments of the day that I could share with you that I am sure you would connect on a personal level. But as professional colleagues, I want to share one moment in particular. It was powerful because it brought into sharp focus for even me (who preaches the importance of world-class IT service delivery on a daily basis) two essential truths about IT today:

  1. That even the most so called "mundane" aspects of our work is truly important to the world, and
  2. That we so often miss the legitimate opportunities for "marketing" what we do and its unique benefit.

My professional moment

Shortly before my daughter's procedure was set to begin, Dr. Pass came to visit with us and discuss any last-minute issues. My wife, who by now had fully investigated every aspect of this procedure, almost jokingly said in reference to the weather forecast for the day: ".. well everything seems perfect. Now, let's just hope we don't get any of those bad thunderstorms."

I froze.

In an instant, my mind raced to the basement of the hospital, to the infrastructure group. Did they in fact have an adequate UPS protecting all the computers and equipment so that EVEN in the event of a complete power outage my daughter would be safe?

My first thought was to say to myself: "They must have, they would have to, this is mission critical."

I couldn't help myself, and I turned to Dr. Pass and said: "You do have a UPS on all of this stuff, right?"

First, he assured us that in the cath lab at all times would be one of his staff members whose sole responsibility is to manage all the technology. Next, he explained that the current labs are fully protected by the hospitals back-up generators. But that the new labs will have the latest state-of-the-art UPS systems, which in fact are so big and heavy they need to be placed on a specially engineered roof of another building. "GULP."

Whenever I hear about the next version system upgrade when I ask a question about the current version, I get worried. And I gotta tell you, this was one moment when I did not want to be worried.

All I could think of was that one-in-a-million chance of a power outage at just the wrong moment. Sure a back-up generator may limit that power outage to 10 seconds or less, but it would still send all the computers into a reboot. All those computers holding all the equipment calibrations, positions, and settings around my daughter's heart.

A leap of faith

My wife looked over at me questioningly. And knowing me (and what I do) as she does, I could tell she was both observing my concerns and wondering what I was thinking. And here is what I was thinking:

"Honey, we are at the mercy of the technology gods. We have no choice but to trust and to believe. We have to believe that the IT professionals from Dr. Pass' team and the IT professionals of Montefiore Hospital have asked this very same question. And we have to believe that they have put in place a really good answer.

And you know what, it's not just the power backup we have to trust in. We have to trust in every line of code in every embedded chip in every system that's controlling this environment.

We have to trust in the dedicated professionalism of tens of thousands of techies that have come together in different constellations to make sure this procedure works flawlessly.

We have to trust in the fact that every one of my IT colleagues who contributed to the creation of this environment and its proper operation knows exactly how mission critical this situation is."

Don't worry, I'm not completely crazy

And with those thoughts in my mind, I casually turned to my wife and daughter and said: "Don't worry, it will be 100% fine. The power-generation systems all have special coverage for these sorts of situations. Nothing to worry about." And with sweat slowly dripping down the back of my spine, I "cheerfully" set off with Dr. Pass, my wife, and daughter toward the cath lab.

And now to the marketing opportunity

After it was all over (everything went just fine, thank God), I confessed to my wife about how I was really feeling at that moment. She educated me that I wasn't nearly as good a liar as I thought, but she decided to believe me anyway.

And as my concern for my daughter's safety began to recede, I couldn't help but start to think about the opportunity for the IT leaders at Montefiore to play an active and critical role in building and supporting patient confidence in their caregivers and in the care they are about to receive.

I imagine a couple of different things:

  1. A leaflet entitled "How Our Technology Cares for You and Protects You." First, there would be a short, general introduction about the incredible technology and the associated support services that go into delivering care to patients at Montifeore. Then there would be a second section specific to the area of care or procedure the patient was undergoing. Probably a FAQ with a set of the most important and interesting technology-related issues relevant to the specific area of care or procedure.
  2. A number of pages on the Web site containing the same information as in number 1 above but in a more expanded form.

There could of course be dozens of other variations on this, but that's not the point. The point here is to recognize how much my wife and I would have appreciated being reassured about the technological aspects of this procedure just as much as we appreciated learning about the anesthesia aspects. Both are truly mission critical.

So ... here's a shout out and special offer to the IT leaders at Moses Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx.

Gimme a call. I'll be happy to help get you started on this one. You may be surprised to see how much producing a leaflet like the one I describe above will help future cath lab patients and their families AND how much it improves your standing within the hospital.

For everyone else, here's what I hope you take away from this story

First, it's a thank you. Thank you to all of the IT pros in the trenches and up the corporate ladder who worry about mission-critical technology issues every day. Please don't stop caring as much as you do.

Second, it's a wake-up call to look right under your nose to find the evidence of just how important your work really is. And, it's a call to action. A reminder to "market," in an appropriate and value-adding manner, the details of your work. Your stakeholders will appreciate it.

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