Leading Edge in Interoperability: Splunk

March 23, 2015
The 2015 winner in the category of Interoperability is Splunk, Inc., a San Francisco, California-based company focused on optimizing operational intelligence. Healthcare Informatics spoke with Tapan Bhatt, vice president of business analytics and Randy Rosshirt, healthcare solutions expert, about the importance of operational intelligence, how to not be overwhelmed by data and why the right platform can “future-proof” your organization.

Over the past decade, Healthcare Informatics has recognized healthcare leadership teams who have gone above and beyond in their use of information technology solutions with the Innovator Awards.  But those innovators could not have achieved such success without dedicated vendor partners.  To that end, Healthcare Informatics now brings the Leading Edge Awards, honoring vendors whose combination of expertise and innovation are shaping the future of healthcare systems.  The 2015 winner in the category of Interoperability is Splunk, Inc., a San Francisco, California-based company focused on optimizing operational intelligence.  Healthcare Informatics spoke with Tapan Bhatt, vice president of business analytics and Randy Rosshirt, healthcare solutions expert, about the importance of operational intelligence, how to not be overwhelmed by data and why the right platform can “future-proof” your organization.

Randy Rosshirt

Healthcare Informatics:  How would you characterize Splunk’s mission in healthcare?

Tapan Bhatt:   Our mission is to make machine data usable, valuable and accessible for everyone.  The key term here, of course, is machine data.  We have a very broad definition of that—it’s data that can come from any kind of application, network or sensors.  In the past, there weren’t any technologies that could allow people to easily mine and make sense of all that disparate data.  Our name, Splunk, comes from spelunking, or exploring dark, underground caves.  Because we explore this type of machine data that was previously unexplored—and help our customers use it to make better business decisions.

Healthcare Informatics:  Splunk works across a variety of industries.  Is there something different about working with machine data in the healthcare space?

Randy Rosshirt: Healthcare has data challenges like no other industry.  Healthcare information technology is all over the place.  And the machine data culled from those systems is all different shapes and sizes.  Having a flexible platform can help aggregate silos of data across hospitals and bring a contact and visibility to it that solve all types of problems across the healthcare operation—from clinical analytics to population health data.

Tapan Bhatt:  Splunk is definitely a horizontal platform—but healthcare is a space where there needs to be more of a focus on data because of healthcare information exchanges, because of the need to protect patient health information.  So even thought Splunk is horizontal, it’s very applicable to today’s healthcare data issues.  And as the broader healthcare model evolves, with even more systems offering data, it’s going to be even more important that healthcare organizations can get the data they need for meaningful use requirements.

Healthcare Informatics:  How do you define operational intelligence?  Why is it so important for the average healthcare organization to have?

Tapan Bhatt:  Operational intelligence focuses on machine-generated data in real-time.  So you can look, analytically, at what is happening with your streaming data in real time so you can discover things about your organization that you never could discover before.  With a lot of relational analytic platforms, you have to define what you’re looking for beforehand.  You have to understand the kind of answer you want back from the data before you ask the question.  But one doesn’t always know the exact question.  So operational intelligence is having the ability to explore this machine data in real-time—and ask any question you need to ask.

Healthcare Informatics:  Healthcare organizations, today, have a lot of different systems that generate data.  What are some of the biggest challenges to make all of those systems interoperable so you can gain that critical operational intelligence?  

Randy Rosshirt:  Healthcare, traditionally, has gone out and found the best application for a particular use case.  So, over time, healthcare organizations have developed tremendous silos of information.  So knowing what’s really going on in your operation, what’s going on across your organization is difficult.  It’s hard to put all that data together in context so you can get out the intelligence you need.  But if you have the ability to pull data from all those silos in real time, and get a true picture of what’s happening, you can better utilize your resources and lower your costs.  If you can gather that data in real time without the need of connectors, you have better information at hand to make the right decisions to reduce costs and improve care—and it’s all data-driven.  

Healthcare Informatics:  With so much data available, how can Splunk help organizations make sense of it all in order to help them reach their goals?

Tapan Bhatt:  It’s easy to get overwhelmed by it all—by the scope and the magnitude of the data.  What do you do with it?  How do you handle it?  But if you start with a specific use case in mind, you can use the data to solve that problem and then use that as a basis to adjust and handle other questions.  I think we’ve seen, with our customers, is they start small and then grow big.  As they see the flexibility of the platform, they are able to really drill down and find the answers they need.  And as they get more comfortable, they find more and more use cases to use it with.  

Randy Rosshirt:  One of our customers is starting an integrated research campus.  He told me that he didn’t want to still be planning a year from now.  He wanted to get things kicked off and start showing value at the end of the year.  If you go with a data warehouse, you will still be planning in a year.  But Splunk is built to start small and grow.  

As you learn more about the problem and more about the data, you grow your solutions and solve more problems.  It’s a platform to build on.  You don’t have to boil the ocean.  You don’t have to buy everything upfront.  You don’t have to know everything that you’re going to do in the future.  You can start small, solve one problem, and grow from there.

Healthcare Informatics:  What do you want to tell healthcare organizations that are struggling with interoperability issues?

Tapan Bhatt:  Focus on the problem you are trying to solve.  It’s not about how to make sense of every bit of the data.  It’s how can you use that data to solve your problems.  For example, one issue may be regulating security problems to better protect patient privacy.  You have a deluge of information coming from all these connected devices that have been introduced across the hospital.  So the problem you are trying to solve is how are physicians using these devices?  How are they making sense of the information provided by those devices?  And that can help you put policies in place to regulate privacy accordingly.  So it’s not about just trying to make sense of all the data that you have.  But to put data in the context of the problems you are trying to solve.

Healthcare Informatics:  How can an operational intelligence platform lower costs and improve the quality of patient care?

Randy Rosshirt:  You have to be able to understand where you need to improve efficiencies and make better decisions about care.  And doing that requires having the right information at the right place at the right time.  You get that by bringing data together in real-time.  By creating context around the decision that needs to be made—whether it’s about better schedule or an investment on an expensive piece of equipment.  

Healthcare Informatics:  Healthcare presents an ever-changing landscape.  How can Splunk help healthcare organizations keep up with such a dynamic environment?

Randy Rosshirt:  Splunk helps “future-proof” your environment.  As things change, regulations and problems and needs, Splunk adapts to new data quicker than anything.  With Splunk, you can keep indexing new data even if it’s changed, correct it at search time, or look at it differently at search time.  But nothing affects the collection of data.  So it works very well in a dynamic, changing environment.  And, because of that, it has tremendous potential—and be the kind of technology that can help make the transformation of healthcare in this country work.

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