Amber: Welcome back to the Raising Tech Podcast. This is Amber Bardon, your host. On today's episode, we're going to be discussing one of my personal favorite topics: the technology roadmap. For us at Parasol Alliance, we believe that the technology roadmap is the foundation to a successful technology vision at every senior living community. You have to know where you are to be able to know where you want to go. So today we're going to unpack what a technology assessment is, what are some key outcomes, and we're going to learn how your community can get there. We're going to be talking with Karen Layman, a client of ours who recently completed a technology roadmap, so we can get her fresh perspective on that process.
Karen Layman is the President and CEO of Mennonite Health Services, which is a member association that also includes the MHS consulting division. So Karen, can you please just give us a brief introduction of who you are and what our listeners need to know about Mennonite Health Services?
Karen: Thank you, Amber. Thanks for inviting me to be part of this podcast today. So MHS, Mennonite Health Services, we have about 78 members all across the United States. And we also have a hospital system as a member in Puerto Rico. All our health and human services organizations serving primarily senior living. But we also have intellectual disability organizations and a number of mental health organizations as well. So we are fairly large and we also with our consulting practice, serving our members and also serving clients outside of our membership. So that's MHS. I personally do a bit of member services with our members also do quite a bit of consulting services as well and work with many organizations throughout the country.
Amber: Thank you for that introduction. So Karen, you have so much experience in the field and it was such a pleasure to work with you specifically on this project. So Karen and I met and we worked together specifically in a community in Oregon called Mennonite Services Northwest and more specifically at Mennonite Village, which was the primary senior living community as part of that organization. So to kind of set the stage because Mennonite Village was a pretty typical client of ours in terms of their pain points with technology. Karen, can you tell our listeners what drove you to seek a technology assessment?
Karen: I stepped in, was asked to help the organization really discern their future direction that there had been a leadership change and the organization managed two assisted living entities and also had three affiliate organizations. So it's a system in Oregon as you described. So when I stepped in trying to figure out what's the services being provided, how complex is the organization, what's the satisfaction of those that are being managed? I mean, just an overall assessment. And I learned pretty quickly that there was a real disconnect when it came to technology. So there was the sense at a corporate level, that technology was being served and all was great. But then at those service level, more at the customer service level, I found that there was a huge disconnect. And so there was this disparity between what some, some persons in responsible positions thought was happening. And those that were actually on the receiving end, who said, no, this is not happening. And when I tried to figure out, you know, from my own background, I have limited IT knowledge. I saw there was no way that this was something that I could figure out. And I knew that if I was going to help this organization, we had to give them a roadmap or a plan in terms of their technology.
I mean, several of the organizations are still doing manual payroll. I was shocked at that. And so I knew I needed help. Somebody to help me figure out where to prioritize and how to even analyze the situation.
Amber: This is a really great example of where a technology is more than just the computers that sit on people's desks. We started out with the interviews with the key people in the organization and with the affiliate affiliate organizations. And it was clear pretty quickly, that there was a lot of process issues going on. Like you said, there was a lot of duplication happening. You know, there was a lot of manual things, things on paper, and this was a huge source of employee dissatisfaction. It was actually really exciting to me that pretty quickly we were able to identify some pretty easy, or maybe not easy, but some easy to identify changes we could make in the technology environment that could address those issues. And I love that that's the beauty of this technology roadmap that we can really look at this holistically. We can include the multifaceted pieces of technology to really provide this comprehensive solution.
So I just want to take a step back really quick, before we continue on with the Mennonite story, just to talk about the foundation of how do we build this technology assessment and roadmap? So it's kind of two parts. So one really key part of building a successful technology strategy is these interviews that I just mentioned a few minutes ago. So I think that that's really important. And I think that maybe that's one of the benefits of having a third party come in and do these assessments is because possibly you might get some more openness with staff to have somebody come in and conduct these interviews. And we typically do these interviews over a period of about three days onsite. And it's up to the community who you include in this interview process. But we recommend really meeting with key people across the organization. So really anybody who's using technology from a residential services, assisted living, independent living, skilled nursing, dietary, social work, all the clinical areas, of course the administrative areas, executive leadership, and the kind of questions you want to ask them: what are you doing manually? You know, what are the things that cause you frustration and your pain points? And staff, they have ideas. They have things that they want to share with you. They think about this a lot. They think about what could I do that would make my job easier. Maybe there's something that they were told to do a while ago that nobody ever told them to stop doing so they keep doing it. So it's a really great place to generate ideas and identify places for process optimization.
And it can be really effective when you can take that feedback and then actually implement that and show action items and what you can actually accomplish with technology. So that's one part to the technology roadmap.
The other part would be what you would think of as IT side of things. So that would be conducting a full it system review. Now again, when I talk about it, I'm not just talking about the computer piece, I'm talking about the servers, the network, security. I'm also talking about things like your low voltage system, your door access system, security cameras, your phone system. And I'm also talking about things like your business systems like we were just speaking of. So the, the enterprise systems you use to run your business, your HR systems, your scheduling systems, your dining systems.
I like to envision this like a pyramid. So the foundation you've got your core, it systems, computers, switches, IT operations, servers, things like that. We want to make sure that that base is up to date. It's being replaced on an ongoing basis. It's appropriate for the size of the environment. It's got built in disaster recovery, backups, all of the things you need to do to have a stable network and system that is able to be maintained, recovered, and secure. And then on top of that, we've got what we call business systems or applications. So what we're looking for here: are these systems effective? Are they optimized? Are they the right systems? Are they integrated with each other? And are you even maybe lacking systems? Are you using paper? Like we just spoke of in this situation specifically. So we really want to get those systems as effective as possible because time is money, right?
8:57 - So we don't want your staff doing things. On paper, we don't want them double entering data. We want systems integrated as much as possible. And so through those first two parts of the pyramid, we're really making your organization use technology as effective as possible.
And then the next level on the pyramid would be security. And security is really this lens in which we view the other parts of the pyramid through. There's always this balance of security versus convenience, and that's for each community to decide for themselves what that balance is. But we want to be looking at each decision we make, what's the most secure and also will cause the least amount of convenience to the end users? And this is just becoming so much more important every day. And then above that, we have residents, residents are a key part of this, and we've done a couple of resident technology plans independently of the community resident strategic plan. And resident technology is a whole separate topic. We'll be talking about that more in future episodes. But that's kind of the way you can think of the technology strategic planning. So Karen, after we went through this process and sort of this pyramid fashion I just described, can you tell me a little bit more about some of the key takeaways you had?
Karen: I have to just say Amber, that there was a lot here. Like, I didn't know what I didn't know. And it was the same for many of the staff as well. And I just have to commend you that you did a marvelous job navigating, so there's some fear that's involved in this kind of an assessment. There's a fear from those who maybe have some ownership in the system that they think is set up very well, versus those of us coming in, who go, how do we set this up and, and why didn't we do this? You know, so there's a fear that comes. And then there's also that sense of that there's, that there's this opportunity to fix. And so that's very exciting. So I just have to say you did a really good job of navigating between that, you know, that defensiveness and also that excitement that you received when you were on the campus. But I think what you did is you gave us very clear path to what we needed and it was a path. So we knew getting the report and your feedback. We know exactly, this is what we, where we need to start. This is kind of a stair step. And I think the challenge right now is the investment of time and energy. And you know, how we're going to make that next step. Because one of the things that we discovered in this process is that we don't have the right team either. And so we really ongoing if we don't have the right technicians and leadership, who's the responsibility for the IT structure, we're going to continue to make additional. So I think that's the other piece to it as well.
Amber: And I think you know, speaking to what you mentioned, that those onsite interviews, that's where you build those relationships, because I think it's important to circle back because there can be a lot of fear. That's a common thing that we see when this outside consultant comes in to do this, you know, this plan, there's always defensiveness, people they're proud of what they've done, and they're it. And they don't want to be questioned on that all the time. And I think you know, to have this open approach and we talk about the positive too, we don't just come in and look for problems. So you know, I think that is really important is to take this approach that, we're not here to find problems, we're here to help you build something better for the future and for the community and for the residents. So I think I just wanted to kind of circle back to that.
And just to kind of give our listeners a better kind of picture of this outcome that we're talking about. So, you know, the actual output of the assessment, it's a couple of pieces, so there's an actual assessment, which is about a 30-page document or so, which is really a written out analysis of the current state of technology in the community. So it has an operational assessment, a business systems assessment, a systems assessment and network assessment. And it really just lays it out in layman terms as much as possible, really what is going on in those areas. And then underneath each of those sections that has recommendations, and then those recommendations are taken from that document and then they're put into what we call the roadmap. And this roadmap is really the living document. You know, you can sit and write strategy all day. And Karen, I assure you know this as your company does a lot of strategic planning, but if you don't use your, your strategy, there's no point, you know, you can write a strategy and put it on the shelf, but we really want to execute that strategy, right?
So this roadmap is really that tool. And ideally this roadmap becomes the IT budget and it's revisited quarterly, ideally, annually and then updated every three years. So really the power of this roadmap is we take all those areas that I mentioned, low-voltage, business systems, optimizations and then of course your IT. And we're putting it all in one place. So you can see the technology needs across the entire community, even if you might not think of some of those areas, is IT, and we're able to prioritize, where does the community really need to spend their resources so that you're not focusing just one area on one piece, but you're not coordinating it globally. So Karen, tell me, you know, what were some of the high level outcomes that you, that you found from this process?
14:42 Karen: I had the hat on, of the new person coming in, who the board asked to do an assessment and give them the overall what are we going to do? What's our best way forward? So I had that hat on and that perspective, and I needed answers. It's just like often when someone from the inside from the outside is coming into an organization, they often want to do an employee engagement survey. So they understand what's the status of the employees right now. A lot of times they want to do an operations review. I just need to know what's what, and so the main thing that this review did for me was it gave me that big picture and at both a low level and a very high level and roadmap, like you said earlier.
And so that document now, I've transitioned out of the interim role and I've transitioned that so what a colleague is now serving in that interim role, and he's now working with the leadership team on implementation. And so there was not a whole lot of work that needed to happen. How you laid that out was easily read, easily understood. And so it is our next step. If that's, we're going to use that to fix the structure. I mean, starting at a very low level, trying to get some of our payroll systems online. I don't know what else to say other than it's a roadmap for, for us to implement the changes that we need.
Ambr: Yeah. And I know you're pretty early in this process too. So let me just take a couple minutes and talk about with some of our other clients that have been clients of ours for a while, how this process can kind of play out you know, how you might be able to use this roadmap kind of long-term.
So, you know, one of the ways that we like to execute the roadmap is through project management and I'm a certified project manager, so I love to talk about projects. So, you know, ideally the process we use it, of course, you know, it's up to every community, how they want to execute a roadmap. But this is a process that we use that works pretty well. So we take that roadmap, it's kind of the starting point. And then what we like to do is review it every quarter. So we meet with our clients every quarter and we bring up that roadmap all, first of all, that roadmap ideally becomes the IT budget. So really what we're doing is we're looking at that same roadmap, but it's condensed down to an annual budget that we want to make sure is the appropriate resources are allocated for the year and not everything in the roadmap is a budget item. So for example, there could be a line in there to optimize an existing medical record system. So that could be in there. And that would be in there because it's resource intensive. We need to spend a lot of time on this and it possibly could be a budgeted item because maybe we need to add some more modules. We need to get some professional services or something like that. But either way, we want to make sure that it's in there and it's being looked at. So every quarterly meeting we'll bring up that roadmap. We'll take a look at it. We'll know what have we completed? What's in progress, maybe something new has come up, maybe there's been regulatory changes and we maybe need to add something. So a really great example of that with COVID was AcuShield or a visitor management system like Accu shield. So it was interesting because we actually had a system like that in every client roadmap, before COVID hit, it was kind of a low priority item. You know, visitor management was something we wanted to automate for our clients, just because that's a paper process, but it was kind of like in year three is kind of a low priority. Well then COVID hit. And of course everybody suddenly wanted to implement something like that. And it was actually great because we were like, oh, we've already got this in your roadmap. We kind of have some estimated costs. Let's just bump up the priority. We already know who are the vendors out there. Let's get them on the phone, let's build our requirements lists than we were able to just kind of pop that in. You know, that would be an example of something we could kind of just raise up to the priority, cause we've already got it in our roadmap. We've got that every quarter, we're looking at it, it's a living plan when it comes to it governance, we really like to see steering committees that are client sites, that represents the key areas of the organization.
We really, I want technology to be, to be a partnership. We like to move away from this idea that, okay, technology is just a line item in the budget and we want to spend as little money on it as possible, sorry to the CFOs listening to this podcast. But we want technology to be something that is a competitive edge for your community. We want to transform your community through technology. We want it to be something that you're excited about that can benefit you. So, to do that, we have to see how we can use it. We have to think of it as a solution. And if we're constantly thinking about it, we're reviewing it, we have buy-in, we have people across the community, looking at this roadmap all the time and thinking about these projects and what can we do and how can we be efficient and use technology? That's kind of the idea behind the steering committee. So there's these quarterly meetings. And then, like I mentioned, every year we were revisiting it, we're looking at it annually, making sure things are appropriately budgeted.
Of course, we want to make sure that the big items are in there to make sure that our systems are refreshed. We've got our updates coming. And then we're kind of able to plan around there based on what's left. So our resources are properly allocated. And then every three years we wanted, you know, you want to keep looking forward and want to keep trying to do more with technology. What's out there, that's new. We have a client that's doing a campus expansion and they're putting robotics into their new buildings and they're doing smart home technology. So, there's always new things that are coming out. I like to personally say that senior living technology is the wild west of technology because there's so much opportunity and so many new things coming out. So that's just some ways that you can actually implement this roadmap and use it as a living document and just as your guide to just continue executing and doing more and more with technology.
So Karen, one question I have for you is what would be your advice to anybody who's looking to start this process?
Karen: Well, obviously start with you. And Amber didn't ask me to say that. No, I'm the kind of person, I'm the kind of leader that, I know what my limitations are and sometimes that, when you need help and you know that this is beyond your capability and beyond your expertise. So I reached out and asked for help and that was the first start is to and then to hear you describe this process, so you described this process to me in detail, and I knew immediately that that's what we needed. And that that's what the information, I was struggling with staffing. Do we have enough staff or is it an efficiency issue? Is it the system that we're using or have we not fully implemented that software program? I mean, there was just a lot that I didn't know, but the way you presented this roadmap and this assessment process fit all of my check boxes and I knew it was the thorough kind of insight that I needed to figure out where we needed to go.
Amber: Well, Karen, it was such a pleasure to work with you on this specific project. And I really appreciate you coming on this podcast and sharing your insights. So thank you for your time.
Karen: Thank you.
Amber: At our next episode, we're going to talk about all things, resonant technology. We have some special guests, so looking forward to that, so be sure to tune in and thank you for listening today.
Karen Lehman, CEO and President at Mennonite Health Services, a not-for-profit membership organization, joins Raising Tech host, Amber Bardon to discuss the advantages of developing and utilizing a tactical technology roadmap. Karen begins by describing a common scenario. After a leadership change, the organization needed to discern the future direction of the system. Karen was tasked with leading this effort. Through an employee and operational review, Karen learned there were major disconnects in technology and related business systems and operational processes.
Amber discusses the key components to developing a technology infrastructure from the foundation up, what needs to be considered, who should be involved and how the roadmap can serve as a living document to chart all technology investments, projects as well as serve as the operational and capital technology budget. Karen describes the value of the interactive assessment process and roadmap highlighting key takeaways and direct outcomes for Mennonite Health Services.
Tune in to learn how to accurately assess the technology environment in your community, actionable advice for getting started and how to fully leverage a technology roadmap to move the needle and advance technology outcomes in your community.
Raising Tech is powered by Parasol Alliance, The Strategic Planning & Full-Service IT Partner exclusively serving Senior Living Communities.
Amber: Welcome everybody to Raising Tech Podcast, Episode 2: Strategic Partnerships. I'm Amber Bardon, host of this podcast and I have with me today, Ken Arneson, the CEO of Evergreen Retirement Community. Our podcast topic today is Strategic Partnerships and the collaborative advantage of strategic partnerships specifically in technology. I am so excited to have Ken Arneson with me today. Ken Arneson has a long and a very interesting history in the senior living industry. He is also a founding member of Parasol Alliance and also a board member. Ken, you have such a rich history of working in the business. I believe you've been the CEO of Evergreen for about 25 years or so. Can you tell me a little bit about how did you get into this industry and how long have you been working in this field?
Ken: Well, I've actually been very fortunate to be in the field around 34 years and my career started while I was in college and I worked as a housekeeper at a local skilled nursing facility, wanting to look at growing in the field. I talked with the administrator and developed an administrator in training program. I was a receptionist, I was an aide and worked my way up through quality management into the for-profit sector and was very blessed to come to Evergreen and very proud to be the CEO of the organization.
Amber: Wow. And Ken, one of the things I want to share with our listeners is the first time I met you, I always remember this about you. So, you were introduced to myself as well as another provider at the same time. And one of the things I remember that you said to the other provider in the room is you said, “if there's anything you want to try in senior living ask me first because I've already done it.” And that's one of the things that I love about working with you and having you on our board is because you have such an innovative mind and you're so open to new ideas and trying new things. And I think that you, you know, that's something that ha you have brought so much value in with different partnerships that you've tried and different ideas that you've tried. Can you tell us a little bit about your approach to partnership and collaboration and why that's so important?
Ken: One of the main reasons it's so important is as a single site, you know, just to term single site, it applies that you're trying to do as much as possible on your own. And the realization is the world is getting more complicated, whether it's your smartphone, vehicles, it doesn't seem to matter what it is you work with, the world's complicated and the ability to figure it out on your own is going to be a challenge.
I was taught at a very early age from my grandfather that a wise individual looks for smarter people to surround themselves with. And that's led to the development of partnerships. Another reason for partnerships is: you can grow more as an individual and an organization when you have the ability to do it with someone. Like if you ever go on any adventure, what fun is, they're just doing it completely on your own? You don't have any good stories you can share with someone. Plus you're not there, are things you can learn from one another. So partnerships for Evergreen and becoming even more strategic has been essential to this organization being around hopefully another 50-100 years.
Amber: Yeah. We hear so much right now about collaboration and partnerships, again, as you mentioned for single sites. I definitely feel in the industry that there is this sense that single sites need to come together that, they don't need to do it on their own. You know, the concept of vertical integration, combining experience to work together. What is your sense of how, you’re located in Wisconsin, what are you seeing in terms of your peers in the industry and, and types of collaborations that you've seen and what have you seen that's been most successful and maybe what are some of the things that you've seen that don't work as well with the partnership?
Ken: Alright. That is a real interesting question because part of a partnership is having a willingness to take risks and actually say you're going to do something. There's a tendency that individuals like to talk and what they want to do is they want to talk at a lower level where it's safe. It could be, or maybe we could share purchasing, maybe we could do buying together and not that those don't have value, but a true partnership needs to be something that's going to advance an organization. And for organizations, I am noticing that there is more acknowledgement of the need to do it. The challenge is figuring out how to do it and who you do it, which is one of the things I look at is almost comparable to dating. You know, it's the idea of how do you kind of figure out is this somebody I'd really like to get to know? How do you go about getting to know them? How do you build a relationship? How does it hopefully turn into something longterm and your hope and no point the other person comes in and says, you know what, when we were first together, I felt special. I just don't feel special anymore. That's the more difficult part with partnerships is making sure that all parties can continue to grow and hopefully it feel special.
Amber: I love that analogy. That's really interesting. And I know something that we've talked about at Parasol Alliance, as well as what happens when those original members retire or possibly leave the organization. How does that change the dynamic of the partnership? Maybe that's a great segue. Can you talk a little bit about the specific partnership experience you've had in bounding Parasol Alliance to give our listeners more of a a concrete concept into how a partnership actually can get started and how that process works, and then some of the benefits and maybe takeaways that you’ve learned.
Ken: Well, from a professional growth standpoint, especially being in my position now, I've had the most professional growth through actually being engaged in the development of partnerships. And especially with Parasol. The other individuals who founded parasol and having an individual like Amber, who is leading it. Truly, and it has helped me grow substantially. So, the key part was really finding individuals who were serious about let's do something. And after we found individuals who were saying, yes, we want to do something up to putting money into and taking a risk with what it meant for our individual ITs. The biggest challenge was working with a board and having them become comfortable with going into something that's not truly core because we're not providing it as a partnership like this. Our board though also has grown substantially from going through this process because now they're more comfortable and we've done additional joint ventures and partnerships as a result of it. But it came back to finding people. The other part, when you're looking at this is you also need to be looking for smart people who are really going to be running this partnership. And with, with Parasol, we are blessed. We have an entrepreneur who is leading the organization and that has been key. Again, for us as individual organizations, it's helped us grow substantially.
Amber: Thank you. For sharing that, how did Evergreen react to the outsourcing of the technology function? Because if I recall you did not outsource a lot of services prior to this.
Ken: No. That kind of comes back to, you know, when they talk single site, you know, and one of the advantages with single site is you're comparable to all those local businesses that were founded and that the idea that we were going to outsource technology, even though we weren't doing it well, as far as the management piece, it was a heavy lift. Initially it was coming up with every reason it wasn't going to work. So, the other part in learning about when you're going to do these partnerships or you're going to be looking to outsource is coming back to what are the reasons you need to do this? Fast forward to today, our organization would never go back to the idea of a single individual that when they went on vacation, we had to lease a satellite phone because if anything here happened, technology wise, we had to be able to reach this individual.
The other part is you don't know what you don't know when you're trying to look at it internally and having those external people who do things better, and the comparable to look at is, it's not uncommon for organizations now to outsource their housekeeping, their laundry. I mean, typically you outsource your heating and cooling all of these because you want to have smarter people who are responsible for those operations. Technology was a scary thing for people, but really it was, it was one of the best decisions we made as an organization.
Amber: Do you have any specific stories maybe you can share?
Ken: Yes. Probably the one story we talk about quite a bit is especially in the age of ransomware, we had a ransomware here and Evergreen, our systems went down and it was very scary because all we saw on the news was we're going to have to pay the ransom. Thankfully, because we had partnered with Parasol, the first thing they did was come in and say, they calm the waters and said yes, we're going to be able to deal with this. And they were able to, within a number of days, have this back up and operating and we didn't have to pay the ransom.
Another one has been, when we look at our resident population coming in today, they are very tech savvy. The idea of an older adult, not understanding technology, that is something as a society we need to get over. They are a tech-savvy group. There may be growing in how they use it, but a credibility point for an organization is their ability to respond to their customers as they come in and setting them up. Where we’ve had a number of compliments from our residents is that's an area, we do a good job and you know, if we do a good job in technology, that means we're going to be trusted with things that are super important, like care and the other services that we provide. So now we that, but the ransomware is one of my favorite stories.
Amber: So it sounds like to me, what you're saying is, you know, the biggest value you're getting with the technology partnership is bringing in the expertise to handle things like security and infrastructure, and then taking care of situations that you know, are bound to occur sooner or later, like ransomware attack, the expertise that you bring into other aspects of technology within the community, such as resident support. Are there other key pieces or pain points that are solved and you know, for somebody who's just maybe starting out looking for a technology partnership, what would be some other key areas you would suggest to look to solve problems?
Ken: A major one is the ability to develop your technology strategic plan. If you look at major companies, I mean they have a Chief Information Officer, a number of organizations on their own don't have the ability to afford that. So I think one part is, you know, how do you have that become a part of your team that can help you plan strategically. But if you're going to be doing strategic, they need to understand the field that you're in. So this isn't, you know, where you can just go to your local tech people, they're more of a generalist. You really do need a degree of specialization. The other factor is how will this organization help you through other experiences they've had to grow and save you time.A significant value with Parasol has been, we're seeing more and more things we're thinking of has been tried in another organization that they're providing services to. That saves us a whole lot of time dealing with sales reps and other people who are saying, oh, this is the latest and the greatest you should get it. Technology can a very expensive mistake if you make the wrong decision, both financially, reputation and satisfaction. So I always encourage organizations, talk with your peers you know, find out what they're doing. What's not working. You're probably going to find you have a lot in common and then look at well, how about those organizations that seem to be, they're like us, but they're doing it different and odds are you'll find that there, they partnered with an organization like Parasol.
Amber: One of the stories I like to tell about Evergreen specifically, as well as it seems like a minor thing that we did, but when we first started working with Evergreen, which was, almost gosh, like six years ago now is we had established a nursing or clinical user group. So we met with your clinical team every month. And this really had a very impactful experience across the organization because your clinical team was, you know, they were pretty dissatisfied with technology. And really the reason was that they just felt that they didn't really have a lot of time to, to put in tickets or requests or their requests weren't addressed or people work third shift. And we basically came up with a method where we had a clipboard and the nurses would go and write down what their issues were. And the manager would keep a log and bring it to these monthly meetings. And I think we even had the onsite technician stop by every week and go over those issues. And once we were actually able to establish this relationship with them and take care of those issues, kind of one by one, we were able to establish this partnership and this trust which is what technology should be. It should be a partnership to support the business, right? That's the purpose of it. You know, and one thing that we say is our mission or one of our visions is to transform technology culture in senior living industry. And it can start with something that small, just gaining the trust of the nursing team, you know, showing how technology can better their lives on a day-to-day basis in their job and make it more efficient. And Evergreen has been such an amazing partner in that journey and working with you, Ken specifically, because you really see that value. When we did your campus expansion, and you made the decision, you put Alexa's in all of the units, right? You know, some of the decisions you made with that project, it's just been so great working with you and having your open-mindedness and your willingness to be innovative and use technology as a business solution. And I really appreciate that about you.
Ken: That’s very kind of you, the reality though, is if an organization is not taking a hard look at areas that are strategically vital and then asking themselves, do we really have the capacity to do all of this on our own? They are going to be selling themselves short and the people they serve. Sometimes you have to figure out what you need to do what's fast or do what's right. And in a situation like this, it really was a combination of being able to do what was best, which was how are we going to provide a better service, both to our staff, residents and people. And then the right thing was finding the right organization that was Parasol to do it. So, it's fun to see our ability now to embrace technology and respond to it.
Amber: So what would your advice be then to our listeners, if they're trying to find someone that they can work with in this capacity. And I feel like this is a tricky question, right? Because we can list a whole bunch of standard questions you can ask, that you could probably go find on the internet, but how do you really know? How do you get to heart? How do you get to the heart of, can this partner support me? And can I trust them? How do you really get to that part to that matter?
Ken: Well, I think one of the ways you can get to it starting first with those internal questions. Do we seem to be having the same issue again and again, and again? It's sort of the fly against the window getting out. And if you're fine, you're continuing to have that. And you have the same conversations. It is a matter of then saying, all right, well, what is it we need to do a little different and getting comfortable. The different may entail finding somebody else to take on those functions. If you can do just those steps initially, then you can start to look at all right, who do you find that’s out there? And, you know, within this field, people are good about sharing. I've always been very proud that within this sector, this is not as sector of leaders and organizations who are boastful.
They want to be here to provide service and make lives better. So I think because we do that, and I know all those organizations are looking at ways to improve efficiency, especially with challenges with staffing. You're looking at the demands from your customers increasing that it should be natural, that whether it's your dining, your housekeeping, your maintenance, the technology should be very high on that list. Finding a partner, and the fun part with a partner is you're a good partner is one you know you can count on when the proverbial poop hits the fan. And that is something we'd look for, whether it's electricians who were here when we had major flooding, whether it's been an our plumbers that show up just numerous people, technology is key. Your technology goes down, you can be floundering in the waters. So, you know, for us, it just was the best and the right thing to do.
Great. Thank you so much for that insight. Well, it kind of has been a real pleasure to speak with you. I think you have brought a lot of value and things for our listeners to think about on this episodes. I hope everyone enjoyed it as much as I did.
On our next episode, we're going to be unpacking the technology, strategic plan and roadmap, and talking about how to build it from the infrastructure up. So please join us next month and Ken, any final words?
Ken: You know, what I hope organizations listening to this will, we'll take the opportunity to look at partnerships in areas of technology.
Amber: Alright.Thank you so much.
Episode 2 of Raising Tech is all about the art and the science behind building strategic partnerships in technology. As today’s guest, Ken Arneson, CEO of Evergreen Retirement Community, puts it, “as the world becomes increasingly more complicated, the ability to figure it all out on your own, becomes increasingly more difficult, this has directly led to the need for more partnerships”.
Join Amber Bardon and Ken Arneson as they unpack how a technology partnership can advance your organization’s growth, increase your credibility in the market and with resident stakeholders, how to identify the exact outcomes you are looking to achieve through a partnership and finally, how to evaluate if a partner is the right culture fit for your organization. This episode is full of tactical steps and key questions providers can use today to begin taking the first steps towards a game-changing partnership.
Raising Tech is powered by Parasol Alliance, The Strategic Planning & Full-Service IT Partner exclusively serving Senior Living Communities.
Rachel: Hello, and welcome to season one, episode one of Raising Tech, your guide to understanding the role technology plays in your senior living business strategy and day-to-day operations. Our mission for raising tech is to educate and empower senior living providers to maximize their use of technology. This podcast is designed to be your monthly tech check-in to learn how best to optimize operations established tech as part of your organization's competitive advantage, incorporate technology into your long range vision, and how to bring residents and employees along on the journey. Episodes will include everything from bringing senior living communities out of legacy systems and into streamlined infrastructures to developing a technology strategy designed for the next generation of residents and employees tune in for tech trends, hot topics, and meet the people behind the tech landscape and senior living to gain practical technology. You can apply in your organization today. I'm Rachel Loogi with parasail Alliance, where we specialize in helping senior living partners maximize their use of technology through strategic planning and full service. And I'm joined by our host, Amber Barden, CEO, and founder of Parasol Alliance. So before we dive in, Amber tell us a little bit about how you got into senior living tech in the first place and what parasol Lyons is all about. So listeners have an idea of what kind of experience you're speaking from.
Amber: Thanks Rachel. I am so excited that we're launching this podcast. It's great to be here with you, and it's a great day to talk about technology and senior living. So I'm Amber Barden. I am the CEO and founder of Parasol Alliance, as Rachel mentioned. So I wanted to give just a little bit of background about my experience and how I came to understand and learn about the senior living industry. I worked at a provider in the Chicago area for about nine years. I did pretty much every different kind of position you can think of in technology during that period of time. So I started out at the service desk and then I moved over to business system support, and then I eventually moved into an IT director leadership role. And through that process through those years, I really learned a lot about the business side of Senior Living.
I saw firsthand the challenges that senior living providers have and multiple different types of senior living services from home and community-based services to skilled nursing HUD, independent living, and of course assisted living as well, and really was able to understand the business seed and then bring technology as a solution to multiple different business problems. And through that process, I really saw that there was a need to have a company that could specifically target these challenges that the senior living industry face and through that process and through learning about the business side, I had this idea to form a company to specifically do that. So the way that actually happened is I was introduced to someone named Bill Lowe, who is the CEO of Chicago Methodist Senior Services in Chicago. And we talked a little bit about my idea, and he came up with this concept of why not create a partnership or an alliance of other senior living providers to come together and provide this technology service to the industry.
So Bill really helped me go out and meet other providers and learn about their specific challenges with technology and helped put together this partnership and Alliance that eventually became Parasol Alliance about six years ago. Now, one thing I want to mention is that through that process, we spoke to multiple different providers for the most part single sites, mostly not-for-profit CCRC. And one of the things I asked them was what is your biggest pain point in technology, regardless of what your solution is? If it's in-house technology, if it's outsource technology, if it's a combination and the number one answer I got was strategy, these providers felt like they did not have the resources or the expertise to really understand technology and how it could help their business. They weren't really sure how to make decisions on technology in terms of resources and dollars. And that really drove our business model of starting with strategy in order to form a really strong partnership, which we feel really leads to client happiness, and it allows our clients to maximize technology to effectively move their business objectives forward.
Rachel: I love that and that's part of why I love being a part of Parasol Alliance is because the company was founded on solving problems. So you mentioned challenges. So what challenges specifically, were you seeing and have you been seeing in senior living communities and how did those challenges ultimately then tie in later to a community success using technology?
Amber: Yeah, I think this whole concept of really understanding the specific challenges so that you can then effectively solve them is really important. And I think the community it's really helpful and a lot of things can happen to lead to success when the community takes the approach of starting with a technology culture. So how do we build excitement for technology in our community? How do we use technology, a solution to solve strategic business objectives? So I think the challenges need to be recognized and addressed before you can move to those next steps of technology driving success. So I would say some of the top challenges that we typically see with the providers that we work with would be resources. That's something I mentioned it a little bit earlier, resources really throughout all different levels, not having a CIO, not having an IT director, or maybe IT doesn't necessarily have a seat at the table to be able to even provide senior living technology solutions and not having possibly the expertise in house to know what you don't know. So what are some of the best practices that other communities are using across the industry? Possibly not having resources adequately budgeted in terms of dollars and also staff buy-in from the community staff in terms of buying into that vision of technology culture. Another thing I think we see is just not knowing where to start. So I feel technology can be very overwhelming to many communities and it's something that they don't necessarily feel. They have a good understanding of. So they don't know where to start. And again, I said this a little bit earlier, but it's something I hear a lot is not knowing what we don't know. Another big issue we see is process optimization. So this would be where you may have some systems in place, but perhaps you're not really optimizing those systems as best as you could. So there could be things being done on paper. There could be duplicate entries and that can really lead to staff frustration because it directly impacts the time that they spend on those types of processes when they're not as streamlined and efficient as possible. And then lastly, another challenge I wanted to mention before we talk a little bit more about successes when it comes to residents. Residents have expectations now that they will have technology in the community. So both from the perspective of the community, providing technology, as well as the residents themselves using technology. And I would say, in the last five years this really shifted from this expectation to a must have to a need, which that can actually lead to directly to helping your community leverage technology, to be more competitive in the marketplace to really take your business to the next level, by identifying those challenges and needs from the residents and then coming up with a strategic plan to really address those and really just enhanced technology throughout the organization with the residents and the staff. So given some of those challenges, I think those starting with recognizing those and understanding them and knowing where your community is in the process of technology with all those different aspects that will help you lead directly to those key success drivers. So resident technology having a plan and having you know, something in place that you could communicate to the residents about what the plan is for technology. Another big one we hear is communication across the community in general. So a lot of our clients are looking for one streamlined way to communicate to staff, to communicate to families, to communicate to residents. And to know that this can be a big area of frustration.
If there's not easy to use communication processes in place, I talked a little bit about the process optimization. So if you're able to recognize that as a challenge and identify opportunities to address that, that can lead directly to staff efficiency and sometimes even staff happiness and engagement, if they no longer feel like they have to spend a lot of wasted time on paper and manual processes and all of this, we feel really leads to that technology culture. So one thing you say, Rachel, that I really love is that our vision is to transform technology culture in senior living. And I think that that is such a great vision, and I think it's so important and I think taking this idea that technology is just a cost center budget. It's just something we have to have and transforming that into how do we leverage this? How do we solve business problems? How we use technology to engage and go to the next level is really a key success factor and it's something we've seen in our clients. And it's just such a great thing when that happens.
Rachel: Oh my gosh, I completely agree. And you're right. It's about something so much bigger than just infrastructure, it is about culture at its highest level. We talked a lot, we talked about so many things that are important. I wonder if we could just talk a little bit more about how we go about that strategy, if you could break that down and what are the essential components to a strategy kind of maybe starting with the foundation?
Amber: Sure, so one thing I like to think about or visualize, or when I'm doing a presentation is share an image of a pyramid. So if you think of a pyramid that has multiple levels at that base level, so that the core things that you need to do when it comes to technology are the things you would probably think of as technical as it in the more traditional fashion. So things like your computers being replaced on a regular basis, having your network up to date and optimizing and meeting the community needs in the best possible way, your servers, your IT operations, your staffing and your policies and procedures. So that is what we consider the base of the pyramid and really having a strong foundation and making sure you take the time to have that in place will help you add on to the next levels in the pyramid and again, elevate technology in your community.
So what we see as the next level in the pyramid would be your business systems. So these would be the things that you use to run your business. So your EMR, electronic medical records, your HRS payroll systems, your dining systems, your CRM, marketing systems, your resident engagement application, pretty much any business area uses technology. So we want to identify those systems, the right systems, is there a lack of systems? Are you using paper and are those systems fully optimized? So are you doing the most? You can with those systems again, tying back to that staff efficiency and staff happiness. And then the next level we see is security and risk. So security and risk is the lens in which we view the other two, well, really all of the layers of the pyramid. So we want to make sure that the decisions that we're making and the plans we're making are really viewed through this security and risk lens to make sure that we are minimizing risk and maximizing security as much as possible.
And then we see that top level as the residents. So, you know, as we talked about a couple of minutes ago, the residents really are a key part of this. So in multiple different ways from Wi-Fi, you know, community engagement and things like that. And I think a good place to start to think of this is how do you define technology? What does technology mean to you and what does it mean to your community? You know, do you think of it as it isn't just the servers sitting on your server room? Is it just the computers on people's desks or does it encompass all these other parts of the pyramid that I talked about? And I think identifying that and defining that is a really great place to start.
Rachel: Yes, absolutely, that's excellent. One final point on residents, this is such a focus right now, especially coming out of 2020 and everything we experienced related to the pandemic, how are, you know, what are some trends we're seeing as far as resonant expectations and maybe that's for today's residents, but incorporating the next generation of residents? What, what will they be expecting and senior living?
Amber: Yeah, I think I've heard a couple people refer to technology as the silver lining of COVID. And I think that really applies to the residents. I think there was possibly a little bit of fear of using technology, a little bit of resistance, or not feeling that it was something useful to many of the residents in the communities. And I feel COVID really helped with that because many residents needed to start engaging with technology, to see family members, to see friends through video tools. And I think we've definitely seen a lot of, a much bigger need for residents using technology. And accordingly those expectations have really only increased. So a couple of key ways in which we think about technology for residents. So,the big one is wifi, that's something we hear at all of our communities as we expect to have wall-to-wall wifi coverage and that's something that can tie into your technology play on for your community, but also as, you know, how does it affect the residents and what are you providing? And what are the residents that they'll have access to in terms of WiFi and setting, making sure that everybody understands what's actually provided and what's not. And if your goal is to provide wall-to-wall WiFi, how do we do that? So how do we go about that? So, you know, WiFi would be one of those bases of the pyramid. That's a key core system that we want to have in place to build upon something else that we've seen is community engagement. So a big trend that we're doing a lot of projects on right now is resident engagement applications, and these apps are really cool. One of the things I wanted to mention too, that we're seeing a lot is this lifestyle smart home trend. You know, that is something that is being built into the plans in many cases. And again, that's that leverage of technology to make your community more competitive. So things like having a smart home hub where you can use IOT devices throughout the apartment for the residents can apply to wellness for the residents monitoring something that may be less invasive than pendants or bracelets.
Rachel: Yes, absolutely. That was great. Oh my gosh, we covered so much Amber in that short period of time, that was really, really rich. Thank you so much for sharing challenges, trends, and how we go about strategy. So if you had to for listeners, just kind of sum up your key takeaways, what are the top three? You know, this, this is kind of what listeners need to be thinking about based on this conversation.
Amber: Yeah, I think there's three key takeaways. I think, again, going back to that culture, I think that's really a great place to start. Evaluating where's your technology culture today and where do we want to elevate it to? And I think understanding that and technology's role in the community is really going to be the driver behind the other decisions and steps you take in technology with your community. I think the next step would be that strategy. So starting again, what do we know about where we are now and where do we want to go? And then very specifically, how do we get there with actual projects that will take you to that level, that you can actually have metrics around to measure your success. And then lastly would be partnerships. So technology is no longer just you know, an administrative function in the community. Technology really should be leveraged as a partnership between the technology side and then the business objectives and strategic goals. So I think bringing those together and defining how technology is going to partner with the community in the next steps in elevating technology.
Rachel: Thank you. Excellent. All right. So should we talk about what is to come next month? We are very excited for our next episode. So tune in next month, when we'll be joined by Ken Arneson, CEO of Evergreen Retirement Community in Oshkosh Wisconsin, where we'll discuss how to go about building a successful partnership and specifically how evergreen leveraged technology to take their community to the next level. Ken's wonderful and he's going to be great, this'll be fun. It's really going to be a fun podcast. So definitely make sure you tune in to it. Yeah, me too. Well, thanks everyone. And we'll see you next month.
Welcome to season 1, episode 1 of Raising Tech, your guide to understanding the role technology plays in your senior living business strategy and day-to-day operations. Our mission at Raising Tech is to educate and empower senior living providers to maximize their use of technology. This podcast is designed to be your monthly tech check-in to learn how best to optimize operations, establish tech as part of your organization’s competitive advantage, incorporate technology into your long-range vision and how to bring residents and employees along on the journey. Episodes will include everything from bringing senior living communities out of legacy systems and into streamlined infrastructures to developing a technology strategy designed for the next generation of residents and employees. Tune in for tech trends, hot topics and meet the people behind the tech landscape in senior living to gain practical tech knowledge you can apply in your organization today.
On today’s episode we meet the show’s host, Amber Bardon, CEO and founder of Parasol Alliance and Rachel Lugge, gerontologist and aging services expert and colleague of Amber’s at Parasol Alliance. In this episode, Amber describes her journey into senior living technology, highlighting the top challenges the senior living field is facing that surfaced the need for a holistic technology solution for providers. Amber discusses the silver lining of the 2020 pandemic - technology, and how providers are taking advantage of this opportunity to level up their technology strategy and drive their competitive advantage in the market.
Raising Tech is powered by Parasol Alliance, The Strategic Planning & Full-Service IT Partner exclusively serving Senior Living Communities.
Let’s start a conversation
Want to learn more about us?
Podcast questions or ideas?
Looking for client support?
Let us know!