Behind the scenes of Digital Health: how in-house software development, agile and DevOps are creating a new playing field in the Health Sector.

If you are working in the health sector, you can’t go anywhere without being bombarded by products, solutions, conferences and even mainstream news articles about how digitalization is transforming health. From smart pills and blood sugar-measuring contact lenses, to Fitbits and smart-heart monitoring shoes, the market is awash with disruptive products that are trying to etch out their corner of the digital and connected health market.

While at surface this may seem like marketing tech-hype, under the surface, a fundamental transformation is taking place that is reshaping the way the health industry engages with customers, manages its IT systems and carries out business. Gone are the days when providing a physical drug product, a device or face-to-face service is enough. Even in the pharmaceutical industry where regulators, healthcare professionals and health systems stand between consumers and drug producers, customers are coming to expect supporting online platforms that allow them to engage personally with their treatment and recover process. In the public sector, an aging population is driving up healthcare costs and delivery of online health-support, and telemedicine will be essential in bridging the gap between costs, needs and expectations. None of this will be possible without a paradigm shift in the way companies and organisations see themselves. A change is needed from viewing software as tools that are bought or built to support internal functions to making IT the center of customer engagement, agile business operations and market success.

For this to become a reality, IT in the health sector will need to start thinking and acting like a start-up; applying customer-centric product design, agile software developments and a DevOps approach. By automating many repetitive tasks and having developers work directly alongside operations in testing and securing software as its coded, companies can quickly create and adapt software to meet the changing needs of their market. Despite the obvious advantages of increased agility and flexibility, the health sector has lagged behind in adopting DevOps. Some blame regulation for slower innovation in health IT, however, this has not been a barrier to other regulated industries like finance and banking which have been swept by a DevOps revolution.

Part of my job as a conference producer in Health IT, involves speaking to 100s of health professionals who are working at the “coal face” and know on a daily basis what it’s like trying to find the balance between agility and stability in large slow-moving organisations. In these conversations, there is a real mix of approaches with some having never heard of DevOps and others fighting to get their senior managers on-board in breaking down the silos between development and operations, and moving towards continuous integration and delivery of software. Other companies have led this from the top and with the recent announcement by the CIO of AstraZeneca that in-house software development and DevOps will be the number one tech priorities in the coming years, it seems the competitive advantages of early adoption are already clear.

Moving forward, there is much that needs to be defined for software developers trying to bridge the gap between “born agile, breathe DevOps” companies like NetFlix and Spotify and the slow-to-change and careful approaches more common in Healthcare. This is a good thing, because the last thing anybody wants is “fail-fast, fail-early” approach with 15 second live-release cycles if the software is supporting life-critical systems in a hospital. Into the future, the conversation that needs to be had is around “how to marry DevOps with regulation reporting”, “what is the right agility/stability equation for different healthcare environments”, “how can we use an agile approach in integrating existing platforms” and, “how do we balance the build or buy ratio for both internal business systems and customer facing software”.

To allow these important conversations to take place, I am launching the first ever industry-driven conference on agile software development and DevOps in the Health sector called Health:CODE 2017 which will take place November 27 – 28, 2017 in Berlin, Germany. This will be a must attend event for IT leaders, strategists and software developers from across the health space and in the program you will get the chance to hear from trend-setters from across the Medtech, Pharmaceutical and public and private health sectors. From the Chief Architects of NHS, the CTO of GE Healthcare, to the VP of DevOps from UCB and AstraZeneca, this is the place to join the conversation and make sure you are at the front of the wave that is currently sweeping digital services in health.

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