Q&A with Sanford Health’s CIO: Innovating in Healthcare with Workday

Sanford Health is an integrated health system headquartered in the Dakotas. It is the largest rural, not-for-profit healthcare system in the nation with 44 hospitals and 291 clinics in nine states as well as locations in four other countries. Sanford Health has more than 28,000 employees, including nearly 1,400 physicians in more than 80 specialty areas of medicine.

In August, Sanford Health selected Workday Human Capital Management, Workday Financial Management, and supply chain management capabilities for healthcare to support the organization’s initiatives of delivering the best patient experience. Josh Robinson, vice president and chief information officer at Sanford Health, shares how the organization plans to enhance the patient experience by improving the employee experience.

What business challenges are you facing with your current system?

Josh Robinson - Sanford Health
Josh Robinson

We are operating on an archaic, 30-year-old payroll system and have no HR system of record. Our teams are burdened by the labor-intensive, manual work required to interact with the system. These cumbersome processes around payroll, benefits, and onboarding prohibit our teams from contributing to our goals in improving the patient experience. After seeing the benefits of transitioning to electronic medical records across 44 hospitals and hundreds of clinics, it became clear there was an opportunity to modernize our back office as well.

Because of our current system constraints, we are operating in a culture in which information is pushed out to employees. We’ve had to closely guide our teams and managers through different processes, resulting in low employee engagement because they were so tedious. This isn’t an effective or scalable approach, and our employees aren’t able to seek out the information they need based on their job roles, existing knowledge, and interests. To retain our top talent, we realized we needed a system that could foster a more proactive, self-service approach.

“Organizations need to rely on one source of truth and have intuitive systems and collaboration tools to support their employees.”
—Josh Robinson, VP and CIO at Sanford Health

Workday will allow our leadership and staff to do things on a self-service basis and understand the impact certain things have on the rest of the organization and on the patient experience. With the back-office work involved across our key areas of operation—from finance to HR to supply chain—it can sometimes be hard to make a connection with what’s happening on the front lines, but it’s so critical.

As an integrated health system, how do you ensure the patient experience is consistent?

Delivering a consistent patient experience requires delivering the same care and messages across each center of care. This can be challenging when you consider there are different ways to practice medicine as well as different physicians and nurses who deliver the care. To align your staff around the patient experience, organizations need to rely on one source of truth and have intuitive systems and collaboration tools to support their employees.

At Sanford, we’ve done a lot of great work using clinical data to improve our data analytics structure. However, there is also a lot of operational, back office data involved that our current system doesn’t support as a lot of the data we need isn’t easily accessible. This type of data is critical because it impacts employee decisions and qualifies how they’re operating.

How is Sanford innovating as a healthcare organization?

We recognize that we need to be more than a healthcare delivery organization, which is essentially where you go when you need to see a doctor or get a procedure done. For our business to be viable and sustainable, we need to deliver an end-to-end experience for consumers.

Aside from our healthcare delivery systems, we have a robust research and development division that has a branch focused on partnering with leading pharmaceutical and medical device companies. We also offer small to mid-sized health plans and are rolling out profile stores for healthy lifestyle management that include lines of food designed by physicians. In terms of our philanthropic initiatives, we provide top-of-the-line Western medicine to underserved areas around the world. Healthcare organizations are in the business of saving lives, and we’re committed to doing that beyond the doctor’s office.

How does Sanford plan to improve its back-office functions?

There are three legs of the stool: finance, HR, and IT. Finance is responsible for everything from accounting to analytics and the revenue cycle, and HR manages the talent and ensures we have the right people to deliver the best experiences. For a long time, IT in general—agnostic of any industry—has been a heads-down, hands-on shop. Today, IT aspires to be a strategic business partner that not only understands and maintains technology but shares analysis and insights with the entire organization.

“Our move to having one system of record in the cloud allows IT to be a better partner for finance and HR.”
—Josh Robinson, VP and CIO at Sanford Health

As Sanford has grown through mergers and acquisitions, we’ve tried to manage our corporate services centrally. Unfortunately, that hasn’t always worked. For example, while we had one CHRO managing the HR function, each legacy organization we merged with was still delivering services the same way they always did. We weren’t functioning as one cohesive organization.

As we started the process of transforming our organization, we began evaluating how we could better deliver HR services. We quickly realized that we wouldn’t be able to do it the right way without technology to support the transformation, and without alignment and visibility across the different functions. Our move to having one system of record in the cloud allows IT to be a better partner for finance and HR, and it will allow our entire organization to operate and scale better as a result.

Workday will provide us with more visibility into the costs and performance of our workforce and organization, and give us insight into how we’re delivering services across our different locations. Take, for example, supply chain management, which is a critical business function in healthcare. Having the right item at the right time for the right person—every single time—is a matter of life and death.

What features stood out as being the most beneficial to your organization?

Workday will allow us to deliver an employee experience that aligns with the innovations we’ve made on the consumer side. Putting the power of Workday into the hands of our supply chain and finance users was a compelling data point in our decision to move forward with a unified platform.

It will also help us streamline our business processes like PTO and timecard approval. In some departments, our leaders may have 200 direct reports including nursing and support staff, and managing that administratively with our current system is burdensome.

Another differentiator of Workday is around talent management and reporting. Sanford operates locations in rural areas, where it can be tough to recruit and retain nursing and physician talent, especially when you’re competing nationwide. With Workday, we will be able to drill into why certain markets have turnover and figure out how we can correct in real-time. In addition, we can develop and track talent pools that will allow us to more effectively recruit new talent. With our current system, that type of data took weeks or months to get, and we didn’t know if it was accurate.

What advice would you give to other healthcare leaders as they look to replace their legacy systems?

Be sure to engage your nursing leadership early on. We included our nursing directors and executives very early in the evaluation process and gave them visibility into how Workday could help with the challenges they were running into. Not surprisingly, the nursing leadership, along with our other business partners like those doing data analytics, became the biggest advocates throughout the organization.