Cerner: An automation effort that was rewarded—and awarded

Written by Jordan McMahon in Stories from the front lines on September 23, 2014

ROI, or return on investment, is what drives businesses. For every dollar spent, a business hopes to get two (or more) back, either in cost savings (easier to quantify) or increased profits (potentially uncapped). Of course, returns do not have to be purely monetary: savings in time and increases in job and customer satisfaction are all advantages as well. But perhaps the most eloquent proof of return is in the independent audit of the benefit seen by a real user.

Cerner: The picture of ROI

roiCerner Corporation is a global supplier of healthcare information technology solutions, services, devices and hardware. Their mission? To contribute to the improvement of health care delivery and the health of communities. As such, their technology connects people and systems at more than 14,000 facilities worldwide.

Cerner’s Ambulatory division found themselves in the midst of a dilemma. A main job function for the team was to set up EMR systems for doctor’s offices and clinics. These providers’ records were housed in several different applications, spreadsheets, and formats—including paper. With their workload growing, system engineers determined that their manual processes were clunky and could potentially introduce errors.

They began investigating solutions for reducing manual data entry and conversion, and accelerating the process of bringing new clients online with EMRs. No matter what, the solution they chose would have to read Excel data and transmit it seamlessly to other Cerner tools, along with validating via log files and screenshots that the data was being built accurately. Automation software met all of their requirements—and the proof was in the ROI.

The average annual benefit to the company of using Automation Anywhere was calculated to be over $130,000. The payback period was six months and the return on investment was 628%: in other words, compared to the total cost of setting up the project (acquiring the software license, deploying staff, for example), the company made its money back over six-fold.

Ben Mitchell, a system engineer with Cerner Ambulatory summarized the success:

In addition to being able to accomplish tasks faster and with less direct interaction from a human, our processes are being accomplished more reliably and with fewer errors. Automation Anywhere also allows us to better organize and store validation data related to our client builds, making it easier to reference how a client was built in the past.

The figures were researched and calculated by Nucleus Research, an independent company. Nucleus Research identified a number of key benefits including increases in productivity as Cerner started to automate software activities, and acceleration in EHR project delivery to clients. Quantifying these benefits and auditing the project costs led to the return on investment and financial benefits described above. This particular ROI case study resulted in an ROI award from Nucleus—truly the cherry on the sundae for an organization that continues to harness the power of automation today.

Some ROI takeaways from Cerner's success? 

ROI Factors and Calculations

Figuring out return on investment on a solution is typically a question of comparing what you spent or earned before, with the cost of the solution and what you spend or earn now. By making a list of different activities and the changes (for example, you automate software installation instead of using the manual process of before), you calculate the time and money saved. Make a note of any intangible benefits such as enhanced company service record, increased number of customer endorsements, and so on.

Taking Time into Account

When you make your savings (or your increased profits) may be as important as how much they are. The value of money changes with time, typically because of inflation. A dollar saved now is worth more than a dollar saved in a year’s time, because that other dollar will have less buying power in the future (the price of everything goes up over time). Similarly, for a fixed amount of money, if you can delay spending, you’ll also be ‘spending less’ in the future – just remember to invest the spending money wisely to make the most of interest payments during the intervening period.

Shorter Payback Periods are Better

With the above in mind, your ideal project finances would show project expenditure mostly happening shortly before the results started; and the bulk of the positive results arriving rapidly after the project being started. Similarly, the payback period – the time it takes for the financial gains to cover the costs associated with the project – should be as short as possible. The longer a payback period becomes, the more the buying power of each dollar earned weakens as it arrives later and later in time.

Want to get the whole Cerner story? Head here to read the official Nucleus case study.

Photo credit: jfcherry via photopin cc