How to Solve an Infrastructure Puzzle

Jenny Stanley unraveled MedAssets’ complex web of data centers built over years of growth and acquisition

Challenge

Jenny Stanley’s entry into IT was a complete fluke. As a self-described “organized person,” she loved putting together a plan and then striving to accomplish it, seeing  tangible results. As her career evolved, from finance to telecom and finally to IT, she found that being structured and methodical in her work made her a perfect fit in IT, and more specifically, on the health-care side of the industry. As senior vice president of technology operations for MedAssets, a healthcare performance improvement company focused on enhancing financial and operational systems for providers, these same attributes greatly benefitted her team during one of the company’s largest undertakings: consolidating their data centers.

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Jenny Stanley, Med Assets, SVP of Technology Operations

“MedAssets had acquired a number of companies over the years that were never quite integrated, so our level of complexity wasn’t sustainable,” Stanley says. “This made our risks above what was acceptable. We had to pull together a high-level, multiyear plan about how we were going to consolidate these data centers, because it wasn’t a matter of if a disastrous event would impact our customers and our ability to serve them, but when.”

Solution

Knowing where to begin unraveling the data center consolidation was challenging. From a financial perspective, there was an area that made sense to begin with, Stanley says, but from a risk perspective, another area also made sense. “Then you had dependencies to consider. We may have been in the middle of delivering a major application for a customer, so it wasn’t really the time to move a data center. A lot of different aspects had to go into the planning alone,” she says.

What it really came down to was figuring out how to make the consolidation work without any major interruptions to MedAssets’ ability to deliver to its clients. The solution: during one of the biggest phases of the data center consolidation, MedAssets had a key piece of the puzzle going from one data center to the other every weekend for months.

Off The Clock, Helping Kids Learn

While Jenny Stanley served on the board of her Homeowner’s Association, news broke that test scores at a local, neighborhood school had plummeted severely. People in her sleepy neighborhood, mostly composed of retired families, expressed their concerns about how the school’s sad reputation reflected poorly on the community.

Tired of feeling helpless, Stanley set up a meeting with the school’s principal and learned that what was desperately needed was tutors, so she decided to do something about it. She founded a tutoring program that pairs retired community members eager to help with children in need of academic guidance.

Not long after, the school saw improvements in test scores. “I felt so strongly about this because we have to invest in our kids,” Stanley said. “It’s easy to not get involved in difficult situations, but it’s everyone’s responsibility to get involved. We can’t expect schools to take on all of this alone. It’s a community issue.”

“We took different pieces—the smallest, most viable pieces possible—in order to reduce the risk, reduce the impact, and reduce the amount of time we were down before we were fully migrated,” Stanley says.

The challenges were real and wide-ranging, starting with a partnership that was less than ideal. Stanley says MedAssets didn’t have the expertise to migrate data centers when the project started, so they partnered with a company that, simply put, didn’t make a great fit, making the migration seem “long, drawn out, and painful.” Ending that partnership and developing a new one with a company that had a more solid approach and methodology was a game-changer.

“They were very honest and told us if we weren’t delivering what we needed to be delivering,” Stanley says of the new partner. “We really needed someone to hold us accountable because, at the time, we were being pulled in a lot of different directions.”

Once the proper partnership was in place, it was just a matter of allocating the right resources—another major challenge. To consolidate data centers, resources had to be pulled from teams to keep the company’s environment up and running. Figuring out how to augment staff, and how to get needed support without impacting day-to-day business, was key.

There was also the matter of legacy applications. Some applications were over ten years old and the people who built them were no longer with the company. Stanley says she and the team didn’t necessarily know everything they needed to about the legacy application, and the best they could do was dig to find information about them and evaluate risk based on what they found.

“Deciding when to pull the trigger could feel scary,” Stanley says with a laugh. “We had to say, ‘OK, I think we know enough. We know there are things we don’t know, but we have the right staff in place to help us in case something horrible happens.’ It was a very interesting time.”

Results

When the SVP can “absolutely” characterize something as a success, there’s no question that it was, and Stanley says MedAssets’ data center consolidation was successful in multiple ways. It was also a hard-won success. Planning began in 2011, with the first major data center consolidation occurring during the summer of 2013. In 2014, another phase lasted almost eight months, and in 2015, there was a four-month phase.

Overall, MedAssets has seen improved performance and fewer issues relating to infrastructure. Applications can now be easily examined when the team is looking to expand on them, and the company’s business standards are tighter and better aligned from a regulatory standpoint.

“It wasn’t a matter of if a disastrous event would impact our customers and our ability to serve them, but when.”

“I’m not going to lie, there were moments when this felt extremely painful to get through,” Stanley says. “In 2014, we had a team that worked every weekend for the entire summer. I think about all the time they spent away from their families. But we pulled through it and, in the end, we’re better for it.”