How Box saved two health care giants from squabbling during their merger

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When you think of about the merger of two large healthcare organizations, you probably wouldn't imagine them using a cloud file-sharing and collaboration tool to manage the myriad of documents related to the merger. Yet that's exactly what happened when Michigan's two biggest healthcare companies began talks to get together last year.

Tim Purves is IT director at Beaumont Health System, a regional healthcare provider in the Detroit area. He says that when they began merger talks with Henry Ford Health System, another Detroit area health care provider, they needed to find a common way to share the merger files -- and we are talking about thousands of files, as Purves explained to me.

They began by looking at SharePoint as a possible solution, but quickly realized with each of their instances of SharePoint sitting behind a firewall, it created issues around ownership and control of data. Wherever the files lived, that party could control them, and that didn't work for an on-going merger discussion.

It was apparent they needed a more neutral solution, and the cloud seemed like a logical place. After rejecting SharePoint, they began looking at some other options including Box and some software-as-a-service legal management tools, which Purves chose not to name. 

Purves was familiar with Box, as were his counterparts at Henry Ford, but it was not necessarily an easy sell to the IT teams on either side. He said when he first brought up Box, IT pushed back. "When we proposed this, I had high-level IT people saying we are not putting this in the cloud," he said. 

Purves was the project lead defining the solution. He had experience with Henry Ford, having been CTO there, so he knew the players. He dug into the security aspects of the Box solution, including authentication and control and as he worked with everyone, both parties began to come to an agreement.

As final steps, he put together a mini-proposal where he outlined any issues and explained how they were mitigated. Finally, he launched a mini proof of concept in which he built the structure of the merger, set up the project directory, and took other preliminary steps. By the time he was finished, Purves says he had agreement from all sides.

That's because the solution had a certain simplicity to it.

As Purves put it, "He who uploaded the files owned the data." They used shared folders as a means of sharing files across the system, and each party could invite the other to view the files. That way, if the merger talks ever broke down, they could simply uninvite them and the files would still exist in place, but only the owner would have access. Univiting the other party would take less than an hour.

The ability to audit usage has been a big advantage, too. They can see where documents go and how they are shared, and pick up if a document has been put in the wrong folder.

To appease the security hawks they shut off file syncing, but still allowed mobile access via the browser on the iPad. Users can edit in place in Box in the browser, then upload the edited file to the appropriate folder in the repository. In fact, Beaumont has 5,000 iPads deployed in their organization.

They also simplified access to Box by linking it to their single sign-on tool, something that his counterparts at Henry Ford didn't do and which proved a pain point for them. As it turned out, one of the biggest issues was the complexity of the directory structure, but Purves says that wasn't a Box issue so much as an information architecture one. 

But they did have an issue with how Box defined Groups. He said the original plan was to define groups of users and define rights based on where the individual worked. But Box doesn't allow external users in Groups, so they switched gears and applied that security at the folder level instead. (A Box spokesperson said they are looking into changing how Groups operate as a result of this experience.)

They also tried using Documents Rights Management, but that didn't work as smoothly as they would have liked in the fast-moving environment of a merger. "When we saw how complex it was we turned it off," he said. 

Beaumont has begun experimenting with other uses for Box, including a smaller rollout for the Pancreatic Cyst Tumor Registry, which is a group of doctors who can discuss issues related to this disease, start documents, have conversations, all the things you can do in Box.

And he expects that later, Box will replace public file shares and the current system of distributing secure USB drives, which is is expensive and not terribly efficient or popular. 

Purves says he has the support of the CIO on this and other projects and that helps when it comes to pushing the organization in new directions like this. For now, the merger project is moving along and the tool is doing its job. That should be the goal of any IT pro.

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