Small IT Changes Have a Big Impact at Drayer Physical Therapy Institute

Neil Kaufman ensures the tech team at Drayer Physical Therapy Institute learns to crawl before it can run

Although Drayer Physical Therapy Institute is proud of its continuing expansion, nothing is more important to the company than providing the best possible care to patients. Drayer values service to its patients—from professional athletes to hardworking parents and grandparents—above all else. The company was founded in 2002 as a small business start-up and has grown at a rapid rate to more than 150 clinics in sixteen states, while maintaining its focus on patient care and its passion for making a real difference in people’s lives.

Making that transformation from small business to market leader is a major step, and it could be incredibly challenging. However, Drayer recognized the need for substantial change in information technology management if it were to remain competitive and continue to expand in an increasingly complex regulatory environment.

Enter Neil Kaufman, CIO. According to Kaufman, who arrived at Drayer in March 2015, there are two basic camps for CIOs: operators and transformers. Both are important, and some CIOs can do both, though usually there is a greater affinity for one over the other. Kaufman says that, initially, the job with Drayer was mainly a transformation job.

“My passion for change comes from solving big problems,” Kaufman says. “We envision the end state, do the necessary planning, and deliver in phases so that quick wins are established, thereby gaining the buy-in of our end customers.”

Kaufman and his team are motivated by the work that the physical therapists do every day. “Every one of our therapists is out there providing the best possible care they can to our patient customers,” he says. “The least we, as an IT team, can do is provide a solid systems platform to our clinicians that is available, reliable, and extensible—to be there when needed, to operate reliably, and to adapt to the changing needs of our business. I determined that’s how I would make my difference.”

Kaufman started by laying out a “Crawl, Walk, Run” transformation strategy. “It’s the phraseology we use around here when we look to solve a big problem,” he explains. “Trying to solve it all at once is always a daunting task. The key is to create a solid divide-and-conquer road map and then execute flawlessly.”

“My passion for change comes from solving big problems.”

The first order of business for Kaufman was the overall IT assessment—assessing the “crawl” phase. The result was a laundry list of to-dos. But with availability and reliability of critical systems in question, stabilization was critical. “You have to prioritize,” Kaufman says. “A proper assessment will always yield a big fat to-do list. But when a house is on fire, there isn’t much time to worry about the interior decorations. You have to put out the fire first.” Kaufman found that while he had some good people, there were some significant gaps in operational expertise, best practices, project and process management, and maximizing the benefits of existing information technology investments.

“My first day, our primary systems had gone down,” Kaufman recalls. “I come from a background where that cannot happen. So, it was an opportunity to see how the IT organization would react. I think the company was rather used to this sort of thing. We’ve come a long way since then.”

With the focus on stabilization, Kaufman and his team took a deep dive to gain a full understanding of the most critical systems in the enterprise, brought in expertise and some structured processes, and orchestrated changes that created a much more stable environment.

“Partnership with key vendors, bringing in the right expertise, and inspiring a make-a-difference attitude in the team went a long way to achieving that early crawl phase win that would enable us to move forward and build,” Kaufman says. “We found excellent partner relations with Raintree Systems, our practice management/ERM solution partner. Softcif, Inc. was a tremendous help filling our early staff expertise gaps in the areas of application development, enterprise architecture, and infrastructure. And the WGroup helped us make huge strides on the information security front.”

With stabilization achieved, Kaufman was able to take things to the next level. “For us, the walk phase says, ‘Now, we have to take a long look at our current architecture and systems, determine required changes, and execute on those changes to truly give us a solid foundation for growth,’” he says.

Kaufman relied on Drayer’s solution provider partners, like VMware, NetApp, and Cisco for this phase as well. The company had already spent a lot of money on these partnerships, and Kaufman’s job was to ensure that they were making the best use of their investments.

Drayer’s applications foundation revolves around the Raintree system and a data warehouse system intended to help make strategic decisions about the business. The data warehouse project was really never completed and had run far beyond its project schedules and budget.

“The partnership with Raintree was going strong, even though there was still more to do,” Kaufman says. “But the data warehouse was an outsourced project run amok. And when a project is spinning out of control like that, it’s a drain. We had to act.” Kaufman embarked on a dual-path plan to both stabilize the small set of
salvageable functions available in the data warehouse and, at the same time, to kick off a rewrite in the form of a new enterprise portal.

That portal would serve as the gateway to all of Drayer’s key applications. The company now has a much stronger systems infrastructure than it did two years ago, and system interruptions are few and far between. Kaufman’s insistence on permanently resolving the root causes of critical system problems has led to a dramatic reduction in service-affecting events.

After two years under Kaufman’s guidance, Drayer’s IT team finds itself approaching the run phase, which is about extension, expansion, and continuous improvement. Kaufman is excited to take the plunge into the cloud, which promises big benefits operationally, financially, and elastically. Drayer’s cloud-implementation plan includes both Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services. “Most of the big players are good, but it’s become clear that Amazon is the company that has made the biggest strides,” Kaufman says. “Their offering has compelled many huge enterprises to completely abandon their physical data centers and go all-in on Amazon.”

Kaufman knows he’ll need to pace himself and his team for the run phase, as the company and the healthcare industry continue to evolve. “Drayer is growing at almost 20 percent year over year, so there really isn’t a finish line,” he says. “The business changes, the industry changes, the regulatory environment changes. Our job is to react, and that requires flexibility, continuous improvement, and a focus on our customer’s needs.”