University Clinic Aachen Sets Its Sight on SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud

The German city of Aachen’s university hospital, Uniklinik RWTH Aachen, is moving its IT to the cloud. Faster analyses are not the only benefit; the migration will also help the hospital attract external funding. The final destination? SAP S/4HANA.

At first sight, Germany’s electronic health record system eFA seems to have little to do with Uniklinik RWTH Aachen’s decision to migrate their entire IT system to a managed cloud by December 2016. For Volker Lowitsch, CIO of Uniklinik RWTH Aachen and CEO of the subsidiary Healthcare IT Solutions, the two are very definitely connected. He believes that the future of healthcare lies in networks that enable patients to receive the best possible treatment.

“It is our job to process, analyze, and provide data in a network,” says Lowitsch. He is thinking in particular about patients who require the university clinic Aachen’s unique expertise and competencies, not patients with less critical conditions such as appendicitis. In this case, an external neurologist with special qualifications in nervous system signal analysis is called in when necessary.

The growing significance of personalized medicine and research on the leading causes of ill-health became clear when, in November 2015, the German government made IT in medicine part of its Digital Agenda program. Under the program, Germany will set up data integration centers in which anonymized medical data can be collected and evaluated. So far, there are 120 service providers connected by the electronic health record system eFA, which, for instance, allows patients to access operation notes, doctors’ letters, and x-ray images on an app.

Big Data

Therefore, Big Data is an important part of CIO Lowitsch’s strategy. Initial trials with SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud have shown that the analyses run faster and employees can utilize all of the opportunities they bring.

“Anonymized results are made available for research,” Lowitsch explains. “Our job is to group patients with similar illnesses in a cohort and analyze the common factors.” The ultimate goal is to improve predictive analytics to a point at which serious illnesses such as sepsis can be detected and treated much earlier.

And there’s another advantage: “The better the analyses, the higher the chances of securing external funding,” Lowitsch believes. He has been using SAP HANA in SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud for his analyses since May, and by the end of November migrated all systems, from BI and sales to management and even personal systems, to the SAP-operated managed cloud.

The Business Case for Cloud

The path to the cloud was not easy, not for technical reasons, but rather due to organizational obstacles. It took Lowitsch about a year to persuade management to transition to the cloud. These were the arguments that finally won them over:

  • Keep pace with innovation: Public sector pay levels make it hard to attract SAP experts. To keep pace with SAP’s latest developments and be able to operate an innovative SAP HANA platform, the best option for Uniklinik RWTH Aachen was to buy according to its needs. The IT department no longer has to deal with patches or enhancement packages, yet it can use the latest functions that enable innovative processes.
  • Simplified data integration: SAP HANA (for example with SAP Connected Health) offers the best strategic solution for using and structuring data from various systems, including the hospital information system medico, through an extendable generic data model. This makes analyzing medical data much easier and much faster.
  • Transparency: The new architecture is the foundation on which highly complicated symptoms can be analyzed, and that provides researchers with medical data, makes financial KPIs easier to manage, and increases the chances of securing funding through greater transparency.

However, management still had some accounting concerns. Whereas IT systems were recorded in the income statement as government investments, cloud technologies would be operating expenses.

“This means we have to finance this huge sum from our medical activities,” explains Lowitsch, who has no doubt that the investment will pay off. “If you look beyond the short-term perspective, the opportunities the new system has to offer will clearly benefit us.”

Transition to SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud in Four Months

SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud is just the first step toward the new generation SAP Business Suite SAP S/4HANA. “Though the processes are running on SAP HANA so far, we are still using the old system,” Lowitsch says. All this is about to change: Lowitsch plans to move away from data aggregations toward more transparent and accelerated processes. Why did he not move to SAP S/4HANA in one step?

“We didn’t want to overwhelm our users with new processes and a completely new interface. First, we wanted to stabilize our existing applications and experience the increased speed through SAP HANA,” says Lowitsch. “Look at it this way: It’s no use switching from a Golf to a Porsche and still driving as if you were in the Golf.”

That is why they decided to take it step by step. They have already completed the first one: In just four months, SAP and Uniklinik RWTH Aachen’s IT department moved the core system with SAP ERP, SAP Business Warehouse, and HCM/HR management to the cloud. Without the network provider’s waiting times, the project would have been completed in just three months.