Thursday, March 11, 2010

Subject Matter Experts

A challenge in all IT organizations is achieving a balance between central control and local/departmental autonomy. Our approach is to clearly define roles and responsibilities such that IT is responsible for infrastructure, databases, security, interfaces, and data integrity while partnering with the business owner for subject matter expertise. Here's the detail:

There are immediate and long-term elements of an application implementation and the ongoing support of the application that are beyond what the IT Department can reasonably be expected to manage, maintain or support.

These may include, but not necessarily be limited to: customer financial responsibilities associated with managing or maintaining the application; vendor or sales contacts and interactions specific to the product lifecycle, licensing or application functionality; user management issues specific to the use, functionality, workflow or impact of the application.

Some of these responsibilities may be assumed by the customer’s or department’s management staff (“Application Owner”) while others may be assumed by a staff member who possesses the depth of knowledge or expertise associated with or required to run the customer’s or department’s daily operation.

This person is usually referred to as the “Subject Matter Expert” or “SME”. The SME is very important to not only assisting in the application’s development and implementation but in also maintaining the long-term use and effectiveness of the application within the department.

The responsibilities outlined below are those that require ownership by the Application Owner and by the SME. They are specific to financial management, vendor relationship management or non-technical maintenance and support requirements that can be most effectively handled by the owner or SME. To clarify the use of the term “non-technical”: there is no requirement or expectation that the owner or SME will possess either knowledge or understanding about the workstation or server operating system, hardware or configuration or the programming, support or configuration of the software application.

A. Solution / Application Financial Management
* Budgeting and procurement of funds associated with the ongoing management and maintenance the Solution/Application throughout its lifecycle, which may include but may not be limited to: hardware, software, licensing, maintenance and support contacts, and other equipment and/or services/agreements that may be required.
* Budgeting and procurement of funds that may be required to secure the services of a third-party vendor(s) for any solution component (hardware or software) that is not supported by the IS Department. The sponsor/ owner is responsible for all expenses and liability associated with any agreement(s) or service(s) contracted between them and the vendor.

B. Vendor Relationship Management
* Manage vendor relationship and maintain current vendor-related information; i.e., Account Manager and contact information
* Maintain product line awareness through routine communications with the vendor or your Sales Account Manager.
* Manage application licensing requirements (identify/forecast needs) and communicate expenses or requirements to your department’s financial resource.

C. Subject Matter Expert (SME) and Use Management
* Possess an understanding of the department’s business or clinical workflow requirements.
* Serve as the contact person to whom any HIPAA or compliance issues may be directed, specifically related to the data being entered into the application.
* Serve as the department’s liaison to the IS Help Desk to facilitate IS involvement in basic troubleshooting, problem identification and escalation paths to technical experts or the vendor.
* Maintain availability as the primary contact to whom the IS Department can communicate outages or technology issues that may impact the area’s productivity or ability to provide critical services.
* Identify, establish and maintain downtime procedures to deal with IT outages that may negatively impact the application’s availability and potentially the department’s productivity or ability to meet its mission or objectives.
* Facilitate departmental user training to ensure efficiency and optimal productivity by providing on-the-job training or working with the vendor to arrange for third-party training.
* Participate with IT staff and vendor representatives in discussions that involve the implementation of application (version) changes that may have an impact the department’s workflow, productivity or the application’s (end-user’s) functionality.
* Maintain (working) knowledge of the application user interface; i.e., the ways in which the product is designed to interact with the user in terms of text menus, checkboxes, text or graphical information and keystrokes, mouse movements required to control the application; as well as, report creation/generation and other information about the use of the application that is essential to the day-to-day operation and productivity of the department.
* Perform any routine vendor-recommended or -required user-related performance or integrity checks.
* Create user-specific policies and/or procedures that may be required to address appropriate departmental use and functionality.
* Describe how critical the application is in meeting the mission and objectives of the department in providing services or in maintaining productivity.
* Maintain awareness of vendor version updates that may impact the department’s workflow, productivity or application’s (end-user’s) functionality.
* The primary contact for vendor and the recipient of media related to application upgrades, updates, patches or other application related materials or information.
* Work with IS to coordinate/facilitate required software upgrades/updates that may impact departmental/user productivity.
* Provide application-level account management responsibilities that may include: Defining user access rights or authorizing user accounts.
* Provide on-site first response for end-user issues related to end-user application performance or functionality issues.

The responsibilities listed above are discussed in detail by IT throughout the application’s implementation and will be reviewed with the SME when the Support Level Agreement (SLA) is finalized. If at any time during these discussions there are items that are unclear, ambiguous or that cannot be adequately managed or maintained by the SME or a resource within the application owner’s department, they should be immediately identified and discussed with the IS Manager.
If, during the application implementation or subsequent support discussions, it is determined that the solution/application is identified as being critical to the provision of patient care or to a core or enterprise-wide critical function, the application owner or SME will be asked to identify a back up Subject Matter Expert.

I hope this is helpful to your application implementations. It works for us!


Marcus M. Werners said...

Excellent description and right on time for a discussion we are having here in Zurich.
Thank you for sharing!

Anonymous said...

I'd add more "partnering" with IS language - developing business requirements, reviewing releases or system feature/function changes and participating in user acceptance testing to assure the end product addresses all items in the business requirement appropriately.

Unknown said...

In this organizational model, a) is there a negotiated service level agreement in place between IT and the business owner for system performance, availability and disaster recovery? and, b) does IT accept any application software a business owner proposes, or is there an advertised IT department standard technology platform on which a proposed product must prove to be compliant before acceptance?

John Halamka said...

Here's the detail on our service level agreements

All applications are reviewed by an enterprise wide resource allocation committee, which prioritizes capital expenses and ensures all software complies with IT standards for architecture, security, and disaster recovery.