New WAN Decreases Costs, Increases Ability to Serve

Nov 28, 2021

As a large integrated healthcare provider, technology is key to annually serving the 1.5 million patients of OSF HealthCare (OSF), headquartered Peoria, Illinois.

OSF operates hospitals and clinics in 115 locations in Illinois and Michigan, employs 24,000 health care professionals and generates $3.3 billion annually. Founded in 1877, OSF Healthcare is a not-for-profit subsidiary of The Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis.

In 2008, its enterprise leased line Wide Area Network (WAN) was becoming an organizational albatross. Bandwidth requirements were growing 16% annually. Increasing expenses had to be capped. If not, within three years, WAN costs would reach crisis levels and in five years rise over 90%, which simply was not sustainable.

“Your network technology needs to stay at least two years ahead of your business to provide the optimal support and lowest risk,” Jim Mormann, CEO Integrated Solutions and CIO at OSF HealthCare.

WAN needed forward-thinking sustainable upgrade

To continue to serve its patients, OSF was searching for a forward-thinking way to increase the capacity, resiliency, and security of its enterprise network that would grow as the organization grew. OSF expects future growth to require at least 20X the bandwidth in use.

A pioneering solution was needed. “The hub-and-spoke, carrier service model that we were using did not provide us with the resiliency and economy of scale that we needed,” explained Jim Mormann, CEO Integrated Solutions and CIO at OSF HealthCare.

A new network would require a three-year capital investment of $11 million — and the courage of OSF senior leadership to support the innovative approach proposed by Mormann’s team. The plan was to implement a private network – a dark fiber, redundant, resilient 10 Gbps network that would increase bandwidth, offer the flexibility to adapt, scale capacity, tighten integration between LAN and WAN, improve environment reliability to 99.9%, and offer centralized control and cost efficiency.

The health care system also invested capital to create a private data center in Chicago, of which OSF is now a part owner and produces revenue for the organization.

Payback was four years ahead of its time.

OSF took a phased three-year approach to deploy the new network. The project paid for itself in three years, easily besting the original seven-year payback estimate.

The new network provided a more cost-effective networking approach, one that became more and more valuable through the years. “In 2007, we spent $1.3 million on WAN network services. By 2011, the number was $4 million, and we expected it to reach $7 million in 2014,” explained Dr. David Hall, Senior Vice President, Information Systems & Chief Information Officer at OSF HealthCare.

“Instead, we moved to a private fiber network and did not reach $7 million in WAN spending until 2019 — and at that time, our network was much larger and more dispersed than what we had in 2011. We did not realize it at the time, but installing the new network removed any possible cost and technology constraint, so top management could focus on growing the business aggressively and still control our operating costs,” added Dr. Hall.

“The greatest value from the backbone network is being able to support services that we did not even envision when we installed it a decade ago,” concluded OSF HealthCare’s Dr. Hall.

These included two-way, real-time video, real-time radiology image sharing between locations and storage area networks.

The new WAN resulted in greater control over application performance, network quality, bandwidth availability, and security. The change leveled the service playing field by lowering latency and improving availability, all while reducing operational costs.

Now all remote regions perform as if they were on the local campus network, so response time and service delivery improved tremendously. “Cloud simply cannot match the performance and flexibility of a fiber network,” noted Chris Telcott, Vice President, Chief Information Security Officer at OSF HealthCare.

The vision of the OSF leadership team more than a decade ago established the technology foundation that has enabled OSF to achieve its mission on many fronts. OSF gained control of their network, reduced its dependency on telecommunication service providers, secured patient and company data, created new revenue streams, and improved healthcare service delivery.

About OSF
OSF HealthCare is an integrated health system owned and operated by The Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis, headquartered in Peoria, Illinois.

OSF HealthCare employs over 24,000 Mission Partners in more than 350 locations, including 15 hospitals, more than 45 urgent care locations, and two colleges of nursing throughout Illinois and Michigan. The OSF HealthCare physician network employs 2,400+ primary care, specialist and advanced practice providers.

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