Cloud Providers Look to Further Serve the Healthcare Vertical – Futurum Tech Webcast

In this episode of the Futurum Tech Webcast, host Daniel Newman and I discussed how cloud providers are looking to further serve the healthcare vertical, which represents a whole lot of market potential.

In our conversation, we explored the following:

We also discussed how cloud providers’ computing capability and scale are crucial in supporting these efforts during the pandemic and beyond and touched on the continued importance of security and patient privacy issues as it relates to cloud and healthcare. They agreed there is increased risk during implementation and transformation and that cloud providers must make sure that not only is service “always on” but that serving up an “always secure” cloud environment remains a top priority.

You can watch the episode here:

or grab the podcast version here:

Keep an eye out for our upcoming market insight reports that will cover Cloud for Financial Services and Cloud for Healthcare.

Disclaimer: The Futurum Tech Podcast is for information and entertainment purposes only. Over the course of this podcast, we may talk about companies that are publicly traded and we may even reference that fact and their equity share price, but please do not take anything that we say as a recommendation about what you should do with your investment dollars. We are not investment advisors and we do not ask that you treat us as such.

Other insights from the Futurum Team:

Amazon’s AWS MetroPlus Chatbot Delivered a Significant Assist to a Nonprofit Insurer

Google’s COVID-19 Shift: Adjusting Search and Maps to Identify Telehealth Sources

The COVID-19 Driven Evolution of the Financial Services Sector

Image Credit: Information Age



Daniel Newman: Welcome to the Futurum Tech Podcast. I’m your host today, Daniel Newman, Principal Analyst, and Founding Partner at Futurum Research. And excited to add a new series of shows to the Futurum Tech Podcast, where I will be having some one-on-one discussions with the team here at Futurum Research.

This first edition, the very first kicking off, is with our Senior Analyst, Sarah Wallace, that covers a wide swath of technologies for us, but it has a number of specialty areas of focus, and over the last few months, it’s been vertically integrated cloud and how clouds are basically moving to more of a vertical focus. We’ll talk more about that and we’ll cover that throughout the show. But first and foremost, Sarah, excited to have you on. How are you doing today?

Sarah Wallace: I’m great, Daniel. Thanks for having me today.

Daniel Newman: It’s a lot of fun to get with the team. I’ve done a ton of interviews over the last couple of months, the COVID induced podcasting bonanza. In the last three or four years, probably did 300 or 400 podcasts, which sounds like a lot. But I could actually say between somewhere around March 15th and June 1st, I did another 120.

So it’s been a heck of a ride, but it’s also been a lot of fun. It’s a lot of fun to have the opportunity to use a new platform to rapidly digitalize the business, to shift our business practices, to deliver new kinds of conversations, and provide a platform for our team, including me and you, as well as our customers, to get in deep and talk about important issues in technology, identify trends, and share what’s going on there.

So anyway, welcome everybody to the show. Really appreciate everyone that tunes in. Always noted that it is the community of folks that pay attention to what we’re saying and what we’re doing here at Futurum Research that has helped us grow the business and hopefully deliver content that’s really high impact for you.

So today on this show, Sarah, I want to talk to you because over the last a couple of months, you’ve turned your attention to vertical specific cloud plays. You recently wrote a report that’s due to come out any day. And in fact, by the time you actually are listening to this podcast, there’s a good chance that it may already be out, about vertical focused clouds in finance.

So let’s start there. What caught your attention, Sarah, when it came to vertical focused clouds? Why is this, besides maybe being commissioned into a swimlane, which we don’t do as much here at Futurum as other places, what really caught your attention and got you excited about vertical focused clouds.

Sarah Wallace: Sure. I remember in the last decade, especially when we started out with cloud services, it was just a matter of companies really trusting the cloud. Getting used to having some of their crucial operations put in the cloud, some of their crucial data. And over the years now, there’s been more of a demand for having certain verticals. There’s the horizontal play.

But for instances, verticals like telecom or financial services, or we’re going to talk about later today, healthcare, there’s very specific unique demands for these types of plays. So you have highly regulated verticals, not only regulation, but you have very specific, unique, different capabilities that need to be met.

So the cloud players, now that they have different companies trusting them, they’re looking to be laser focused on serving these areas. Traditionally, these are areas that have a large number of customers, millions of customers across the country. They want to transform their operations and the cloud players now want to be able to accommodate them.

So financial services, a great example, in this past fall, we had Bank of America and IBM, they announced their financial services ready cloud. We also have AWS has a history with financial services players such as Capital One. I did a market insight report, really placing the emphasis on how cloud players are really being laser focused on vertical plays.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, that’s terrific. To add a little color to that, so you had the IBM, Bank of America launch, that was the preemptive vertical cloud. But as you mentioned, Azure, AWS, Google, all these companies are starting to really think about that over the last, just past few days. In fact, this morning IBM announced two new vertical cloud plays in their finance space, so that was timely on your end.

The first was CATIA Bank in Spain in a deal that I didn’t get size when I had the briefing with the customer. But after reviewing what they are doing for CATIA Bank, it’s looking like a more than a billion dollar vertical cloud deal. Another one in South Korea today, a credit card company, Lotte Card, or Lot Card, I don’t know how you say it, so if you know, correct me. But that’s a large credit card company, it’s used in Korea, also turning to IBM for its vertically focused cloud capabilities. And also using OpenShift.

Because there’s a couple of big trends, and this might be a nice caveat over to healthcare, Sarah. Enterprises are going to go to hybrid. It’s emphatic at this point. Early in the rise of cloud, everybody said, “Oh, cloud will take over the world. Everything’s going to be in the cloud.” And even today now more than a decade of cloud later, 20%, 25% of workloads are in the public cloud, so it’s still a pretty small number.

But what has been seemingly agreed upon by enterprises big and small is that hybrid cloud is really going to be the way forward, hybrid architectures. And really, we’re even seeing another level of pivot with hybrid architectures, Kubernetes, and open source containers towards really multicloud. Where companies are saying, “We want to put our workloads in the best cloud and the best geographic region that is most accommodating, that offers the security, sovereignty, redundancy that is required to run operations seamlessly, and have availability, capacity, scalability, all be high in any geo, in any region, for any application, customer facing, or used internally in an organization.”

Sorry, I realize I’m babbling on about this, but I think it’s an important point because there are certain industries like financial services that just are never going to be tailored to be used in pure cloud en masse. There’s just too many data challenges, too many security challenges, privacy.

And banks, they do not have high risk tolerance, so they have to be very thoughtful. But at the same time, open source cloud offers a huge amount of scalability for these companies. These companies cannot entirely avoid utilization of the cloud. And I think that’s what’s really going to launch into this vertical cloud.

I want to turn to you and talk a little bit now about healthcare. So it’s not a crazy prediction or prognostication by any means to say, “Okay, we’re hearing a lot about financial. Healthcare will come next.” But you have to be looking at the healthcare opportunity saying, “Wow, this is a pretty big opportunity,” given some of the shared and additional challenges for that industry in terms of improving, and migrating, and transforming the architecture.

Sarah Wallace: Yeah. And to your point, the whole trend of hybrid cloud, which is rightfully so, and translates very well between financial services and healthcare. Because what these two industries have in common is that you have a lot of patient or customer data. And by compliance and regulation, you actually have to keep this client or patient data stored. So a lot of these companies, they don’t want to have the responsibility of storing all this copious amounts of patient or client data on their own servers. Using a cloud provider to help them balance the workloads and be able to go back and forth.

So for instance, with healthcare right now with COVID, it’s a great example because a lot of these operations have suddenly had to go into their patient data, really examine and look at models and determine, “Okay, maybe these are the patients that are most vulnerable. These particular hospitals have this amount of beds. These are the resources we’ve had.”

As you were saying, we had to see a lot of these healthcare providers, with the help of the cloud players, suddenly really scale very quickly for very emergent needs during COVID-19 in the pandemic. So the hybrid cloud scenario is a very good example of supporting all these needs that we’ve seen the last two or three months.

Daniel Newman: Yeah. And I was reading through some of the research you’ve started right now, and we’re starting to see some really good examples. Some of these examples that are emerging are not just cloud. It’s about more than cloud. It’s about platforms and services that are going to be made available in the cloud. Because for a lot of companies, they’re not only facing a architecture, where do we place workloads? They’re facing a challenge of how do we democratize all the data that’s being brought into our systems, utilize it, enrich it, visualize it, layer AI and ML capabilities on top of it?

One of the examples I think that you’ve been looking at in your research has been some work that Microsoft announced. I think they’ve got this specialty cloud. And I think it’s also a few deals that have specifically maybe sprung this cloud forward in terms of turning it from maybe a deal based project, which is like how I looked at the Bank of America thing. Like, “Oh, let’s do a deal.” And then as IBM was doing it, they were like, “Wow, we’ve actually built a product here.”

And I think that’s somewhat what’s starting to happen across other industries from other vendors. But it seems that Microsoft’s got a really strong place. Can you talk a little bit about what the company is doing with its new cloud service designed for healthcare?

Sarah Wallace: Yeah, sure. I believe it was about two weeks ago, they announced their cloud for healthcare play, and this is bringing together their existing services. So you’ve got the Chatbox, Microsoft 365, Teams, and, of course, their data and the analytics. This is basically helping these, whether it be things like patient engagement, health team collaboration, improving operational efficiencies.

Microsoft has a pretty deep history of helping healthcare providers anyways. I think it was in 2019, there was St Joseph’s and Providence, and they signed a multiyear strategic alliance to help modernize healthcare IT infrastructure. They penned a seven deal agreement with Humana to help with cloud, and AI, and voice technologies. So they have a pretty deep history with healthcare, but I think this is just a more formal offering.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, I definitely grabbed that too. I think something to pay a lot of attention to with these cloud providers though, as I mentioned, is the service layer. You have Azure AI, you have Watson AI. And when you put the data in the cloud, many of these have quick layer on services that can be added. So you can basically seamlessly turn services on to be able to enrich data and use AI services in the cloud.

Microsoft does that through Azure. Google has that capability in its platform, so does AWS, and then, of course, IBM as well. I think that’s really going to be an important part though, because think about something like conversational AI. We’re moving towards a world of chatbots. In healthcare, for instance, being able to provide a level of support and services to people through a chatbot that’s going to be conversational. That’s going to be able to do it with low latency.

You look at the services that AWS is offering, or you look at the services from an Azure running Nvidia T100, GPUs that can basically support. And by the way, the new Jarvis and the new technologies from Nvidia, the new frameworks, that basically offer almost zero latency, conversational AI platforms, both through text and speech. If you think about how healthcare is going to want to be treated, people might want to go to a website, click on a little bot, and have a conversation to see how can I get care from an insurer, from a hospital? How can I learn about services that are available?

So by moving data to the cloud and utilizing these services that have been built for ready cloud in the vertical space, I think it’s going to expedite transformation of these industries, while also being really cognizant of what’s going on with privacy compliance, sovereignty of data, and security. Which with COVID, we saw big rise in security breach. Companies trying to breach security, which put more pressure on these healthcare systems, which were already overrun in capacity, facing resource constraints and demands. Because despite the fact that COVID pushed a lot of emergency healthcare, it actually hurt a lot of hospitals financially, so resources weren’t necessarily growing.

So there’s all of these factors concurrently where cloud and architecture, Sarah, could really help a lot. I’ve mentioned all the other clouds, but in your research, you also did point to a couple of other companies that are really focused. I believe Google and AWS are also doing some very healthcare centric things. I’d love to hear a little bit more from you on what you found from these other cloud providers.

Sarah Wallace: Yeah. I wrote a post about it the last week that’s on our blog. You’re talking about chatbots and AWS actually voluntarily worked with MetroPlus. It’s a nonprofit insurance outfit in New York City. They helped them build a chatbot to proactively reach out to its customers or patients to see if they need assistance. Because especially back in March, a lot of the stay at home rules didn’t allow you to go out to a clinic or even leave your home.

So they built this chatbot voluntarily, and it worked very well in helping out to reaching, especially for patients that were more vulnerable during COVID-19. Now this chatbot’s being used for other insurance agencies. So that’s a really good example of something that’s being built very quickly now that can be reused.

Then Google, with their cloud platform, they’ve actually been focusing on COVID response to help communities. So making even things like search capabilities very specific, so you can find tele-health resources, and maybe this wasn’t coming up in Google search before. This is an example of some of these cloud players really mobilizing very quickly to help during this time. But these are technologies that can be used going forward as well.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, absolute. It was very interesting. Let’s turn this over for a few minutes and talk about privacy and security, Sarah, because you mentioned Google Cloud and in the notes, it talks about Mayo Clinic. It’s using it to drive digital transformation. It’s going to store patient data in the cloud and use advanced cloud data analytics, machine learning, artificial intelligence, advanced diagnostic, and treatment of disease. Great, very exciting.

But part of what slowed migration to cloud has been privacy and security. These industries historically have said, “Yes, we understand the value of the cloud. We just can’t do it because it doesn’t meet the requirements.” You hear about HIPAA in the U.S. You hear about other credibly tight constraints for patient data. And, of course, if we could release all patient data, this would also solve a lot of EMR issues that we have with medical records. Part of the reason we haven’t been able to streamline it is because the systems can’t talk to each other because of the compliance.

So talk about that. Talk about with companies going vertical and moving to cloud, how do they go to cloud, but yet concurrently still meet the requirements and keep all of the regulators and governing bodies content that the services aren’t going to breach people’s rights to privacy?

Sarah Wallace: Yeah. In fact, I have a little section in my financial services cloud report that’s coming out is about risk surface. So even when you’re transforming, doing digital transformation and transforming your operations to cloud, which you’re so excited about, you can’t have any downtime. And then when you’re, whether it be through actually training your employees on new systems or doing the actual implementation slash transformation, you can’t let any of that data be exposed. You have to keep up with compliance.

Especially in healthcare with patient data, as we know, no system’s perfect. We know a lot of these popular cloud providers have had very public outages. And especially in times like healthcare, I mean, it’s one thing to have an outage if you’re a retailer. Okay, your website’s down for a certain amount of time, and maybe e-commerce, there’s some laps there. But what kind of downtime can you afford when you’re doing things with patients that have to be calibrated in real time? So there’s definitely always risk. And it comes to things like automation. As we were saying, with patient data, you’ve got to make sure certain things are automated and their patient data isn’t being lost or exposed.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, absolutely. I think you hit it. We are in a world where we have to be able to move fast. We have to be able to transform. We’ve heard with COVID-19, we saw a decade of transformation being consolidated to two months. I think that’s a little overstated, but we’ve definitely seen the companies that were most successful. And not just in healthcare, but really across every industry right now where companies that had extraordinary elasticity and agility to be able to utilize technology.

You look at commerce platforms. You look at utilization of AI. So you look at Amazon, Netflix, major applications like food apps and stuff that we’re able to do everything on e-commerce, recommender engines, conversational chatbots, and AI. These companies really could seamlessly let you go and do the same thing from anywhere without any interruption in services.

And so healthcare, for instance though, has notably been slow to transform. Despite the fact that it’s one of the most technology rich industries on the planet in terms of the tech utilized to provide diagnosis, to develop therapeutics, to design inoculations or vaccines. Because of regulation, because of challenges, and also, just because of disparate systems, it just hasn’t advanced this fast. Thinking about things like the development of a vaccine for COVID-19 inside of a year isn’t like a “Oh, that’s pretty good.” That’s a monumental transformation that was entirely empowered by technology. There’s no way.

Sarah, I did a Six Five Podcast. I had Dave Turek of IBM. We were talking about supercomputing, which we’re not really talking about here directly, but we are seeing supercomputing, by the way, be dropped into the cloud. So now you are actually able to do cloud-based supercomputing, get access. We’re seeing quantum computing from companies like Honeywell being built and delivered in the cloud.

And the thing was is all the drug compounds in the planet can be identified. And when you start to be able to look at the genome of the disease of the virus, it can be put into compute and actually look at thousands of potential chemical compounds to identify a small number. I think IBM told us it was something like over 8,000 compounds were explored to identify like somewhere around 70 or so. And again, these numbers are round, but somewhere around 70 or so compounds that therapeutic makers, drug makers, biotech companies could be looking at as a potential enabler of some sort of improvement of conditions around COVID-19.

So just very interesting to measure the fact that we can speed this up, and that we’ve seen it sped up, but there’s still going to be some resistance because of all the regulation and governing bodies. And hopefully, what we’ve learned from this will allow us to set some things aside, where the red tape can be lifted more quickly. Because red tape actually hit us on every corner. And no matter what your side is on the politics of this thing, our systems are designed to be slow. They just are. They’re rich with bureaucracy and technology is a hurdle. Technology is a way over those hurdles.

So I’d like to pull back and talk about… I’ve got two more things I’d like to cover in here. One is you’ve been tracking really closely… We started talking about COVID here, so I’m skipping around, but I want to come back to COVID-19 efforts, and healthcare, and the big cloud providers.

Probably some of what’s going to drive forward more interest in cloud is it all these cloud providers got really invested in helping with the cause. You outlined a little bit about at least three of the clouds we talked about being Azure, AWS, and Google in depth. Can you talk a little bit about some of the efforts that those companies made in healthcare, and some of the breakthroughs these companies were able to accomplish during the COVID-19 onset and into now the, I guess you could call it the middle rounds or backend? I’m not sure exactly where we’re at.

Sarah Wallace: Sure. So Microsoft Azure, they’ve been working like a lot. Being there in Seattle and the State of Washington, they’ve been working very closely with the state itself and also the healthcare systems. Really placing emphasis on its data science capabilities. Helping them aggregate data about things like hospitalization, different models for testing. And some of these metrics are also being used across all 50 States.

Then AWS, we mentioned about them helping with the MetroPlus. They’ve also created a data lake, which also has COVID-19 data points. And Google, in terms of their healthcare, I already mentioned about things with their search capabilities and that type of stuff. But the Google Cloud platform themselves itself, they’ve been hiring leaders in the healthcare. Those from the Cleveland clinic, different, very highly regarded healthcare vendors, taking them away or hiring them and making them heads of their Google platforms. So Google itself, or I guess Alphabet has been very focused on healthcare as a vertical as well.

It’s funny when you talk about quantum computing, I remember back in November and December reading about capabilities of quantum computing, and genome research, and thinking, “Wow, that’s really interesting.” And at the time thinking it seemed something new and of interest. And here three months later, it’s incredibly crucial, and we’re really having to put it into action.

Daniel Newman: Yeah. We’ve got some ways before quantum is going to solve these problems, but I think what we’re going to see is quantum working side by side with classical computing to exponentially speed up the ability for us to solve problems like this. If we don’t learn something from COVID-19 and how to be more ready to address these problems, then the world has missed an opportunity. This is a very unfortunate series of events, but it’s also a learning moment, a teaching moment. And with all this technology at our disposal, we should be on our toes and not on our heels.

I certainly am going to be looking to these big companies, AWS, Google, Microsoft, IBM, Intel, and others that are developing either core technologies for compute or developing algorithms and modeling technologies like Nvidia or Intel. And then, of course, your analytics providers, which by the way, layer it on top of this. Of course, all these cloud providers are doing more analytics themselves like Redshift and Azure Arc, but you certainly have your Clouderas, and you have your SAS, and you have your Oracles, and your big data providers, and players that are going to be driving. Also, the visualization layers to try to help… Not only have all this data, but be able to make sense of it quickly, which has been one of the biggest problems is doing that and then doing it in real time, which is going to be a big hurdle.

So let’s wrap this up here, Sarah, and talk a little bit about your predictions. You had some thoughts that you’re sharing and that you’re building out as you’re getting ready to write this market insights brief. So what is going to happen next? We definitely have made some speculations here. We’ve seen how this has panned out in financial services. It seems like it’s still a little bit earlier days for healthcare, but what do you think we’re going to see in the next few years?

Sarah Wallace: Yeah. When we talk about readiness, it’s interesting. I was on an analyst relations call. Vendor had an announcement yesterday. For the Q and A, the first question asked was, “How can we all be more prepared for the next crisis?” And I thought that was an excellent question.

What’s interesting, especially with areas like cloud and healthcare, like any industry you have your seasonal spikes. In the healthcare industry, typically winter, we have cold and flu season. So whether it be a hospital clinic, a practice, they’re prepared for the winter to have more traffic and more patients. But here we’ve seen an onslaught of everybody all around the world suddenly needing care and the time line is indefinite.

So I think all these players place a big emphasis on their ability to scale. And now we’re seeing the scale’s going to have to be not just seasonable, but prolonged, and scale and elasticity, as you want to call it. Also, AI capabilities, machine learning, deep learning, being able to take all the data that we’re getting now and make models and predictions. This is something that’s been emphasized, especially the past five years, but now it’s becoming even more crucial. So I see the emphasis on scale, and taking that data, and really making actionable insight with it.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, absolutely. Those are some great predictions. I also think being able to anonymize data to do… What we’ve been able to accomplish in terms of commerce clouds and information clouds through AI, being able to filter data, because you basically filter across two things. It’s real time, your utilization and info, but as patients, oftentimes we don’t have a lot of personal information.

And you think about like COVID, we have millions of cases. If all that data could be put in the cloud and then be nurtured and be enriched with AI anonymized, which is going to be a key because it’s got to be anonymized in some way. But the insights that we could gather from having thousands or millions of cases, being able to cut it and slice it and say, “Age specific, gender specific, ethnicity specific, geography specific.”

Because as we saw different strains came out, and I think we lost a lot of people early in this because standard of care was wrong. We learned about ventilators. We learned about different drugs and medications. It took a lot of time because the process of doing individual trials, and small data sets that came from a single hospital that was being required to be worked from, instead of taking the data from the wave that the pandemic followed around the world. We could have done better.

And so now having systems that allow this to be enriched and visualized quickly is going to be a huge difference. While I don’t think it’s going to happen overnight because there’s a global governance, there’s global compliance, there’s security and protection. I do think as we start moving towards vertically specific cloud, Sarah, that we will be able to expedite our response to handle this much better than last time.

So at this point, Sarah, I’m going to wrap this up here. It’s been great chatting with you. I’m really excited to see the report come out. If you’re listening to the show, if you’re one of the vendors, we know you guys are out there, and we always appreciate you tuning in. If you’re a healthcare provider, if you’re an insurance company, biopharma, biotech, pharmaceuticals, love for you to check out our report. We’ll go ahead and throw it in the show notes.

Sarah’s written some great reports. Definitely hit that subscribe button and stay tuned in with us here at the Futurum Tech Podcast. But for now, for myself, and Sarah Wallace, great show. And we hope to see you all very soon. But for now, we’ve got to go, so we’ll see you later. Bye bye.

Author Information

Sarah most recently served as the head of industry research for Oracle. Her experience working as a research director and analyst extends across multiple focus areas including AI, big data and analytics, cloud infrastructure and operations, OSS/BSS, customer experience, IoT, SDN/NFV, mobile enterprise, cable/MSO issues, and managed services. Sarah has also conducted primary research of the retail, banking, financial services, healthcare, higher ed, manufacturing, and insurance industries and her research has been cited by media such as Forbes, U.S. News & World Report, VentureBeat, ReCode, and various trade publications, such as eMarketer and The Financial Brand.


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