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Building a Mixed On-Site and Off-Shore Team for PSS World Medical

Healthcare | Application Development, Managed Services



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PSS World Medical needed to expand the outputs of its IT team in order to keep pace with escalating business demand. TEKsystems was engaged to deliver a team that would serve as an extension of the client’s existing IT support.

Founded in 1983, PSS World Medical has evolved into a national leader within the medical distribution space, providing solutions to customers including physicians, general and specialty practices, nursing home facilities, home health agencies, assisted living centers and hospices. Operating under two primary business segments, the client distributes medical supplies including diagnostic and non-diagnostic equipment, physician disposable supplies, healthcare information technology, pharmaceutical products, and home medical equipment, among other products. Business-wide, the client has more than 100 facilities including full-service distribution centers, break-freight locations, operations facilities and redistribution facilities.

As the IT needs of organizations grow and become more complex and costly, the need for outsourced solutions becomes more apparent. Many organizations lack the internal bandwidth or expertise to conduct timely IT initiatives. They seek an outsourcing partner that can manage a near- or off-shore team as an extension of their internal IT team. This in turn, helps free up the organization’s on-site team to handle higher priority tasks while also driving benefits to the bottom line.

Establishing a near- or off-shore team of resources can be challenging and there are a variety of potential roadblocks that should be considered before choosing to outsource. Is the outsourced team going to be working within the same time zone? Organizations need to anticipate the possible implications of geography on the team’s performance. Is the team going to communicate openly with the end client?

Projects can experience unexpected changes and client expectations or concerns can emerge. An effective outsourced team needs to maintain consistent and open conversation with the client to ensure the program stays on track and wrinkles get ironed out sooner rather than later.

While unanticipated challenges can occur during any transition to an outsourced model, organizations can flesh out plans in advance of implementation to mitigate and prepare for reacting to those challenges. This will help promote a smooth transition.

Java,Groovy and Grails

With its headquarters in Jacksonville, Fla., PSS World Medical (PSS) had difficulty finding and attracting qualified candidates to fill their open IT positions. Jacksonville lacked a robust IT talent pool, and as a result, PSS’s IT leadership was spending a significant amount of time managing the human resources-related tasks of IT, as opposed to higher-level tasks such as the development of overall strategy for their IT products.

In order to reduce the human resources burden weighing on the client’s IT leaders, while also increasing the throughput of IT staff, PSS sought a partner to deliver a managed services program in support of multiple off-site IT projects. Specifically, the client needed to retain a team of technical professionals with Java and Groovy development expertise, as well as business analysis, architecture, and quality assurance and testing skill sets. PSS required guidance and support in:

  1. Selecting, onboarding and training a team of qualified resources
  2. Managing the team
  3. Delivering effective project management throughout the life of the projects
  4. Communicating progress to its leadership
  5. Providing development workstations and work facilities

Leveraging our Application Development practice, TEKsystems proposed delivering managed services to PSS. We would provide the right resources, technical expertise and proven methodology from our Java/Open Source Development Center of Excellence in our Montreal Innovation Centre (MIC). We would employ our Agile expertise, namely our proprietary TEKnique™ methodology, to improve development and implementation processes. TEKnique™ represents the refinement and evolution of Agile practices based on our experience across 150+ application development projects over the last five years. To ensure the team stays on track and the client has a main point of contact, we would deploy a project manager with expertise in application development management from TEKsystems’ Project Management Office. For each development project that the team would support, a two-phased process would be implemented:

Phase One: Discovery
The size and composition of the team would be finalized, and operating processes and metrics would be defined. Then the team would establish connectivity between the MSC and PSS environments. We would define development and test environments, and craft joint project and communication plans. TEKsystems would provide full technical documentation of our solution based on this Discovery phase.

Phase Two: Iterative Development
TEKsystems would conduct business analysis, generate user stories and establish product backlog. We would define the coverage of quality assurance and testing criteria. TEKsystems would design project-level application and data architecture. We would then perform iterative development sprints. Unit test plans and test scenarios would be developed, while a defect management process would be prepared and complete unit testing would be executed. For each project, TEKsystems would benchmark its performance. The team would provide PSS with the following deliverables: user stories; product backlogs; project plans; test plans; communication plans; decision log; and risk log.

Given our near-shore capabilities paired with our structured methodology for development within the disciplines PSS required, TEKsystems was selected as the ideal partner for this engagement.

TEKsystems successfully implemented the recommended approach to managed application development, and now relevant PSS leadership can focus its attention on strategies for priority IT initiatives as opposed to managing the timely HR and logistical tasks associated with acquiring IT resources.

The TEKsystems team served as an extension of the client’s current IT staff. They supported projects within PSS’s e-commerce product space.We provided a team of 11 resources including a global delivery manager, project manager, application architect, Java developers, and business and quality assurance analysts. The team started based out of TEKsystems’ Montreal Innovation Centre (MIC),  with a co-located resource in Jacksonville. After TEKsystems conducted a thorough evaluation of the schedule and costs for our first quarterly business review with the client, PSS determine that they could no longer move forward despite being satisfied with our work. Although they saw the value in our partnership and were impressed with our Agile approach and the maturity of our Montreal facility, they could not afford to continue with the solution initially recommended.

Demonstrating the strength and flexibility of our partnership, TEKsystems designed an alternative solution that would (1) eliminate the need to forego the time and money already invested by cancelling the program altogether, and (2) allow the client to receive the IT support it needed at a price and time it could afford. We proposed a mixed on-site and off-shore solution utilizing TEKsystems' Bangalore Solution Center based in Bangalore, India. We suggested this approach with goals to drive lower annual service costs, provide budget and opportunity for additional positions to move to Bangalore, and minimize risk and process change.

The transition to a mixed on-site and off-shore team proved successful and the client was impressed with the caliber of our resources and delivery. The client was also pleased with our flexibility and seamlessness in moving from Montreal to Bangalore. We gave them the information they needed and decisions were made quickly so as to not further stifle deadlines; after three collaborative client meetings and the production of an implementation plan, PSS was on the same page and ready to move forward with the revised approach.

To smoothly transition our efforts from Montreal to Bangalore, we completed current projects in the MSC, and then began onboarding and training the Bangalore team. The MSC team went to India for two weeks to train, transfer knowledge and supervise, ensuring the Bangalore team understood their role and could deliver to client expectations. Meanwhile, the client was concerned with open communication and multiple time zones, obstacles that could emerge when changing the scope from near to off shore. In order to combat those challenges, we maintained the same delivery manager throughout the transition and established a business and system analyst role in Jacksonville. These resources would be dedicated to serving as both the client’s point of contact and the Bangalore team’s source for client information and feedback. 

  • Communication. TEKsystems maintained an open and continuous dialogue with PSS that was the foundation for our success. We held quarterly business reviews to discuss what the team was accomplishing. A level of trust was achieved and PSS felt comfortable consulting us with their questions and concerns throughout the program. Namely, it was at the first quarter’s review when it was learned that cost was an issue. Because we kept communication open and actively listened, we were able to discuss and execute an alternative approach that was better suited for their needs.
  • Flexibility. We were flexible in terms of adjusting our solution as the program evolved. We were also flexible in terms of the design of our team. PSS was more comfortable with our off-shore solution because we provided an on-site resource that could be reached directly, in person at anytime. This blended team allowed them to rest assured that potential obstacles associated with off-shore models would be optimally handled (i.e. consistent communication and staying on schedule despite working across time zones).
  • Team Ownership. The members of our team held themselves accountable for their performance and meeting expectations. For example, those working in Bangalore were working off of virtual machines located in Jacksonville. If those machines were ever down, the work in Bangalore would be delayed. This occurred one time early into the transition to the Bangalore Solution Center in Bangalore—within the first few weeks there. The team tried to work throughout the weekend but the client did not realize the issue until Monday morning, when it became evident that there had been a system issue. Accountability and project ownership were critical to this smooth, effective and productive on-site and off-shore collaboration, and the client was impressed with the level of commitment our resources provided to the job.