Welcome to season 1, episode 1 of Raising Tech, your guide to understanding the role technology plays in your senior living business strategy and day-to-day operations.
Our mission at Raising Tech is to educate and empower senior living providers to maximize their use of technology. This podcast is designed to be your monthly tech check-in to learn how best to optimize operations, establish tech as part of your organization’s competitive advantage, incorporate technology into your long-range vision and how to bring residents and employees along on the journey.
Episodes will include everything from bringing senior living communities out of legacy systems and into streamlined infrastructures to developing a technology strategy designed for the next generation of residents and employees. Tune in for tech trends, hot topics and meet the people behind the techlandscape in senior living to gain practical tech knowledge you can apply in your organization today.
On today’s episode we meet the show’s host, Amber Bardon, CEO and founder of Parasol Alliance and Rachel Lugge, gerontologist and aging services expert and colleague of Amber’s at Parasol Alliance. In this episode, Amber describes her journey into senior living technology, highlighting the top challenges the senior living field is facing that surfaced the need for a holistic technology solution for providers. Amber discusses the silver lining of the 2020 pandemic – technology, and how providers are taking advantage of this opportunity to level up their technology strategy and drive their competitive advantage in the market.
Rachel: Hello, and welcome to Season One, Episode One of Raising Tech, your guide to understanding the role technology plays in your senior living business strategy and day-to-day operations. Our mission for raising tech is to educate and empower senior living providers to maximize their use of technology. This podcast is designed to be your monthly tech check-in to learn how best to optimize operations established tech as part of your organization’s competitive advantage, incorporate technology into your long range vision, and how to bring residents and employees along on the journey. Episodes will include everything from bringing senior living communities out of legacy systems and into streamlined infrastructures to developing a technology strategy designed for the next generation of residents and employees tune in for tech trends, hot topics, and meet the people behind the tech landscape and senior living to gain practical technology. You can apply in your organization today. I’m Rachel Loogi with parasail Alliance, where we specialize in helping senior living partners maximize their use of technology through strategic planning and full service. And I’m joined by our host, Amber Barden, CEO, and founder of Parasol Alliance. So before we dive in, Amber tell us a little bit about how you got into senior living tech in the first place and what parasol Lyons is all about. So listeners have an idea of what kind of experience you’re speaking from.
Amber: Thanks Rachel. I am so excited that we’re launching this podcast. It’s great to be here with you, and it’s a great day to talk about technology and senior living. So I’m Amber Barden. I am the CEO and founder of Parasol Alliance, as Rachel mentioned. So I wanted to give just a little bit of background about my experience and how I came to understand and learn about the senior living industry. I worked at a provider in the Chicago area for about nine years. I did pretty much every different kind of position you can think of in technology during that period of time. So I started out at the service desk and then I moved over to business system support, and then I eventually moved into an IT director leadership role. And through that process through those years, I really learned a lot about the business side of Senior Living.
I saw firsthand the challenges that senior living providers have and multiple different types of senior living services from home and community-based services to skilled nursing HUD, independent living, and of course assisted living as well, and really was able to understand the business seed and then bring technology as a solution to multiple different business problems. And through that process, I really saw that there was a need to have a company that could specifically target these challenges that the senior living industry face and through that process and through learning about the business side, I had this idea to form a company to specifically do that. So the way that actually happened is I was introduced to someone named Bill Lowe, who is the CEO of Chicago Methodist Senior Services in Chicago. And we talked a little bit about my idea, and he came up with this concept of why not create a partnership or an alliance of other senior living providers to come together and provide this technology service to the industry.
So Bill really helped me go out and meet other providers and learn about their specific challenges with technology and helped put together this partnership and Alliance that eventually became Parasol Alliance about six years ago. Now, one thing I want to mention is that through that process, we spoke to multiple different providers for the most part single sites, mostly not-for-profit CCRC. And one of the things I asked them was what is your biggest pain point in technology, regardless of what your solution is? If it’s in-house technology, if it’s outsource technology, if it’s a combination and the number one answer I got was strategy, these providers felt like they did not have the resources or the expertise to really understand technology and how it could help their business. They weren’t really sure how to make decisions on technology in terms of resources and dollars. And that really drove our business model of starting with strategy in order to form a really strong partnership, which we feel really leads to client happiness, and it allows our clients to maximize technology to effectively move their business objectives forward.
Rachel: I love that and that’s part of why I love being a part of Parasol Alliance is because the company was founded on solving problems. So you mentioned challenges. So what challenges specifically, were you seeing and have you been seeing in senior living communities and how did those challenges ultimately then tie in later to a community success using technology?
Amber: Yeah, I think this whole concept of really understanding the specific challenges so that you can then effectively solve them is really important. And I think the community it’s really helpful and a lot of things can happen to lead to success when the community takes the approach of starting with a technology culture. So how do we build excitement for technology in our community? How do we use technology, a solution to solve strategic business objectives? So I think the challenges need to be recognized and addressed before you can move to those next steps of technology driving success. So I would say some of the top challenges that we typically see with the providers that we work with would be resources. That’s something I mentioned it a little bit earlier, resources really throughout all different levels, not having a CIO, not having an IT director, or maybe IT doesn’t necessarily have a seat at the table to be able to even provide senior living technology solutions and not having possibly the expertise in house to know what you don’t know. So what are some of the best practices that other communities are using across the industry? Possibly not having resources adequately budgeted in terms of dollars and also staff buy-in from the community staff in terms of buying into that vision of technology culture. Another thing I think we see is just not knowing where to start. So I feel technology can be very overwhelming to many communities and it’s something that they don’t necessarily feel. They have a good understanding of. So they don’t know where to start. And again, I said this a little bit earlier, but it’s something I hear a lot is not knowing what we don’t know. Another big issue we see is process optimization. So this would be where you may have some systems in place, but perhaps you’re not really optimizing those systems as best as you could. So there could be things being done on paper. There could be duplicate entries and that can really lead to staff frustration because it directly impacts the time that they spend on those types of processes when they’re not as streamlined and efficient as possible. And then lastly, another challenge I wanted to mention before we talk a little bit more about successes when it comes to residents. Residents have expectations now that they will have technology in the community. So both from the perspective of the community, providing technology, as well as the residents themselves using technology. And I would say, in the last five years this really shifted from this expectation to a must have to a need, which that can actually lead to directly to helping your community leverage technology, to be more competitive in the marketplace to really take your business to the next level, by identifying those challenges and needs from the residents and then coming up with a strategic plan to really address those and really just enhanced technology throughout the organization with the residents and the staff. So given some of those challenges, I think those starting with recognizing those and understanding them and knowing where your community is in the process of technology with all those different aspects that will help you lead directly to those key success drivers. So resident technology having a plan and having you know, something in place that you could communicate to the residents about what the plan is for technology. Another big one we hear is communication across the community in general. So a lot of our clients are looking for one streamlined way to communicate to staff, to communicate to families, to communicate to residents. And to know that this can be a big area of frustration.
If there’s not easy to use communication processes in place, I talked a little bit about the process optimization. So if you’re able to recognize that as a challenge and identify opportunities to address that, that can lead directly to staff efficiency and sometimes even staff happiness and engagement, if they no longer feel like they have to spend a lot of wasted time on paper and manual processes and all of this, we feel really leads to that technology culture. So one thing you say, Rachel, that I really love is that our vision is to transform technology culture in senior living. And I think that that is such a great vision, and I think it’s so important and I think taking this idea that technology is just a cost center budget. It’s just something we have to have and transforming that into how do we leverage this? How do we solve business problems? How we use technology to engage and go to the next level is really a key success factor and it’s something we’ve seen in our clients. And it’s just such a great thing when that happens.
Rachel: Oh my gosh, I completely agree. And you’re right. It’s about something so much bigger than just infrastructure, it is about culture at its highest level. We talked a lot, we talked about so many things that are important. I wonder if we could just talk a little bit more about how we go about that strategy, if you could break that down and what are the essential components to a strategy kind of maybe starting with the foundation?
Amber: Sure, so one thing I like to think about or visualize, or when I’m doing a presentation is share an image of a pyramid. So if you think of a pyramid that has multiple levels at that base level, so that the core things that you need to do when it comes to technology are the things you would probably think of as technical as it in the more traditional fashion. So things like your computers being replaced on a regular basis, having your network up to date and optimizing and meeting the community needs in the best possible way, your servers, your IT operations, your staffing and your policies and procedures. So that is what we consider the base of the pyramid and really having a strong foundation and making sure you take the time to have that in place will help you add on to the next levels in the pyramid and again, elevate technology in your community.
So what we see as the next level in the pyramid would be your business systems. So these would be the things that you use to run your business. So your EMR, electronic medical records, your HRS payroll systems, your dining systems, your CRM, marketing systems, your resident engagement application, pretty much any business area uses technology. So we want to identify those systems, the right systems, is there a lack of systems? Are you using paper and are those systems fully optimized? So are you doing the most? You can with those systems again, tying back to that staff efficiency and staff happiness. And then the next level we see is security and risk. So security and risk is the lens in which we view the other two, well, really all of the layers of the pyramid. So we want to make sure that the decisions that we’re making and the plans we’re making are really viewed through this security and risk lens to make sure that we are minimizing risk and maximizing security as much as possible.
And then we see that top level as the residents. So, you know, as we talked about a couple of minutes ago, the residents really are a key part of this. So in multiple different ways from Wi-Fi, you know, community engagement and things like that. And I think a good place to start to think of this is how do you define technology? What does technology mean to you and what does it mean to your community? You know, do you think of it as it isn’t just the servers sitting on your server room? Is it just the computers on people’s desks or does it encompass all these other parts of the pyramid that I talked about? And I think identifying that and defining that is a really great place to start.
Rachel: Yes, absolutely, that’s excellent. One final point on residents, this is such a focus right now, especially coming out of 2020 and everything we experienced related to the pandemic, how are, you know, what are some trends we’re seeing as far as resonant expectations and maybe that’s for today’s residents, but incorporating the next generation of residents? What, what will they be expecting and senior living?
Amber: Yeah, I think I’ve heard a couple people refer to technology as the silver lining of COVID. And I think that really applies to the residents. I think there was possibly a little bit of fear of using technology, a little bit of resistance, or not feeling that it was something useful to many of the residents in the communities. And I feel COVID really helped with that because many residents needed to start engaging with technology, to see family members, to see friends through video tools. And I think we’ve definitely seen a lot of, a much bigger need for residents using technology. And accordingly those expectations have really only increased. So a couple of key ways in which we think about technology for residents. So,the big one is wifi, that’s something we hear at all of our communities as we expect to have wall-to-wall wifi coverage and that’s something that can tie into your technology play on for your community, but also as, you know, how does it affect the residents and what are you providing? And what are the residents that they’ll have access to in terms of WiFi and setting, making sure that everybody understands what’s actually provided and what’s not. And if your goal is to provide wall-to-wall WiFi, how do we do that? So how do we go about that? So, you know, WiFi would be one of those bases of the pyramid. That’s a key core system that we want to have in place to build upon something else that we’ve seen is community engagement. So a big trend that we’re doing a lot of projects on right now is resident engagement applications, and these apps are really cool. One of the things I wanted to mention too, that we’re seeing a lot is this lifestyle smart home trend. You know, that is something that is being built into the plans in many cases. And again, that’s that leverage of technology to make your community more competitive. So things like having a smart home hub where you can use IOT devices throughout the apartment for the residents can apply to wellness for the residents monitoring something that may be less invasive than pendants or bracelets.
Rachel: Yes, absolutely. That was great. Oh my gosh, we covered so much Amber in that short period of time, that was really, really rich. Thank you so much for sharing challenges, trends, and how we go about strategy. So if you had to for listeners, just kind of sum up your key takeaways, what are the top three? You know, this, this is kind of what listeners need to be thinking about based on this conversation.
Amber: Yeah, I think there’s three key takeaways. I think, again, going back to that culture, I think that’s really a great place to start. Evaluating where’s your technology culture today and where do we want to elevate it to? And I think understanding that and technology’s role in the community is really going to be the driver behind the other decisions and steps you take in technology with your community. I think the next step would be that strategy. So starting again, what do we know about where we are now and where do we want to go? And then very specifically, how do we get there with actual projects that will take you to that level, that you can actually have metrics around to measure your success. And then lastly would be partnerships. So technology is no longer just you know, an administrative function in the community. Technology really should be leveraged as a partnership between the technology side and then the business objectives and strategic goals. So I think bringing those together and defining how technology is going to partner with the community in the next steps in elevating technology.
Rachel: Thank you. Excellent. All right. So should we talk about what is to come next month? We are very excited for our next episode. So tune in next month, when we’ll be joined by Ken Arneson, CEO of Evergreen Retirement Community in Oshkosh Wisconsin, where we’ll discuss how to go about building a successful partnership and specifically how evergreen leveraged technology to take their community to the next level. Ken’s wonderful and he’s going to be great, this’ll be fun. It’s really going to be a fun podcast. So definitely make sure you tune in to it. Yeah, me too. Well, thanks everyone. And we’ll see you next month.