The secret of continuous integration/continuous deployment

June 14, 2021 / By Steve Austin

If I had to pick just one of the many advantages to delivering revenue cycle automation in the cloud, the unique, amazing power of automated software updates “over the wire” will be where our customers will truly start feeling a paradigm shift towards a lighter, more responsive and better experience with the tools they use in their professional lives.

Maybe some of you will remember the days when software was delivered via stacks of floppy disks—and having to store those little plastic dinosaurs somewhere in our offices “as a backup.” This process was improved somewhat when software came compact disks (we had an entire department whose sole function was to create and mail out the disks and documentation to customers). Eventually we all got used to downloading our software and updates via the internet. Now we just expect our devices to be updated with the latest updates automatically or when we accept the updates. Consumer software is not the same as specialized, industrial, enterprise level solutions—especially in health care and in a field as specialized as revenue cycle management—but there’s no reason why we shouldn’t have similar expectations of product quality and usability in the software that we use at work as we do outside of work. The only reason we might not have these expectations is because so many health care solutions are still only available in on-premises technology. Fortunately, this is changing rapidly.

I say “fortunately” because the intense need to improve efficiency and lower costs is driving all kinds of changes in our industry, and the growing acceptance and availability of enterprise-level cloud solutions is one of those changes. Ultimately, performing revenue cycle work like medical record coding or completing clinical data integrity reviews should be able to be done anywhere and should not be constrained to a specific physical location at a specific time. In fact, I believe even medical record coding will eventually be able to be done on a smartphone. Why not? This doesn’t mean that every record needs to be coded on a smartphone or only by smartphone or that a smartphone will be the fastest way to do coding but that mobile coding should be an option—another tool in the toolkit—someday.

The web development technology and methodology that powers the solutions we use at home or away from work—like Netflix, Turbo Tax, or your bank’s website—is called “Continuous Integration/Continuous Deployment” or “CI/CD” for short. CI/CD allows the makers of solutions to push out changes and updates as needed while still maintaining the highest quality possible. And…no downtime. How is this possible?

The secret of CI/CD is automated testing—and I mean fully automated testing. Tons of it. Organizations that are really good at CI/CD invest just as much in developers who specialize in testing as they do in the engineers who write new features. These specialists write programs that  test the software all the time. Every time a developer hits the “commit” button on her new code, that new code gets thoroughly tested against every other software component and routine automatically. The software gets tested over and over again. “Continuous” because it’s happening all the time and “integration” because the new code is tested in the context of the complete system. Automatically. Every time.

Continuous deployment (the “CD” part of the equation) makes it possible to push out the new code to the cloud environments whenever it is needed. Deployment is how software advances from the engineer’s laptop to the cloud. Continuous deployment processes ensure that new software passes all tests and gates before it is deployed for use. New features are tested literally thousands of times before being deployed. This approach is why most cloud solutions we enjoy can be updated so easily while making the solution itself always available. It’s not infallible of course, (nothing is) but so far, the data shows that CI/CD leads to better outcomes and customer experiences.

Steve Austin is innovation manager for the 3M 360 Encompass System.

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