Cloud Foundry and the Design of the Philips Digital Health Platform

July 9, 2014 Paul M. Davis

The name Philips is often associated with the company’s consumer and lighting products, but its healthcare offerings are increasingly important to Philips’ future. During his keynote at the Cloud Foundry Summit 2014, Francois Andry, Software Architect for the Philips Digital Health Platform, detailed the challenges and opportunities inherent in building a platform that unites Philips’ connected products and addresses the limitations of the company’s legacy systems.

Launched in January 2014, Philips’ Healthcare Informatics Solutions and Services offers hospitals and health systems the customized clinical programs, advanced data analytics and interoperable, cloud-based platforms necessary to implement new models of care. During his presentation, Andry explored how Cloud Foundry serves as the foundation for this platform. He presented a use case about how using Cloud Foundry eased compliance and provides an effective way to create new health, wellness and lifestyle products and services.

Such adaptation to new market opportunities is built in the company’s DNA, Andry explained. With its healthcare initatives, he said, “What we’re doing is solving problems in a different domain. Philips is a 120 year old company…we started with lightbulbs, the X-ray machine, radio, TV, and CD players. Every few years now we have to master a major transformation in business information.”

“We’re touching the lives of almost two billion people and growing the two markets,” Andry said, referring to Philips’ consumer electronics and healthcare products. “We have many different challenges. One is scalability because every day we have millions of devices that are connected to us.”

Scalability isn’t the only challenge facing Philips—as in many other enterprises, legacy systems form the basis of the company’s technological ecosystem. “Like any large company we have developed silos over the years,” he said. “Healthcare is a Windows shop, and we have other silos with a large quantity of Java developers, so we want to reduce the total cost of ownership.”

“At the same time, the goal is to satisfy customers across all these different segments—healthcare, lighting, and consumer market,” he said. With this constant stream of data, Andry explained, the platform needs to be capable of storing large data sets, integrating multiple legacy systems and services, and analyzing both structured and unstructured data. “We need a mix,” he said, “SQL and no SQL, structured and instructured, and you want to reduce the time to market.”

“What we want to do is very fast,” he said. “Sometimes you want glean information in a few days because there’s an opportunity and you want to test that in the market.” A multitude of platforms, languages, IT security concerns, and healthcare compliance regulations can present roadblocks to creating innovative data-driven solutions, Andry stated.

There were numerous considerations that Philips aimed to address in the development of its new platform: transitioning from a complex technological ecosystem while continuing to integrate with those legacy systems, offering a toolkit of reusable service API’s to developers, combining and storing data from many sources. Moreover, the platform needed to be reliable, extendable, and scalable to address the company’s ever-growing influx of data. “Sometimes we have clinics where you only have two thousand patients in the Midwest,” he said, “but on East Coast, West Coast, or China, sometimes you have two million [patients].”

The company chose Cloud Foundry to power this new platform, rather than building a solution in-house, for a number of reasons. Thanks to Cloud Foundry, Andry said, “we can focus on the business of building applications and propositions, and not create the cloud infrastructure from scratch.”

Other compelling benefits of Cloud Foundry, he noted, was its heritage, adoption by many large industry players, and the ability to perform provisioning and configuration functions “out of the box.” Another advantage was its ability to both store data in the cloud and also cache the data on-premises, as well as its cloud-agnostic design which enables the company to use multiple cloud storage services based on their cost and availablility.

The result is a new platform that not only meets Philips’ various technical, administrative, and compliance requirements, but also empowers health care practioners to offer more effective preventative care. Using Cloud Foundry, Andry said, Philips is developing “amazing” new healthcare products that leverage Big Data, real-time analytics, and reporting.

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