Finding the right platform to build a great app
To build Caren, Cincinnati Children’s needed an agile, scalable, feature-rich cloud platform. The hospital wanted to deliver a successful first version of the app right away and then add functionality easily over time. Cincinnati Children’s had experience with Microsoft development, and its developers were impressed by Microsoft Azure and services like Azure Cognitive Services Language Understanding for natural language interaction.
“Because Azure is a Microsoft platform, we had a level of familiarity that made it a comfortable development environment, which saved us time and effort,” says Towne. “And with it, we gained access to the whole range of Azure services, including Cognitive Services and Azure Bot Service, which we used to build our chatbot. It inspired us to investigate new possibilities and add features we hadn’t thought of before.”
Marianne James, Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer at Cincinnati Children’s, concurs. “It’s essential to us that we deploy trusted and reliable technologies to support the work that goes on here at the hospital,” she explains. “We knew that Microsoft had the products and the expertise necessary to help us deliver a great app for our families. Microsoft has also made tremendous investments in privacy and security, and that took a lot of the burden off of our developers. Our confidence in the Microsoft platform allowed us to make a cost-conscious decision. It also made sense to build on our existing Microsoft infrastructure rather than starting from scratch.”
As Business Systems Architect at Cincinnati Children’s, Ray Stone helps map out the hospital’s future IT strategies and work out how best to achieve them. He saw Microsoft technologies as providing flexibility in addition to familiarity, thanks to tools like Microsoft Visual Studio Tools for Xamarin.
“We had experience with .NET, but we didn’t have expertise in building native iOS and Android apps, and we wanted Caren to be cross-platform,” says Stone. “With Visual Studio Tools for Xamarin, we can write the code once and then deploy it on multiple mobile platforms rather than maintaining separate code bases.”
Cincinnati Children’s developers built the pilot version of Caren in approximately three months, and they found the process to be extremely smooth. Using Azure DevOps, they were able to quickly create new builds and push them out to mobile devices for testing. Cincinnati Children’s invited families to download the app for beta testing and asked them to provide feedback.
“We got a strong response from families, with lots of positive comments,” says James. “We started putting flyers about the app into information packets given to patients. Within three weeks we hit 1,000 users, and that number continues to grow. Using Microsoft tools, we quickly delivered a valuable resource to families that makes their lives easier during challenging times.”
She continues, “We put our patients first in everything we do, and that includes technology. We want to provide the functionality that is most important to them. What we’re most proud of with Caren is that patients are already seeing value from it—that’s what makes us smile.”