Running a hospital presents endless complexities unique to healthcare organizations: sourcing sterile supplies, staffing people with the right expertise, maintaining safety and compliance, system interoperability, and more. When that hospital is on a moving ship – where at any given time 450-plus international volunteers are living, working, and raising their families – providing care to underserved communities, the operational challenges are even greater – as is the need for a highly specialized communication and collaboration solution to facilitate their lifesaving work.
Mercy Ships knows these challenges well. The nonprofit deploys seaworthy hospitals to deliver free medical care and rebuild healthcare infrastructure in some of the poorest areas of sub-Saharan Africa, where limited access to clean water, reliable electricity, and monitored care centers make creating a safe, sterile environment even more difficult.
Volunteers with Mercy Ships perform over 2,000 surgeries (including maxillofacial, foot straightening, and cataract removal, just to name a few) and 20,000-plus dental procedures each year. In addition to providing services on the ship, volunteers travel into nearby communities to equip 1,400 local healthcare professionals annually with training and supplies “so we can leave the country’s medical arrangements better than we found it,” says Vice President of Information Services Dave Shwadlenak.
People from all walks of life trade their traditional jobs, and in some cases uproot their families, to be part of the Mercy Ships mission to “bring hope and healing to the world’s forgotten poor.” The hospital ships serve not only as a workplace where volunteers care for patients, but also as a mini city that houses everything they need for daily life, from a school for their children, to a bank, to entertainment, and more.
Operating this kind of floating community and providing underdeveloped countries with free medical services is no easy feat. It requires support from over 800 employees in 16 offices around the world, thousands of volunteers, and even more donors. Atlassian is part of the engine that makes it all possible.
The technology engine that keeps Mercy Ships afloat
When Mercy Ships launched its first mobile hospital in 1978, they never fathomed it would sail for over 40 years, impact 2.7 million beneficiaries, and welcome over 25,000 volunteers. Since then, the organization has used several different ships to bring safe, affordable medical care to some of the world's poorest countries and continues to do so on its state-of-the-art hospital ship, the Africa Mercy.
As Mercy Ships grew, so did the complexity of managing many departments onboard and on land, over 1,200 volunteers and 12,000 patients each year, hundreds of global support team members, and a large donor base.
Over time, information became scattered across multiple intranets, teams, and locations, which made it increasingly difficult to work efficiently and effectively. “When they finally got email on the ship, we would email one person, and that person would print out every email and walk around the ship with printouts for people,” Michelle Vincent, Technology Product Manager - Medical, recalls with a laugh.
Confluence is at the core, serving as an intranet for the organization’s employees and volunteers. From policy and procedure documentation; to curricula for the onboard Academy’s 50 students; to blogs that share important announcements and events; to a paging system for people on the ship; the tool not only serves as the whole organization’s knowledge warehouse, but also like their very own social media and communications platform. Onboard volunteers use Confluence to give each other public compliments and encouragement, celebrate birthdays, stay up to date on what’s happening on the ship and in the world, and even sell items to one another.
Jira Software and Jira Service Management complement Confluence as process management, incident management, and service request management platforms. Jira Service Management acts as a clearinghouse to route requests to Jira Software. “We get all sorts of requests, from travel to training to setting up new people in HR,” Dave explains. “We’ve built processes, custom workflows, and efficient forms to draw in the right information through Jira Service Management. Then, they get defined as an incident, a change request, a service request, etc. and are sent to the right people.”
Jira Software and Confluence also integrate with Opsgenie for on-call IT needs and major incident management. Mercy Ships was using another alert management tool before, but the team found it difficult to use and customize. “We switched to Opsgenie because it was a lot more user friendly and cost effective, and it made sense to use a tool that seamlessly integrated with the rest of our Atlassian suite,” Senior Infrastructure Operations Specialist Kristen Evans explains. Now, she says Opsgenie serves as the organization’s “hub and one-stop-shop for our third-party NOC.”
The NOC, Solarwinds, monitors their infrastructure around the clock, but the system wasn’t always tuned in to the ship’s unique setup, and the team didn’t have a way to notify engineers about issues after hours. When Kristen joined the team, she built an integration that pulls in alerts from Solarwinds, automatically prioritizes them based on defined criteria, and parses them into Jira Software tickets. These tickets can be updated from Opsgenie and sent directly to an on-call engineer.
“In the past, if something went down, certain people might be in a meeting or not answering their phones or looking at chat,” Michelle says. “Now, we're using Opsgenie and the Xfinity mobile app on our phones to get incident alerts. If I’m not able to deal with it right away, it gets pushed to the next person. It has helped us handle incidents much quicker.” Kristen adds, “Before we implemented Opsgenie, an incident could go 2-4 hours without being addressed if it happened during the middle of the night or off hours. Now, we get that information directly from Opsgenie and jump on it quickly. It has significantly improved our MTTR [mean time to response] and MTTK [mean time to know].”
Above all else, Mercy Ships is gratified that Atlassian allows them to be “careful stewards of our donations,” as Director of Technology Products Joff Williams puts it, and generate so much value for all of their stakeholders with a moderate investment in technology. “Being a nonprofit, we rely heavily on donations of services, hardware, funds, and even time. Sometimes, we have to be creative and make the most of what we're graciously given to make our organization as efficient and effective as we can be,” says Dave. “With these IT services, our hospital can run as effectively as possible so that we can serve more patients.”