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Machine analytics fuel Cardinal Health's IT transformation

Clint Boulton | Oct. 4, 2016
The global health services provider monitors its sprawling IT operations using analytics software from Splunk to detect hardware and software performance problems.

Expanding Splunk to other business lines paid dividends. The software found a curious error in the home health unit, which sells diabetes test strips and other aids. Warehouse workers receive orders electronically and scan merchandise with a scanner attached to their wrist before putting it into a tote to be packaged and shipped.

The company noted that its unit's warehouse management application was throwing off more than 500,000 "null scan" errors daily. Cardinal checked with the software vendor, which told it that the error occurs when a warehouse worker incorrectly scans a bar code on one of the packages it is supposed to ship. But a check of Splunk revealed that it was actually a software glitch that had been delaying shipments for years. "We had gotten used to the performance in the warehouse because we didn't know any better and because we couldn't see the error being meaningful," Lindsey says. The software vendor corrected the error and Cardinal's warehouse operations improved.

Splunk also helps with on-boarding new customers. When Cardinal's medical business scored a major new account, the IT staff used Splunk to identify potential problems that could arise as a result of the resulting 5 percent to 10 percent spike in order volume from the new customer. Lindsey says Splunk detected potential master data issues, which enabled Cardinal and the new customer to huddle in a "war room" to remediate the issue.

AWS, Splunk ninjas form formidable one-two punch

Cardinal hosts its Splunk implementation at Amazon Web Services, part of the company's effort to offload more functionality to public cloud software, Lindsey says. Splunk’s software aggregates, compresses and encrypts Cardinal log files before shipping them to AWS' servers.

Lindsey credits Cardinal's success to cultivating "Splunk ninjas," essentially IT staff with cross-functional backgrounds in hardware, database, middleware and programming backgrounds who have mastered the software. These ninjas partner closely with business stakeholders, teaching them how to use the technology.

Moreover, Lindsey says the approach has prompted other leaders in other business units to ask for Splunk, whose customers include Dunkin Donuts, Carnival Cruise Line, DirecTV and MasterCard. Gartner’s Fletcher says this is often the case when businesses find value in software that improves operations. "It unlocks a lot of creativity," Fletcher says.

Cardinal considers Splunk a key tool in its bid to refashion its IT architecture. "The closer you are to the system and the business process, the faster you'll get the insights and the more focused you'll be on getting down to the real value," Lindsey said.


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