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The healthcare sector needs DevOps to cure sluggish Salesforce releases

David Runciman on June 4th 2021


Organizations in the healthcare and pharma sector lag slightly behind average performances for Salesforce development and release management, across a number of key metrics. Gearset's State of Salesforce DevOps survey revealed that a lower prioritization of Salesforce DevOps in the sector correlates with slower releases and higher change failure rates. Teams of Salesforce professionals in healthcare need to adopt DevOps if they are to keep pace with rising demand for new customizations, continue to enhance resilience, and ensure compliance with stringent regulations.

Salesforce as a healthcare CRM

Adaptability is one of the great strengths of the Salesforce platform, making it able to serve the unique requirements of different sectors. Since the arrival of Health Cloud in 2015, Salesforce has become a major player in the Healthcare CRM market. Many organizations in the healthcare sector have chosen Salesforce to help them join up their systems, streamline their processes, empower their personnel, and ultimately deliver better care for patients and service users.

But organizations won't automatically see these benefits from Salesforce. In order to make sure that Salesforce matches up to their aims and expectations, healthcare organizations must rely on their teams of Salesforce developers and admins to build, test, and release custom functionality. At one level, customizing Salesforce is easy. But healthcare organizations are typically large, complex, and handle vast amounts of sensitive data - all of which introduce serious challenges to ongoing development work.

Implementing and maturing DevOps processes is the best way to meet these challenges and make sure Salesforce delivers maximum value.

Illustration: Salesforce DevOps in the healthcare sector

The state of Salesforce DevOps in the healthcare sector

Almost 10% of respondents to Gearset's State of Salesforce DevOps survey work in the healthcare sector. This means we have a good sense of how the sector is doing in terms of Salesforce DevOps, how it compares to other sectors such as tech and finance, and how it performs against the backdrop of accelerated DevOps adoption across all industries.

One area where we might expect the healthcare sector to be forging ahead is in backing up Salesforce data and metadata. The figures bear this out. In healthcare, 72% of respondents currently have a metadata backup solution - a noticeably greater percentage than the overall average of 64%. And 61% of healthcare organizations have a data backup solution, which compares favorably with the 58% average.

Organizations without a dedicated backup solution are likely to be backing up their data and metadata manually. This is still a concern because restoring from such backups is exceptionally difficult and unavoidably slow. So it's perhaps no surprise that 29% of healthcare organizations expect it could take up to a week to recover from data loss, and a further 8% believe it would take them even longer. Generating and storing backup files locally also makes compliance with data handling regulations such as HIPAA, GDPR and CCPA deeply problematic.

The healthcare sector's adoption of other DevOps processes for Salesforce is broadly in line with the averages for all sectors combined. When it comes to source control, 89% of all respondents to the survey currently use or plan to adopt a source-driven workflow; in the healthcare sector that figure is 87.5%. In terms of implementing an automated deployment pipeline using CI/CD, the healthcare sector is just shy of the 78% average for current and planned adoption.

Despite the fact that most healthcare organizations are moving to adopt DevOps, the sector's average performance for release management is being pulled down by those teams who haven't yet transitioned to DevOps. The particular challenges of building on the Salesforce platform for the healthcare sector, namely managing large and complex orgs, mean that some teams are still struggling.

The symptoms of a suboptimal Salesforce process

Salesforce teams in the healthcare and pharma sector that haven't adopted DevOps processes demonstrate some of the difficulties healthcare organizations run into without Salesforce DevOps. A larger than average proportion of healthcare organizations take longer than a day to run a single deployment from one environment to another. Healthcare organizations are 33% more likely to be in this lowest performance category for deployment speed. Those teams struggling with such slow deployments have either not adopted DevOps at all, or have just begun to implement Devops processes.

It's a similar story with change failure rates - the proportion of releases that contain bugs and errors. Healthcare organizations are 50% more likely to be in the lowest performance category: bugs and errors in more than half of all releases. The healthcare organizations with these high change failure rates have slow release cadences, and none of them have adopted CI/CD. The likelihood that there's a bug somewhere in a large, monthly release package is much higher than in lots of small, incremental and more frequent releases. Smaller releases also mean that if there are any issues, they'll be easier to identify and fix.

Salesforce professionals' diagnosis

According to Salesforce professionals working in healthcare, DevOps adoption is just not seen as a business priority by their organizations. 24% said that this was the main reason for slow DevOps adoption, compared to just 15% of respondents across all sectors.

Every organization has competing priorities to weigh up. Salesforce DevOps can seem like a niche concern - a nice-to-have for the IT department. But Salesforce is increasingly relied upon for all manner of processes and business systems, and DevOps ensures that the platform is delivering for all stakeholders in the organization. The business benefits of DevOps are clear.

If you're finding it harder and harder to get the right Salesforce solutions shipped on time - matching user, business and compliance requirements - you should recognize these as symptoms that will only worsen as your organization grows. Our prescription? A healthy dose of DevOps.

McKesson have mastered Salesforce DevOps

The Salesforce team at healthcare giant McKesson experienced all the pains of trying to build on Salesforce without DevOps: late nights spent on tricky deployments, developers overwriting each other's work, and very low confidence in the release process. Since switching to Gearset, the team at McKesson has implemented a model of DevOps best practice for the Salesforce platform. They now have a fast, automated deployment pipeline that ships changes every 4 hours, with full visibility over a robust and secure release process. Matt Avitable, DevOps architect at McKesson, told us that he is "extremely pleased with the progress we've made with Gearset so far. It's intuitive, easy to use and a real time-saver."

McKesson case study

Implement DevOps without any disruption

Many teams dream of seeing the benefits DevOps brings to Salesforce release management, but assume the ramp-up time for implementation makes it impossible to attempt while they struggle to manage a growing workload. But this is only true for some DevOps tools. Using Gearset, you can set up an end-to-end DevOps workflow in under 30 minutes on your free trial - with nothing to install anywhere and full access to Gearset's suite of DevOps tools.

Feel free to ask us anything using the live chat on this page. And to get our wide-lense analysis of all the data from hundreds of Salesforce professionals across all industry sectors, download your free copy of our State of Salesforce DevOps 2021 report:

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