Paladina Health, a Colorado-based health care company, provides primary care solutions and on-site clinics for more than 140 employers, including labor unions, school districts, and government agencies. Getting a new client set up typically takes up to six months. And if the client needs additional technology upgrades, onboarding can take another year.

But with the COVID-19 pandemic, the company’s sales cycle and onboarding timeline shrunk. Paladina Health’s clients are figuring out how to get back to the office amid rapidly changing health guidelines and how to provide their employees with responsive care. To meet that need, they had to throw out their typical playbook.

“We have been doing this for more than 10 years, and have perfected the art of new client onboarding, new client implementation, and building new clinics,” said Sampath Narayanan, Paladina’s chief information officer. “But this was a whole new solution and required our teams to take a step back. We needed to deliver a solution in two weeks; otherwise, we were not helping our clients.”

The company’s shift to a quicker sales cycle is indicative of a broader trend: 90% of executives believe COVID-19 will fundamentally change the way they do business over the next five years, according to a McKinsey survey. This only amplifies what we already knew about customer expectations: 70% of customers believe companies must have a seamless customer experience — one that reflects an understanding of past actions and product use — in order to win their business.

The new direction of business was not lost on Narayanan and his team, who shaved months off their implementation timeline to develop a new, more nimble offering for its enterprise clients. That new offering involved a daily self-assessment based on CDC guidelines and onsite temperature screenings at client offices.

If an employee reports or exhibits symptoms, Paladina Health automatically notifies their employer and dispatches a primary care provider who can visit the employee within the day. Whereas Paladina Health previously required a 3- to 5-year commitment in client contracts, they were now signing new clients for less than a year, due to the unpredictable nature of the pandemic.

Paladina Health’s process for helping its clients reopen and clear employees to return to work safely


This rapid pivot requires fundamental changes to processes, tools, and even a company’s view of its own core product. We caught up with Narayanan and asked him what CIOs in other industries can learn from Paladina Health’s experience. This was his advice: 


1. Have all your systems in place

Narayanan encourages every CIO to consistently and systematically take a good look at how well their enterprise-level software and hardware come together through a detailed audit. The trick is to ensure that each system is built for a specific purpose and solves a business problem.

When business problems and purposes change, as in the time of COVID-19, systems and tools need to change rapidly in order to meet new business needs. Then, it’s about making sure the new software, hardware, and information technology can communicate effectively with one another, so that you can integrate all components.

“We were able to navigate this pandemic because we had our systems in place. That is something that is so foundational,” Narayanan said. “We already had Salesforce integrated with our Electronic Medical Record. We already had our data warehouse and our Tableau data reporting. So the building blocks and systems were there. It was only the problem and the solution that were new.”


2. Time to market is key

To get your product to market as soon as possible, Narayanan suggests CIOs consider using software development tools that require very little coding work instead of spending resources building a custom app from scratch, which can take between one and two years to develop.

“If the CDC changes its guidelines [for COVID-19 symptoms], we can change the guidelines on our end in an hour. That kind of flexible mindset is new for us,” Narayanan said.

In addition, he recommends finding the right balance between how standardized the product is (which saves time) and how customizable it is (a necessity in a rapidly shifting public health environment).

“We didn’t want to custom develop a new product every time we met a new client,” Narayanan said. “However, we were able to customize the questionnaire and modularize the product components, which allows us to customize the offering based on the state or the client’s individual needs.”


3. Stay open-minded

Part of getting a new offering off the ground in weeks instead of months involves questioning old assumptions and being open to new ways of doing business. In a recent interview with Salesforce, psychology professor Wendy Wood said that unexpected shifts in our environment can force us to reexamine dated ways of doing business and come up with new solutions in a pinch.

“Sometimes these disruptions that feel like they are going to be cataclysmic actually help us find a better way forward,” Wood said.

Narayanan is already looking at data from his clients to determine where to save even more time and redirect resources.

“We are learning that our members are going to expect a lot more virtual care. We've seen that from our own data, which shows video visits increasing from 4% to 70%,” Narayanan said. “We are also starting to see a lot more remote monitoring because of the COVID pandemic. A lot of this will save time.”


4. Nurture your clients

Many of Paladina Health’s clients did not start off with sophisticated digital cultures. Their digital infrastructure was outdated, they were not equipped to respond rapidly to data requests, and their employees were not used to telemedicine. Narayanan says companies can close this gap by educating clients on the process and why certain data or infrastructure upgrades are required.

“We always make sure to explain the why and the benefits that they're going to eventually get,” Narayanan said. “They may not know all the details from a technology perspective — they may not be there yet — but we see a huge willingness from them to partner with us on solving those problems.” 


5. Create relationships with your customer’s customer

Throughout the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Paladina Health was able to maintain regular relationships with its clients and those client’s employees: 97% of Paladina Health’s clinics remained open and company representatives were based in each of the 22 states where the company does business.

Once a rep introduces themselves to a client’s employee, they then use Salesforce Marketing Cloud to share a series of email and text messages to educate them on the Paladina Health primary care model. As a result, the company is in much more frequent contact with clients during the pandemic, with two core purposes to those touchpoints.

“One, we are trying to tell them we are available. Two, we are trying to answer any clinical questions they may have,” Narayanan said. “They are looking at us as a clinical thought leader, a clinical helping hand.”

To see more stories of companies who’ve made massive shifts in their business and operations since COVID-19 started, check out Leading Through Change.