From Mainframes to Modern Tech: The Evolution of Blue Cross IT


| 4 min read

From Mainframes to Modern Tech: The Evolution of Blue Cross IT
With more than six million members across the U.S., Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan is the state’s largest health insurer. We have the largest network of doctors and hospitals in Michigan, and the services we provide our members continues to expand - and become more innovative - every day. None of this happened overnight. Becoming Michigan’s leading health care company took time – 80 years, in fact – and during that time information technology – and the teams who manage it – played an integral role in making our mission of improving the health of Michigan’s residents and communities a reality. Now, technology is playing a new and bigger role: helping exceed member expectations in a digital world, challenging the status quo in how we provide access to care and empowering the Blue Cross business to thrive for the next 80 years.

Blue Cross: An original health care innovator

Innovation through IT is not a new concept for Blue Cross, and leaders like Joanne Rusch, Director of Technology Consulting, have had a front-row seat in helping drive the company’s tech evolution. “I started at Blue Cross in 1976 as an Application Developer in our claims department, having the opportunity to eventually lead the implementation of a custom-built professional claims system in 1980,” says Rusch. “I then transitioned into a planning role where my team carried out major initiatives that strengthened our claims processes.” Currently, Rusch is focused on developing strategy for the use of modern tech platforms like Salesforce that help increase internal efficiencies while keeping costs low. “We had mainframe-based claims processing in place since the late 1950s, and invested in automated technologies that could help our providers electronically process the high volume of claims they received,” says Rusch. “I’ve watched us convert from being a custom development shop that innovated these mainframes, to utilizing more partnered solutions that choreograph the use of systems that help us deliver our capabilities more efficiently.”

An evolving world

As the health care industry has continued to mature, Blue Cross has taken advantage of the opportunity to make a major shift to become less reliant on the mainframe and shift into new technology aimed at enhancing the member experience. “I joined Blue Cross just after we started introducing web applications to our providers, agents and members. At the time, there was a lot of emphasis on the mainframe system as being the ‘lifeblood’ of the organization,” says Bill Ladouceur, an information technology director. “We’ve increased our partnerships with health care companies like NASCO, Express Scripts, as well as other Blues plans, and now it’s a lot less about owning and managing our own systems and capabilities in the rapidly evolving health care space.” These partnerships, Ladouceur shares, enable Blue Cross to be more nimble and continue the growth necessary to remain a leader. “It became less about reliance on older technologies like the mainframe and more important to integrate across solutions.”

Looking to the future

Ladouceur adds that there are great things on the horizon for Blue Cross IT and shares an excitement for what’s to come. “We’re well-positioned to utilize any industry technology in the service of our members,” says Ladouceur. For Rusch, the introduction of cloud-based technologies is a major tech milestone that Blue Cross IT now uses across its entire business. “With the advent of the cloud, more vendors offered solutions where we no longer had to host data on our infrastructure. We were able to take advantage of their cloud services instead,” says Rusch. “We’ve gotten away from hosting and managing our own infrastructure to connecting all of our vendor-based solutions as a way to minimize costs and maximize efficiencies.” Advanced analytics is another development that will take Blue Cross to the next level in customer service. “It will give us the ability to assess all of the information we have about our members and offer solutions that provide optimal care in real-time,” says Rusch. “It’s giving us insight into the populations we serve, including how we can be even better partners with them in their care, while making management of their health even simpler.” Learn more about what contributes to Blue Cross IT’s growth and progression in the health care IT industry by visiting these blogs:
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MI Blues Perspectives is sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, a nonprofit, independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association