How a senior-living CTO finds ways to cut costs

Atria CTO Chris Nall shares strategies for smart IT spending.
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· 3 min read

The dining areas at some Atria Senior Living communities have point-of-sale devices, much like a restaurant: You place an order on a handheld display, that order inputs a ticket into the kitchen, and then the culinary team whips up the food.

As food costs have risen, CTO Chris Nall and his team at Atria have considered projects within the communities that save money, including gathering data from those point-of-sale devices to sense the residents’ favorite—and least favorite—meals.

“Once we plan the menus better with what people are actually eating, we should be able to reduce some of our food waste, just by not ordering things that our residents don’t want to eat,” Nall told IT Brew.

The food-intel setup is currently implemented in six of Atria’s 400 communities around the country, and the plan is to increase that number, said Nall.

In a conversation with IT Brew, Nall revealed other practical technology strategies, as well as ways to manage spending, as costs rise.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How has a looming recession impacted your decisions on what projects to prioritize?

We’ve focused more on cost-reduction projects in our communities. So, which of our projects do we feel will help optimize labor or potentially save some utility costs and food costs at our local communities?

How is the tracking of food orders an example of cost reduction?

One, you’re optimizing labor; there’s less walking back and forth. You’re getting orders faster to a kitchen.

Two, you’re actually electronically gathering data for what is being ordered at that particular community at that particular meal. So, you can then use that information to place future food orders for what the residents like and dislike in our communities.

What’s another way to cut costs with technology?

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I think moving physical data centers to cloud-based data centers can save you anywhere from 20% to 30% of your data center infrastructure cost. The expenses continue to go up. And when you maintain your own data center, you have not only your manpower expenses, but your utilities expenses, your data center expenses, and then there’s just the physical maintenance of a data center.

What are the best ways for IT to be smart about spending?

We’ve done a lot of vendor consolidation: telecommunications vendors, emergency call vendors, our network equipment vendors.

We look at device utilization, whether it’s cell phones or laptops…And it’s just keeping a tighter focus on our monthly network, phone, and other equipment/operating expenses.

We’ve got a pretty large amount of Apple iPhones out there. We also have 23,000 emergency-call GPS pendants that are tied to a Verizon account. As our residents move in and out, it’s important for us to turn that service off. We’ve been able to use analytics to get more real-time visibility into that and then turn the services on and off as they’re being used and not being used.

What advice would you have for how to lead an IT staff?

You really have to walk many miles in your end-users’ shoes. When I say “end users’ shoes,” I spend a lot of time at our communities, visiting them, asking open-ended questions of problems that they’re having and their thoughts on technology. And I think a lot of CTOs may come in with their old company’s playbook before they’ve really understood what that particular industry has a challenge in.—BH

Do you work in IT or have information about your IT department you want to share? Email [email protected] or DM @BillyHurls on Twitter.

Top insights for IT pros

From cybersecurity and big data to software development and gaming, IT Brew delivers the latest news and analysis of trends shaping the IT industry, like only The Brew can.