Forum: Consolidation, sharing key as economy tightens

Shared systems are a serious threat to incumbent vendors

I’ve been told there is a bunch of vendors running scared at moves to build shared systems in local government and health — and the prospect of a major amalgamation of Auckland local bodies.

Some of this has already been reported by Computerworld, especially in the reaction of local health software providers to efforts by District Health Boards to create a shared platform. But moves to standardise processes in health, local and central government and potentially in education and even in the private sector promise to only increase.

We are going to see a few vendor winners and a lot of losers in the process and you’d be brave to think the winners will be obvious.

Standardising processes is not easy. It requires executives to agree to set aside some things for the common good. It requires compromise.

To succeed, projects such as the Health Management System Collaborative (HMSC) between at least seven DHBs, and the Integrated Regional Information System (IRIS), between several regional councils, require difficult in-depth planning, process mapping and scoping that will go for months and years before any code gets cut.

They also require strong project sponsorship, right from the top of each organisation involved.

Auckland’s integration will require similar commitment — even from people likely to lose their jobs because of the changes. This is the rock on which many an ambitious IT project has foundered.

Our national political leaders, who are driving the changes in Auckland at least, would do well to look at a few overseas examples to see what not to do.

Examples could include the Australian Federal government’s mandated big bang outsourcing projects of the late 1990s. The government told agencies to outsource, so they did, and then sat back and watched the whole thing turn belly up and all the projected savings disappear. Some of those deals are still being unwound.

To succeed in these complex projects, you need to keep people onside. You need to convince and inspire, not hector and dictate.

The UK National Health Service’s disastrous National Programme for IT (NPfIT), aimed at delivering a national integrated health IT system, is more like a cross between that Aussie outsourcing project and our own INCIS Police project failure. It both tried to dictate from the centre and, like INCIS, chose the wrong technology platform — in this case one that hadn’t even been developed.

There is also a sense in NPfIT that it tried to be all things to all people, allowing too much localisation and enough process standardisation.

HMSC appears to be working its way through a robust process and appears to have considerable buy-in. It is also being led by medical professionals rather than politicians or IT people. That’s all good.

We are still awaiting news on the next stage of IRIS, and will keep you posted.

As for Auckland, well, it promises to be a great source of breaking news.

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