Forum: The urge to share breaks out all over

Councils and health boards push for shared systems

A couple of developments over the past year have lead me to believe there is a real drive on to break down IT bottlenecks and get value for money out of future IT investment.

First there is IRIS, the integrated regional information system project being supported by at least three geographically diverse regional councils. The aim of IRIS, which is still finding its way through approval processes, is to build a shared platform for managing regional council business.

At first this effort included several more councils, but some found they had specific requirements they felt could not be delivered on a shared system. Despite that, the drive to share is encouraging. It should deliver lower costs and may deliver better consistency of service and processes across regions.

Another example is the Health Management System Collaborative (HMSC), an alliance of seven District Health Boards trying to deliver a single health IT system across their various regions — and open to other DHBs who may wish to participate.

Right now, there are numerous barriers to sharing. Legacy systems have to be considered and not all councils or health boards renew their technologies at the same time. Processes are different and sometimes, for both functional and cultural reasons, hard to change.

As a letter reported on the Computerworld website recently from the HealthIT Cluster to the HMSC shows, there are also a lot of interest groups and stakeholders to be satisfied.

That letter, which said it supported the “general thrust of the effort” also said the project has the potential to “profoundly alter the market both now and in the future”. The Cluster is an alliance of organisations interested in health IT, including vendors and is contracted to represent the views of health IT vendors to the Ministry of Health, which also appears to be backing the HMSC.

The letter was an expression of concern by the local health IT industry that the DHBs might opt for a “monolithic” solution from one of the major offshore vendors rather than a “best of breed” solution, presumably from one or more of its member companies.

“Our concern is that, whether or not this is in fact the best approach to the health sector’s needs, there has been little or no public debate about what would be the most significant change in health IT strategy seen in New Zealand for at least a generation,” the letter says.

The cluster says the collaboration by the DHBs and the RFI seems to have been taken before a planned update of the national health IT strategy, “which should form the basis of the debate that we feel is required”.

At the time of writing, the HMSC was known to have replied to the Cluster’s letter. That reply was due to be published on Computerworld’s print deadline and may or may not be on the front page of this paper, depending on timing.

A recent CIO roundtable, to be reported in an upcoming issue of that magazine, focused on the health sector, with a great cross-section of DHB, Ministry and provider organisations in attendence. There was no lack of will to regain momentum in IT development and integration. There was also no lack of willingness to compromise to effect closer collaboration.

That’s very encouraging. As the economy cools it will become even more vital that our dollars work harder for us, that we make the right decisions and execute on major projects such as these.

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