Unis ease into shared services

A Government scheme in which tertiary education institutions are able to collaborate for the provision of services has so far spawned only one IT project.

A Government scheme in which tertiary education institutions are able to collaborate for the provision of services has so far spawned only one IT project.

The health sector, by contrast, has such good examples of shared services as HealthAlliance, the combining IT operation of Waitemata and Counties Manukau district health boards.

The university and polytechnic scheme, for which five reports were written last year by theTertiary Education Commission, is called Collaborating for Efficiency.

Its shining light is the collaborative library system Conzulsys, which involves most of the country’s university libraries in a system with shared applications and databases.

More possibilities of IT-related shared services may happen “down the line”, says Victoria University finance chief Wayne Morgan, “but nothing that’s gone beyond the vague discussion stage”.

Student administration, for example, would be “very hard”, Morgan says. More feasible would be something like human resources, where several of the universities are already using the same or similar software.

He declines to comment on other areas such as payroll and procurement (the University of Auckland having been an early triallist for government’s ill-fated GoProcure).

More definite shared-service proposals could emerge in “three or four months”, Morgan says.

Stephen Whiteside (pictured), head of IT support services at Auckland University, has a similar impression of being in the early stages of the sharing process.

“We have discussions going in a number of areas, and there is goodwill between the directors, but it takes a while to move from the concept to the implementation.”

Whiteside was previously with the Canterbury DHB, “and I’ve seen it work that way in the health sector, which tackled shared services first”.

He estimates it will take “a couple of years” to get a significant amount of shared IT services in place. One important facilitating factor, he anticipates, will be the upcoming high-capacity research and education network among tertiary education and research institutions, which now has provisional government approval and more funds promised.

“That’s one thing the health sector doesn’t have.”

The Collaborating for Efficiency project produced five reports last year, none of which is specifically concerned with ICT or even mentions it much. The report on library services obviously makes reference to Conzulsys, but adds that there is more to be done by way of sharing ICT-based services, even on that limited front. One of its key recommendations is that “all tertiary and research libraries in New Zealand should operate an interoperable Integrated Library and Resources Access Management System (IRAMS).”

The Collaborating for Efficiency capital sub-group, one of whose tasks is to identify ways of efficently using the capital assets of tertiary education institutions, notes in its report, delivered last August, that it had insufficient time to inquire into information technology needs, though these were part of its terms of reference.

The report of the orverarching steering group refers to IT and communcations only within a library context. It identifies a lack of “sufficiently robust, common definitions for data and information across our tertiary education institutes,” but this is in the context of benchmarking one establishment against another, not in sharing of services.

The reports may be read here.

Waitemata and Counties Manukau district health boards, by contrast, have identical patient management (Isoft Pims) and clinical (Orion) systems.

“We share the same instance of Oracle for financials,” says IT manager Joanne Bos, “and the same instance of Leader payroll and Hire.com recruitment applications.”

The Delphic lab system and its associated Eclair reporting application has begun to involve the Auckland DHB as well. “We are working more and more closely with Auckland,” says Bos, and there are “discussions” about bringing that DHB into more shared IT services.

The infrastructure standardisation effort, Project Fusion, is working towards merging domains. Already the active directory structures of all three organisations are merged.

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