The colour of success - Cardinal's e-commerce claims grab 'jaded' Aussies

There are just five minutes till show time and the audience is looking a little thin. The Cardinal troops are understandably nervous because the launch of version 5.0 of Jade is pivotal to continuing growth in Australia. As the hall fills, it seems it is the nitty-gritty that they've come to see. Cardinal's John Ascroft does his wizardry, demonstrating the new capabilities of version 5.0, including creating Java thin clients on the fly. The audience is impressed; Ascroft receives spontaneous applause - the message is getting through.

There are just five minutes till show time and the audience is looking a little thin. The Cardinal troops are understandably nervous because the launch of version 5.0 of Jade is pivotal to continuing growth in Australia.

They haven't been given the best time slot at the Gartner symposium (held in Brisbane last week). Only half an hour before, the 1200 conference delegates broke for lunch, and most haven't eaten dessert yet.

One o'clock comes, and the presentation start is delayed as the hall begins to fill out. Chief executive Gil Simpson takes the stage to give the executive overview, to position Jade in the e-commerce space. Even he, a most experienced public speaker, seems nervous. Then comes the marketing message, which the audience receives silently.

It seems it is the nitty-gritty that they've come to see. Technical guru John Ascroft does his wizardry, demonstrating the new capabilities of version 5.0, including creating Java thin clients on the fly. The audience is impressed; Ascroft receives spontaneous applause, the Cardinal team relax somewhat. The message is getting through.

After the show, the numbers are tallied. More than 150 attendees, up 50% on last year's inaugural Australian launch of Jade. And the staff on the stand at the show are suddenly inundated. It's been a successful exercise.

Jade 5.0 cements the partnership announced earlier this year between Cardinal and IBM. It's been ported to AIX, IBM's Unix operating system for the RS/6000, meaning a single application can be built, eliminating integration issues, and a decison to deploy on AIX or NT can be made on implementation. One system, one technology, one skill set.

As Ascroft demonstrates, parts of a Jade application can now be deployed as Java applets to provide a thin client that will run on any desktop platform. Bandwidth is preserved because all application logic runs on the Jade WAN server, while the client machine looks after the display logic only.

Jade now deploys from the Internet browser through to the high-end RS/6000 SP parallel processing platform.

"The future of business is one shaped by electronic commerce," says Simpson, "where business must be able to combine the immense wealth of data in its own information systems with the inexspensive and global reach of the internet, to connect with customers and suppliers in ways never before possible.

"This demands three things from a computer system: that it has the power to process billions of transactions of widely varying complexity; that it can scale from one user to hundreds of thousands, and that it can share data as effectively with the supplier next door as it can with the customer on the other side of the globe."

Jade, he claims, is the only technology on the computing market today that is able to do this on a viable economic basis.

"Electronic commerce will place more stress on systems than many people are aware of. It needs far higher levels of real-time information."

In the 1960s, he says, there was a tremendous push to have integrated systems, mostly done in batch mode. "We've lifted the game in terms of doing integration in real time. E-commerce is the next phase of systems integration but the problem is that it works best in real-time mode. Organisations today that are still integrating systems dependent on batch processing are in trouble. Jade is a realtime transactional system."

Last year when Cardinal launched Jade in Australia, it had few applications to hang its hat on. It was a different story this year. Applications now include ASB Bank's Bank-Direct and Fastnet, the Centris reservation system developed for Tourism Holdings, and a shopping site for the World Cup of Golf, to be played in New Zealand next month, which handles, in real time, credit card transactions, multinationally and across multiple vendors. There's Focus Software's Greentree accounting software, build in Jade — the next version of the well-known CBA suite — and perhaps the jewel in the crown at this stage, a major project for the Northern Territory Health Service's community care divisions.

The latter is important because it will eventually cater for up to 1000 users — up to 300 concurrent — demonstrating the scalability of Jade.

Territory Health services community care systems manager Peter Kerr says a 1992 planning exercise identified a severe IS deficit, with old and non-year-2000-compliant systems, and no integration back to hospital systems. "We had a couple of olf mainframes and standalone PCs."

A user requirement study of the four major divisions of community care was undertaken, then areas of commonality identified. It was decided that a generic case management system was needed, tracking patients from first to last contact. "We also had a common need for management word-processing and documentation. We wanted a single platform and system for evolution so we didn't get caught in the maintenance trap."

Early in 1996, Territory Health Services went to the market. "We couldn't find anything within an 80% fit," Kerr says. "We looked in Australia, then overseas, but they were all single-purpose products." Territory Health Services had an existing relationship with Cardinal through its LINC-based hospital systems, and became aware, through that, of Jade, which Cardinal sold to it as a vehicle to rapidly and safely develop a solution from scratch. "It was the framework of a product that represented what we wanted and also what you'd expect to see in most hospital systems," Kerr says.

The community care group provides services to 180,000 people scattered over a vast area.

By October, it had implemented 12 sites in all major locations. "The implementation was relatively drama-free," Kerr says. "There were small issues but not one single problem that stopped us using the systems. User acceptance has been high, and training workplace-based."

Twelve more sites, involving 200 users, will be implemented by next March for mental health services. "Then, by mid-year, we'll implement 50 to 60 more sites, to around 400 users." Eventually, the system will cater to up to 1000 users.

Kerr says a single client-record hospital and community system has also been implemented, similar to New Zealand's national data set.

"The next major release of the software, next year, will support continuity of care over the two systems," he says. The five Northern Territory hospitals currently run on Cardinal Caresys software.

Interestingly, in this modern age of cost justification, Territory Health Services didn't have to produce a cost-benefit case to the Territory treasury and government.

"The exercise wasn't about saving money or generating revenue," Kerr says. "It was about improving service."

Was there any downside in using Jade? "I can't think of anything other than losts of extra effort involved.

"The ability to build a complex application and to be stable has turned out how Cardinal said it would. One of the key features is being able to use it to help us adapt quickly to changes in generic case management. That's critical to us."

The intellectual property rights of the system remain with Cardinal, with Territory Health Services becoming part of the mainstream product programme, so getting access to product improvement and to support.

According to Simpson, Cardinal now has 20 customers in Australia, out of a total of around 100.

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