HealthAlliance plans another open source pilot

HealthAlliance, New Zealand's consortium of District Health Boards (DHBs) including Waitemata Health and Counties Manukau, is looking at running its own open-source desktop project.

It would run in parallel with an initiative led by Good Health Wanganui, whose plan is temporarily stalled.

Phil Brimacombe, CIO at HealthAlliance, says the project is currently only at the feasibility stage and faces significant problems arising from the DHBs' current entanglement with the Microsoft environment.

Many of the DHBs' core applications, such as their radiology image management tool, are only available for Microsoft Windows, he says. Background services such as database management and file and print services are also heavily dependent on Microsoft software.

"We have to consider how to reduce our dependence on a complex Microsoft environment," Brimacombe says.

In pushing ahead as fast as it can with the open source plan, HealthAlliance is conscious of the approaching end of G2003, the public-sector licensing arrangement with Microsoft. G2003 is due to expire in September next year, by which time organisations will have to consider how much Microsoft product they want to license under the new G2006 arrangement, which should be finalised this year.

"That would be a good target date to have a pilot [completed]" he says. "But we have to have solved those problems, so we're aiming to do that by the end of this calendar year."

The Wanganui desktop is designed around Suse Linux and GroupWise. The Wanganui DHB is stalled waiting for an upgrade to its Eclair clinical records system that can be used with the open-source Firefox browser. An upgrade is now expected in late July, says CIO Steve Rayner, and Wanganui's pilot should then be able to proceed.

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