CIO drives IP telephony in health care group

CEOs of 11 independent health care groups in a Victorian hospital co-operative agreed to give up traditional PABX telephony at the behest of an enterprising CIO.

In 1998 the South West Alliance of Rural Health, inVictoria -- a co-operative of 11 independent health care groups spanning 33 sites in the southern and western regions of Victoria - identified a need to replace its traditional PABX system with a telephony system that would improve services to regional sites while reducing costs.

Gary Druitt, CIO at the health service, sold the idea of an "IP everything" strategy, that is deploying Internet protocol (IP) telephony to replace traditional telecommunications systems and integrate data, voice and video to the management of each hospital.

"I had to convince every finance manger of every health care group that they needed to invest that money."

To get their attention and confidence, Druitt illustrated the cost savings. The average annual outgoing for the group's telecommunications costs was $900,000 a year, including STD for voice calls, low-spend ISDN costs for data transmission and ISDN costs for videoconferencing, as well as travel expenses.

Instead of putting in another slow-speed but cheaper Newton, Druitt, speaking at Dimension Data's conference in Queensland, illustrated that the high-speed IP network would save the health service 40 per cent on voice calls, 90 per cent on videoconferencing and roughly 31 per cent on travel costs, thereby generating a greater return.

Druitt and his steering committee developed an IT strategic plan and valued it as worth $20 million over five years with hospitals and government splitting the costs 50/50.

He said a collaborative approach and ownership amongst users from all the hospitals was critical to the success of the project.

"If they don't participate, they won't own it, and if they don't own it, they will leave with their bat and ball," he said.

The broadband network, known as SMARHnet, links the 33 sites and a point of presence in Melbourne utilising a microwave WAN with fully packet-switched, Cisco-based VoIP (voice over IP) technology.

Downgrading "technical gurus"

IT managers who think they are "technical gurus" are not in the business of information management, according to IT specialists.

Gary Druitt, CIO at South West Alliance of Rural Health in Victoria, said, "A lot of [IT managers and staff] think they are technical gurus and say to the vendor ‘I want that box'. They buy the box and spend the next year trying to implement the thing - rather than saying I want an IP network that fulfils these parameters and I don't care how you do it."

Druitt said the image of the IT manager walking around carrying a computer, or tinkering with cables rather than driving business objectives is one CEOs dislike. "Our IT department has about five people; we outsource everything else. "Too often we focus on the tools and not the information management, where IT people ought to be information management people. I'm in the business of information management not information technology," Druitt said, adding that those working in IT for the love of "toys" should be working in an IT company, which is in the business of IT, rather than in healthcare or another industry.

"I go to market for an answer and get someone to deliver it. If internal people think they can do it, they can go into bid, which they have done and they haven't won one yet."

- Siobhan Chapman travelled to the conference as a guest of the vendor.

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