Melbourne's Repat centre sheds legacy system

The Austin and Repatriation Medical Centre (A&RMC) has overhauled its former legacy-based, core accounting system , a move which has boosted the accuracy and productivity levels of its financial planning and patient care processes.

The Melbourne-based A&RMC is a 5000-employee teaching hospital and centre for medical research at which the University of Melbourne's medicine, surgery, psychiatry, psychology and physiotherapy departments are based. The A&RMC has 66,700 outpatients a year.

For 25 years the centre used McDonald Douglas legacy applications for its accounting and patient management functions. However, the introduction of the GST in July last year forced it to upgrade from antique, terminal-based information systems and a Unix server environment to more modern accounting technology, A&RMC financial controller Andrew McDonald told Computerworld.

According to McDonald, the medical centre operated a character-based accounting system that was sluggish, inflexible with poor reporting facilities.

Flawed in two ways, the old system could not process the GST. And while the finance department used and understood the reports it produced, managers still struggled to get any useful insights about where budget was being spent for patient care and on what. Fairly simple queries like ‘how much did the hospital spend on prosthetic hips last year?' could take days to answer, McDonald said.

Facing a five-month project deadline and the need to show managers that the centre could function under the GST, the centre went live with Microsoft Great Plains' eEnterprise software in July - a $200,000 out-of-the-box solution to manage core finance functions like general ledger, accounts payable and receivable, cash management, fixed assets management, inventory and purchasing.

McDonald said the centre deployed eEnterprise because of its rich feature set and impressive range of functionality. "The software linked well to spreadsheets and other desktop software and the Explorer interface to drill down was simple for our managers to use."

After implementing the solution in six weeks and within budget, the A&RMC was able to file a business activity statement on time, McDonald said.

Also, the system makes it easier and faster for staff to manage their own budgets, for which they use Excel; the new system imports those changes automatically, then distributes them across the system.

While the centre does not expect to achieve any tangible cost savings through the solution, it has cut the bank reconciliation process significantly, going from five days to 45 minutes a day for reconciliations. Also, the A&RMC's end of year audit process has been halved from its previous eight weeks, McDonald said.

For customer service staff, the system generates better quality information for them, making query-tracking on things like clinical services more efficient, he said.

According to McDonald, the solution was a more cost-effective and easy-to-implement choice compared to other enterprise, mid-range offerings from vendors whose financial solutions were around $1.5 million and upwards -- a hard cost for a public hospital to justify, he said.

The only implementation hiccup the centre experienced was three days down time in early July while transferring data from the old system to the new.

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