Qld hospital admits open source BI

Legacy spreadsheets replaced with Web-based application

A desire by senior management for real-time reporting has led the Friendly Society Private Hospital in Bundaberg, Queensland, to ditch spreadsheets for an open source, Web-based business intelligence and reporting solution.

The Friendly Society Private Hospital has been operating for over 60 years, but only in the past few years did it look at its internal systems and realize it needed to harness the disparate information sources in a holistic manner.

The hospital's information systems and HR Manager, Andrew Smith, said limits or budgets on a wide number of KPIs across all areas in the hospital needed to be set and were kept in a consolidated spreadsheet for monthly review by management.

"All managers could begin to see the potential correlations and interactions between each of their individual departments' KPIs," Smith said. "The results were obvious in principle, but had not been seen previously in a report format combining different information sources for management, in this time frame."

With the initial reporting limited to internal knowledge and monthly financial activities, the first reports were sometimes four to six weeks old. Following management requests for the reports to be updated in shorter time frames, in 2003 it moved to fortnightly spreadsheet reports.

"This we did, but of course the inevitable happened when management said 'why can't we have all this in real time'," Smith said. "They wanted a dashboard style report that took data from a huge variety of data sources automatically. This sounded good in theory, but in 2003 and 2004 after attempts by a contracted developer we realized it might just be wishful thinking."

The initial project to bring together information from different data sources using different applications into one dashboard had failed, but the hospital was determined to achieve such a solution.

After a meeting with Brisbane-based NetOptions, a member of the Datacom group, the project to build a Web-based dashboard with open source components started in December 2005. Six months later the solution went live.

Datacom's lead architect, Craig Sargent, said by using powerful open source tools and processes like AJAX, MySQL and PHP it was able to design a solution that integrated with legacy and newer systems at the hospital.

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Sargent said data integration is done with a mixture of flat file parsing and direct interfaces to data stores with PHP.

"All up, some 129 individual parameters are fed into the dashboard for real-time alerting," Sargent said. "We have given them a very powerful reporting and monitoring tool that has potential for use right throughout the Australian hospital system."

The system is hosted on-site at the hospital and runs on Red Hat Linux.

NetOptions' general manager of software development, Greg Thiele, said custom development was required as there was nothing available off the shelf to satisfy the hospital's requirements.

"The problem with COTS is can the customer accept the limits of the application," Thiele said, adding the good thing about development is customers get exactly what they want.

"This was really an exercise in bringing a large number of KPIs into a user interface that is usable," he said. "The hospital didn't want anyone to rekey data [so] where data existed we were extracting it and where data wasn't recorded we provided data entry in the Web interface."

Thiele said the software was developed to be flexible and the organization doesn't have to be a hospital.

Smith said the dashboard looks like a car dashboard with lights, dials and needles to indicate each of the 129 parameters.

"We set limits on each of the parameters and use a combination of colours to show warnings, and gauges to show rates," he said. "All indicators are classified into four main areas - HR, Quality, Finance, and Clinical (inpatients and operating theatre). The display of these functions is customizable for each individual enabling them to view their significant data their way and then drill down for more detail should there be concerns. The dashboard is in fact a Web page built [with the] AJAX process which enables instant updating of individual elements on the page without a total refresh."

Smith said executive management now know within an instant which areas need their focus depending on the alerts preset within the dashboard system.

"At last now we get to see the problem as it happens and have time on our side to look for the solutions in days rather then weeks," he said.