Australian health agency moves from legacy to leader

SYDNEY – A four-year IT modernization overhaul of health agency Eastern Health will spell the end of server sprawl, expensive private automatic branch exchanges (PABXs), and soaring printing costs.

The government organization headquartered in the city of Victoria has 8,000 staff spread across more than 60 sites including hospitals, aged care facilities and rehabilitation clinics, making it the second largest in the state and among the biggest in the country.

So it is no surprise that inefficiencies in IT have inflated top end operating costs and damaged the role of technology as a business enabler.

But like all IT trailblazers, Eastern Health CIO Mark Gardiner has focused the renovation cross-hairs on improving efficiency rather than frugality. “Healthcare is not just a people-business, it’s an information business that relies on the right information to get to the right place at the right time. And IT is key to helping us operate more efficiently, effectively and provide better care to patients,” Gardiner said.

The project, which kicked off in 2006, is part of the Victorian government’s A$360 million six-year HealthSmart initiative to spruce-up IT operations across the public health sector. Gardiner headed-up the project along with Dimension Data who were recruited to assist with project integration.

By the time the project is completed in 2010, Eastern Health will have virtualized two data centers, deployed tiered storage, implemented an enterprise-wide Electronic Document Management (EDM) system and laid a sophisticated IP unified communications network.

“Our telephony system back in 2006 was splintered and disparate, in vertical silos that operated in a distributed service delivery model,” Gardiner said.

Each site operates off separate PABXs and had no IP communications within or between one another. Little work was done to build IT in line with economies of scale or to leverage government-owned technology. A robust Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) solution was internally developed by Gardiner’s hand-picked development team without any single points of failure, and deployed across all new sites. Legacy PABXs are being phased out of existing sites and replaced with the clustered VoIP solution.

Video conferencing, instant messaging, whiteboards and a host of Web-based Computer Telephony Integration (CTI) functions were made available after Microsoft Office Communicator 2007 was deployed over new blade servers and plugged into Cisco’s Unified Presence Server and three new instances of Cisco’s Call Manager 6, located in the organization’s data center and disaster recovery facility.

More than 800 Cisco IP phones have been deployed to bring staff over to VoIP which will increase as the project nears competition. Staff can speed dial between sites, using a unique number plan that exits across the organization. All now have static extension numbers which can be migrated across sites. Eastern Health now trains university medical students via video conferencing, giving them a front seat in hospitals and training sessions without the need for lengthy travel.

Other features such as whiteboards and click to call are part of the organization’s future-proof strategy and will be operational in the future.

Eastern Health deployed a fleet of new Dell blade servers in its data centers along with a variety of Hewlett Packard boxes and EMC SAN drives for storage and archiving. Servers and storage will be virtualized towards the end of the project, primarily to reduce server footprint and to benefit disaster recovery and business continuity.

Gardiner expects its 140 servers to be reduced to a “very low number” but could not name a precise consolidation figure.”We are in the early days of virtualization, but we are moving quickly and we won’t waste time once it becomes a focus,” he said.

Tiered storage was introduced across the data centers along with a new archiving methodology . Deployment of Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 began as part of a phased replacement of the 2003 version.

Network upgrades were modest by comparison to the unified communications projects, thanks mainly to previous capacity upgrades over previous years. However, Gardiner and his team still faced aging server infrastructure, an unreliable Local Area Network (LAN) and a “less than desirable” Wide Area Network (WAN) which lacked adequate redundancy and subsequently had multiple points of failure.

“We needed to give the LAN a health check and get the right tools in place to see where network bottlenecks occur, and to measure thresholds at different points,” Gardiner said.

Extra redundancy was built into the WAN to introduce multiple paths between key sites, and new VoIP infrastructure was added to maintain quality of service for IP communications. Gardiner’s team of communications and network specialists continued deployment of new wireless networks across five greenfield sites and will outfit most of Eastern Health’s existing sites with access points.

A fleet of 110 BlackBerrys was deployed to staff for limited remote access, while an existing Virtual Private Network (VPN) provides full access to local applications from anywhere in the world. Gardiner’s IT Service Management (ITSM) mash-up of IT Infrastructure Management (ITIL) and Projects in Controlled Environments (PRINCE2), will be pushed further into the organization over the course of the IT makeover.

A planned migration to EDM will save the organization big money by cutting down its printing requirements that produce hundreds of thousands of sheets a month, and give the organization a green IT image. Gardiner stifled a laugh when asked if Eastern Health will be a service orientated architecture (SOA) shop by the end of 2010. “We’re keeping our options open over the long term.”

Related Download
Real-time visibility Sponsor: Interactive Intelligence
Real-time visibility
Get real-time visibility in the contact centre. See immediate benefits. Real-time visibility in the contact centre is crucial. When you do not have the info you need to make decisions, you lose out on the single best way to create a competitive advantage. Solving this issue is simple, though.
Register Now