Integrating IT for collaboration – Application platform helps connect disparate data

Application platform can help to connect disparate data

Solving the challenge of connecting systems, people and information requires a fundamental change in the way businesses design their IT infrastructure. By optimizing their application infrastructure, organizations create an environment that fosters close alignment between business and IT, and ensure that the two work together to meet business goals.

Most organizations want IT to be a key partner in pursuing business and program objectives. They understand that software can do more than send e-mails or print documents. It has the power to connect people with the information and processes they need to make informed decisions.

Realizing this vision, however, can be challenging. Without an application infrastructure that’s flexible and connected, even the most well-reasoned IT strategy is sure to come up against major legacy issues hidden deep within the computing environment. Agility is often shackled by hard-coded service processes, brittle applications, disconnected data sources and complex development tools.

At Mount Sinai Hospital, a patient care, teaching and research facility in Toronto, support staff are constantly looking for ways to improve the level and quality of care they offer. Implementing technologies that provide decision-makers with accurate and timely data can help to achieve this.

For example, health care professionals use case-mix analysis to classify patient types and track performance and length of stay. However, the system that supported these analysis processes had become burdensome and inefficient.

The hospital uses a number of different, siloed systems to store patient data. Extracting this information involved leveraging a combination of manual reports and spreadsheets that filtered the data and made it usable.

This was a time-consuming process that required the input of many analysts, a critical issue for Mount Sinai, where more time spent on data input and analysis meant less time available to identify and resolve patient-experience issues.

The hospital eventually addressed this problem by implementing a new IT infrastructure that connected its data systems and automated the information retrieval processes. With the new system, Mount Sinai anticipates a 50 per cent reduction in the time needed to develop case-mix analysis reports.
Business users also stand to gain more effective access to data, helping them to make better decisions based on current insight.

Mount Sinai’s strategic approach began by recognizing the need to connect people with information and then reviewing its IT infrastructure as an application platform that would allow staff to deliver on the specific needs of a given project.

As a publicly funded organization, Mount Sinai also identified key partnership arrangements, that it might maximize the value of its IT investments.

Access to information through an integrated application platform is supported by five core elements:

  • Business processes built on a service-oriented architecture: SOA is based on XML-enabled Web Services, which make connected and flexible systems that separate information from the constraints of the application layer. Business processes supported by SOA can be run without concern for where data resides.
  • Effective data management: The volume of data being generated by today’s businesses is doubling every 12 to 18 months. To accommodate this, organizations need data management technologies that allow them to quickly and easily access, manage and integrate disparate data sources.
  • True business intelligence: Business intelligence software can help decision-makers in an organization get the information they need. This helps keep businesses on track, and helps to ensure that everyone is acting on the same data.
  • Shorter development lifecycles: Reducing the time and complexity needed to create applications is not only a win for developers, it also enables workers and teams to be more productive, reduces costs and speeds time to delivery for new projects.
  • Richer user experience: User interfaces are key to the user experience. When the user is made a priority, employees and the organizations they serve stand to benefit through reduced technical support and greater efficiency.

Here’s a quick guideline to follow: Generally speaking, infrastructure can be divided into four main stages of maturity:

  • Basic: environments where brittle applications abound, and where IT is essentially a cost centre
  • Standardized: an environment that’s based on flexible business standards, but that has little to show for it
  • Advanced: an infrastructure that, because it’s based on an adaptive business platform that drives processes, can act as a business enabler
  • Dynamic: a fully SOA-enabled environment that is a valuable, strategic asset to the business

With the core capabilities of an application platform in place, an organization can enhance its ability to work with IT as a strategic business partner in achieving its goals. In addition, by assessing progress against these core capabilities, it becomes possible to map out what is required to achieve this vision.

David McJannet is a senior product manager at Microsoft Canada Ltd. He can be reached at