The Making of an Iconic IT Production
- From CIO Digest, January 2009 Issue ( Download This Entire Issue in PDF)
The unusual and varied landscape of New Zealand has made it a popular destination for the production of several well-known films, including The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Chronicles of Narnia series, and The Last Samurai. The pioneering spirit behind these iconic productions is embodied in the efforts of healthAlliance NZ Ltd., which provides various shared services, such as procurement, materials management, recruitment, payroll, finance, and information services, to the Counties Manukau and Waitemata District Health Boards. Indeed, led by CIO Phil Brimacombe, healthAlliance’s information systems (IS) team has garnered a number of awards since the organization’s founding in 2000 that recognize its technology thought leadership and innovation.
These include two BearingPoint Innovation Awards. The one granted for the Kidslink Wellchild Project, which dramatically increased immunization rates among children, was particularly meaningful, as it was presented to Brimacombe and his team by New Zealand’s prime minister.
Success for the IS team has not come without a significant amount of strategic planning, focus, and hard work. “Healthcare is the most complex and most challenging IT environment in which I’ve ever worked,” Brimacombe explains. “It’s also the most interesting and the most stimulating. You never get bored. Things constantly change in healthcare.”
For example, transformation in biomedical services over the past decade has created additional IT challenges. Brimacombe explains: “Every new bit of biomedical equipment that comes out today comes with software, whereas 10 years ago it was almost all mechanical. Every bit of specialized equipment comes with its own specialized software. This is how we’ve rapidly spiraled up to the order of 900 different applications.”
Clinicians diagnose the problem
Efficient management of IT systems plays an important role in helping healthAlliance to achieve its goal of minimizing costs and optimizing budget for front-line medical services. With that in mind, Brimacombe and his team embarked on a search to address two primary issues in 2006.
“Several years ago I would go to meetings with clinicians,” Brimacombe says, “and they would complain about two things. The first was the IS helpdesk.” The experiences were myriad—and all negative. “They would call and would wait for ages until someone called them back, and when they did finally answer they didn’t have an answer to the problem,” Brimacombe continues. “Further, when the helpdesk staff did log a problem, they never got back to the requestor.”
The second issue was in regard to actual IT assets. The clinicians complained “there weren’t enough of them, they were too old and slow, and had poor performance.”
IT assets: Where? What? Who?
In order to identify the issues the clinicians helped define, Brimacombe and his team pinpointed the underlying technology drivers. “When people complained about a machine, often it was the first we knew about it, as we didn’t know exactly where it was, who was using it, and what software was running on it,” Brimacombe relates.
“The other big challenge was the fact that the fleet was rapidly growing. Three or four years ago we only had about 4,000 desktops. Today, we have 6,500, and we’re adding about 500 new desktops and moving about 800 to 1,000 to end of life every year.” And while the status quo was painful enough, the growth and evolution in the IT environment was going to create even more problems. “Without the right tools, the situation was simply going to get worse,” Brimacombe reports.
After a lengthy RFP process, Brimacombe and his team settled on Altiris Service and Asset Management Suite in June 2007 and began deployment in October 2007. Working with Symantec Consulting Services, Brimacombe and his team completed the implementation in less than three months. For asset management, Brimacombe and his team use two components from the Service and Asset Management Suite: Asset Management Solution and Application Metering Solution.
“With Altiris Asset Management Solution, we now know the location of every one of the 6,500 machines, who is using each one, who’s responsible for it from a cost center standpoint, and what’s running on it,” Brimacombe explains. “In addition, we’re able to use the Application Metering Solution to pinpoint if there is software running on one of the machines that isn’t being used and shift it to a machine for someone who wants it.”
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Helpdesk empowers end users
The other piece to the larger puzzle Brimacombe and his team concurrently sought to solve was the helpdesk problem. In addition to the complaints of clinicians, the existing helpdesk solution did not provide helpdesk personnel with a larger view of assets. “We needed a helpdesk system integrated with our asset management solution,” says Alistair Mascarenhas, service delivery team leader at healthAlliance. “Helpdesk personnel needed the ability to click through directly into the inventory information of the device that the user was using at that point in time.”
In order to address these requirements, the healthAlliance team selected Altiris Helpdesk Solution that is part of the Service and Asset Management Suite. “With the Altiris Helpdesk Solution, we have given our users control,” Brimacombe explains. “They can log their own requests all through the web portal. We then instantly email them a job number, priority of the call, and service level associated with it.”
He continues: “Most of our users didn’t even know there were service level agreements for IT helpdesk requests.” As a result, by understanding the service levels attached to their request, end users know what to expect in terms of a response—particularly when they will receive an actual response.
“One of the reasons end users thought the previous helpdesk system was a failure,” Brimacombe says, “was that it was absolutely drowning in calls from users who had submitted a request and wanted to know the status. Now, we have been able to move users to check status online and to pick up the phone only when there is a critical problem. This solution is transforming service delivery and taking away barriers that we had in trying to move forward with our IT strategy. I no longer hear clinicians complain about the helpdesk. In addition, the number of complaints about the performance of individual systems has declined.”
In all, the results for IS helpdesk productivity are impressive. By moving more than 1,600 monthly move or change requests online, the team is able to track and monitor these requests and provide a faster turnaround for requests from end users.
With the IS helpdesk success in the foreground, Brimacombe and his team went in search of other areas where they could leverage the Helpdesk Solution. They found the next challenge to tackle with the payroll department, which manually managed information requests from DHB employees—a time-consuming and inaccurate process. Working with Symantec Consulting Services, the IS team extended the Helpdesk Solution to the payroll department in the summer of 2008. “Correcting payroll errors is vastly simplified and calls are systematically tracked and managed, thereby expediting issue resolution,” Mascarenhas says.
In late 2007, the healthAlliance team added Altiris IT Analytics Solution to the IS helpdesk solution. “As we didn’t have the in-house expertise for the deployment, we engaged Symantec Partner Bay Dynamics for implementation assistance,” Mascarenhas notes. The solution was initially integrated with the IS helpdesk and then extended to the payroll helpdesk when the Helpdesk Solution was rolled out for the payroll department. “The solution has given us a lot of flexibility,” Mascarenhas comments. “We previously had three individuals trained on generating reports with Crystal Report. However, with the IT Analytics Solution, the actual business owners have the ability to create their own reports—both those on the IS and payroll teams.”
Business processes flow downhill with workflow
In May 2008, Brimacombe and his team identified manual workflow processes as their next target. “We currently have a huge number of manual processes such as taking orders for cell phones and requests for software or other services,” Brimacombe explains. “These are a time-consuming task, and we rarely get all of the requisite information the first time around and need to go back to the user to capture additional detail.” He and his team pinpointed two initial areas to address—the helpdesk interaction evaluation process and user software requests—and elected to employ Altiris Workflow Solution as the basis. Symantec Consulting Services worked alongside the IS team to configure both workflow solutions.
“The Workflow Solution provides us with the means to automate all of these low-level activities and keep our resources focused on more complex and difficult tasks,” Brimacombe says. “This is the start of a really exciting journey to improve our service delivery. The higher we can lift the quality of our service delivery, the more we can engage customers in our more strategic programs. It’s a win-win scenario all around. We’ve only scratched the surface with Workflow Solution and are currently looking at five or six other areas for deployment in the next few months.”
Hollywood loses its “exclusivity rights”
Hollywood no longer has exclusivity rights on New Zealand as a place for exceptional uniqueness and inspiration. Indeed, if Brimacombe and his team have their way, it will become just as well known as a source for IT thought leadership and innovation. “We’re only in the initial stages of a fascinating journey, one that will take us to some exciting places,” Brimacombe concludes. And while Brimacombe and his team have already “visited” some interesting sites on their trek, there are many destinations left to see.
Patrick E. Spencer (Ph.D.) is the editor in chief for CIO Digest and the author of a book and various articles and reviews published by Continuum Books and Sage Publications, among others.