At Banfield Pet Hospital, PACS and Telemedicine Bridge the Distance across Its Hospital Network

We needed a way to consolidate this image data and make it universally available across our distributed network of hospitals.”
– Dan Baldock, Senior VP and CIO, Banfield Pet Hospital

Banfield Pet Hospital was challenged by all of its digital x-ray and ultrasound images stored locally at each of 500 disparate locations across the country. They had no way to share those images among all of the 780 Banfield pet hospitals. There was no backup or disaster recovery plan in place, so the medical data was at risk of loss if a hard drive failed. Telemedicine (getting a second opinion from a radiologist working remotely) was slow, expensive, and many veterinarians were not taking advantage of the service to improve patient care. “We needed a way to consolidate this image data and make it universally available across our distributed network of hospitals,” said Dan Baldock, Senior VP and CIO of Banfield Pet Hospital.

Banfield Pet Hospital is a network of 780 veterinary hospitals located throughout the United States. Banfield partners with PetSmart, the nation’s largest pet-related retailer, and operates pet hospitals inside PetSmart stores.

First Step: Centralize and Protect Digital Images

To solve these challenges, Banfield implemented a centralized PACS system (Picture Archiving and Communication System) at its headquarters in Portland, Oregon. They selected the open source software ClearCanvas as both the back-end archiving system and as the front-end viewer. Banfield had the support of the team at ClearCanvas and leveraged their existing in-house resources and expertise to develop and deploy the system. The only additional staff they needed to hire was a single PACS Administrator to aid in the setup and ongoing administration of the system.

Banfield set up the infrastructure for all 500 digital x-ray and ultrasound machines across the country to transmit images over a WAN to their centralized servers for long-term storage. They set up redundant, mirrored server and storage infrastructure with daily and monthly backup processes to protect the data. In addition, once that data was centralized, they implemented a disaster recovery plan for failover to a remote site in Arizona. Now the medical imaging data (x-ray and ultrasound images) is protected and readily accessible.

Data centralization also allowed Banfield to implement nationwide image sharing. Many clients are very mobile across the country. The hospital has countless stories of truckers that drive nationwide with their pets or snowbirds that go south with their pets for the winter. Having the ability for images taken at any Banfield hospital to be viewed with the click of a button at any other Banfield hospital has improved dramatically the continuity of care their veterinarians could provide.

Second Step: Telemedicine

With the foundational PACS system in place, Banfield then implemented a robust tele­medicine system. To do this, they custom-built a RIS system (Radiology Information System) to track the requests for telemedicine consults, allow the radiologist or other specialist to view the cases, and communicate the consultation results back to the requesting veterinarian and team. They partnered with various veterinarian telemedicine vendors, even designing a custom integration with one to send cases that could be read in their existing system.

By building this RIS system, they were able to improve the turnaround time of telemedicine consultation results getting back to the hospital to an average of 30 minutes for STAT cases (emergency cases) and 90 minutes for routine cases. Historically the turnaround time was hours to days. This made an enormous impact at the point of care for the veterinarians and their clients and patients to have a specialist give a second opinion as needed on a case to improve the treatment decision-making process.

In the end, Banfield was able to save millions of dollars in the first few years by selecting the ClearCanvas technology and leveraging their existing resources. Since the initial imple­mentation, they have also expanded the PACS system to include digital dental x-ray images after adding 60+ digital dental x-ray units to its hospitals. The system was built to be very scalable so they could add different types of imaging equipment and allow for the growth of new hospitals. Banfield has been opening about 50 new hospitals per year and will continue to do so. They are also in the process of implementing another feature, DICOM CD burn, using another ClearCanvas product. “The solution we chose has really allowed us to grow in many directions,” added Baldock.

Next Step: Integration with EMR

The future for PACS, RIS, telemedicine and all imaging systems at Banfield Pet Hospital holds even greater promise. The next step is to integrate the imaging systems with Banfield’s proprietary EMR (electronic medical record system) called PetWare. The goal will be to integrate images that reside in ClearCanvas PACS and radiology telemedicine consultation results directly into the EMR. The solution will also allow them to integrate images into their client/patient portal system, so clients can view their pets’ images.

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 Copyright © 2011 Apropos LLC. All rights reserved.

Credit Union Takes Unorthodox Approach to Developing IT System for Member Care

We stress the point that there is no such thing as an IT project. Every project starts with a vision for the member experience that we desire and then works backwards to the technology.”
– Butch Leonardson, Senior VP and CIO, BECU

The credit union BECU took an unorthodox approach to defining its next-generation IT system. BECU sent 10 people from its member solutions group whose primary job was engaging with credit union members to the Disney Institute in Florida for professional training and to develop an IT vision. These were non-technical and non-senior management personnel. “Their charter was to come back with a dream of a member care framework for how we can provide an exceptional experience to our members,” said Butch Leonardson, Senior VP and CIO of BECU.

BECU, headquartered in Tukwila, Washington, is a community charter credit union in the state of Washington. It has 50 branches, 1,000 employees and 730,000 members, the majority of which are clustered around the Interstate 5 corridor in Western Washington.

While it may be unusual to assign staff other than IT and senior management with the task of proposing a major new IT system, it was consistent with BECU’s “outside-in” IT philosophy. Leonardson elaborated, “We stress the point that there is no such thing as an IT project. Every project starts with a vision for the member experience that we desire and then works backwards to the technology.” From this perspective, it made sense to start the IT project with the personnel who were most directly engaged with credit union members.

More to the point, it worked. The group came back with a compelling vision for a member care framework consisting of three parts: Member View which presents a holistic view of each member’s accounts and transactions; Member Interaction Tracking which presents a current summary of all communications and interactions with the credit union; and Member Access which automatically ranks members based on financial metrics and determines their eligibility for products and rates.

Member Care Framework

To implement this framework, BECU needed a software platform that could bring together information from many disparate applications and present it in a unified manner. They selected Microsoft Dynamics CRM because it seemed lighter weight and more developer friendly and cost less than competitive alternatives. They also liked Microsoft’s roadmap for developing and evolving the product.

Member View was the first component they developed. Prior to Member View, when a credit union member walked into a branch or called on the phone, the member consultant or call center representative did not have an up-to-date, 360-degree view of that person’s transactional activity. They could get it, but it would take several minutes of cutting and pasting across multiple applications to assemble a complete picture because the transactions came from a variety of channels, such as online, phone, mobile and ATM. Like most medium-sized banks, BECU used commercially-available software and transactional data was spread across many applications supporting these channels. Member View brought all of that data together in a holistic view.

Member Interaction Tracking followed. It presented a similar holistic view of communications between members and the credit union. “If you have a conversation with us or you attempt to do something online or on the phone through our integrated voice response system, we know about the conversation and we also know where you dropped off attempting to do something. So when you reach a representative, that representative knows exactly where you abandoned the automated process,” said Leonardson. Therefore callers do not have to re-identify themselves or re-explain what they were attempting to do before switching to a live representative.

The third component, Member Access, made it easier to present each member with a customized set of products and rates. By leveraging business intelligence (BI) software to analyze financial metrics such as account balances, credit scores, and how long that person has been with the credit union, Member Access automatically determined a member’s eligibilities.

Proof Is in the Pudding

When the member care framework was complete, it presented a current summary of member transactions, interactions and relevant product eligibilities in a single view. Member consultants loved it because it made their jobs easier and streamlined interactions with members. BECU even won an IT award for the system. What about the credit union members themselves? While they do not interact directly with the system, they seem to like their experience with BECU. The credit union’s net promoter score, which measures how likely members are to recommend it to friends and family, is in the 75% range as compared to 25 to 35% for major banks, according to Leonardson. BECU also adds 7,000 to 8,000 new members per month. The proof is in the pudding, so to speak.

Toward One-Click Fulfillment

Yet BECU is not standing still. After using the system for 2 or 3 years, member consultants began to ask if they could also execute transactions directly within Member View. Now BECU is layering a portal on top its transactional applications and integrating them with Member View. “It solves the problem that most branches and call centers worldwide have, which is whatever you want me to do, Mr. Customer, I need to go into that application to get it done. Car loans, mortgages, Visa cards are all different systems. Now this portal will homogenize everything and make it all look like one environment,” said Leonardson.

Ultimately BECU’s wants to achieve what they call “one-click fulfillment.” This refers to an end-to-end digital enterprise that eliminates the need for written forms and signatures. The goal is to minimize process and maximize engage­ment with credit union members.Butch Leonardson

We think what we do as leaders is more than lead functions. We lead hearts and minds.”
– Butch Leonardson

Hearts and Minds

Leonardson considers the journey of developing this member care framework to be a tangible aspect of his greater concern as CIO for the IT organization’s shared values and morale: “Do I have seventy five people who wake up in the morning and say, ‘Wow, I have a great gig.’ I think a vast majority of people have a desire to be valued, to be in the middle of something important. And if you can provide that authentically, you are going to have a great organization. That is the center of my gravity as a leader.”

“Somebody called me a unicorn CIO because the stuff I think about is so different from most CIOs. If you looked at the org chart for our IT organization, it would look very normal. We have two VPs and seven managers. There is nothing unique about the way we are organized. We think what we do as leaders is more than lead functions. We lead hearts and minds,” he said.

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 Copyright © 2011 Apropos LLC. All rights reserved.

St. Luke’s Radiology Group Accelerates Reporting with Speech Recognition Technology

As the IT group, you can do a good job with the technology, but it is the cultural change, the enthusiastic adoption by doctors and staff, that really makes it a success.
– Adrienne Edens, Chief Information Officer, St. Luke’s Health System

Toward Timely Transcription

As part of a new consolidated PACS installation for archiving digital images, St. Luke’s Health System wanted to implement a speech recognition technology for its radiology group to accelerate reporting and facilitate more responsive patient care. At the time, the turnaround time for manually transcribing a radiologist’s dictation averaged seven hours. Patients had to wait that much longer for the results of an x-ray or other medical image. “The goal of speech recognition was to eliminate transcription and shorten this process,” said Adrienne Edens, Chief Information Officer for St. Luke’s.

St. Luke’s Health System is an Idaho-based, not-for-profit health care provider for southern and central Idaho, northern Nevada and eastern Oregon. It operates medical centers in Boise, Meridian, Magic Valley, McCall and Wood River as well as more than 70 clinics. St. Luke’s Boise Medical Center is Idaho’s largest hospital, and St. Luke’s Children’s Hospital is the only children’s hospital in the state.

St. Luke’s medical imaging process involved several steps. When a physician ordered a medical image, a technician performed the scan and sent the image to a radiologist for diagnosis. The radiologist dictated an audio report that was forwarded to the transcriptionists. After the text version came back, the radiologist approved it and the official report and diagnosis went to the referring physician and became part of the patient’s medical record.

Manual transcription was the most time-consuming step. If automated speech recognition could mitigate or even eliminate the need for it, the overall time to deliver a diagnosis could be reduced dramatically.

Speech Recognition Development

Speech recognition technology has been in development for decades. Programming a computer to recognize and decipher human speech is particularly complex and challenging. While the accuracy rate has improved over time, progress has been slow and incremental. Today, the technology has advanced to a point where it is a viable for certain applications. “Even in the last couple of years the technology has come a long way,” said Dan Talley, IT Service Team Leader for St. Luke’s.

Collaborative Approach

St. Luke’s took a collaborative approach for reviewing options and approving a speech recognition system. All stakeholders had a seat at the table: the IT group who would manage it, the hospital administrators who oversaw budgeting and compliance, and the radiologists who would ultimately use the system as part of their jobs. They also enlisted Santa Rosa Consulting, an IT and management consulting firm for the healthcare industry, to provide guidance and expertise in this area.

From the beginning, the radiologists were active proponents of a speech recognition system. “It was not administration saying we needed the system, or even IT. The radiologists were the most enthusiastic advocates,” said Edens.

RadWhere from Nuance Healthcare

After considering several speech recognition solutions, the project team chose RadWhere from Nuance Healthcare. RadWhere is a speech recognition solution with reporting and workflow management designed specifically for radiology. The software transcribes a radiologist’s dictation in real-time, thereby speeding up report writing. It includes templates and macros based on procedure codes for structuring the reports. RadWhere’s workflow engine also automatically routes documents through the creation, review and delivery process.

To roll out the system, the IT group installed software on the radiologists’ workstations and the primary RadWhere application on a host server that is replicated to a remote site for disaster recovery. If a failure occurs at the local site, the system will fail over and continue to provide service to the radiology group. Furthermore, each user had to “train” the system to understand his or her voice by speaking scripts into the computer.

The radiologists were quick to incorporate the new system into their routine. “Normally these types of projects are phased in slowly, but in this case, radiology no longer needed transcriptionists after only two weeks,” said Talley.

It felt great to experience such an improvement, especially after being a part of this project.
– Dan Talley, IT Service Team Leader, St. Luke’s Health System

More Responsive Patient Care For Less

As a result of the fast adoption, the benefits to St. Luke’s and its patients accrued quickly. The average turnaround time for radiology reports dropped from 7 hours to about 30 minutes. St. Luke’s is saving $450,000 per year in radiology transcription costs for the Treasure Valley alone (Boise, Meridian and surrounding areas). Most significantly, patients receive faster and more responsive care.

Talley gave a personal example. His elderly mother had fallen down occasionally in the past, and Talley would take her to the hospital for an x-ray. Typically they had to wait hours for the results, but the last time this happened, after the speech recognition system was in place, the x-ray and diagnosis came back in only 20 minutes. “It felt great to experience such an improvement, especially after being a part of this project,” he said.

Edens added, “We are thrilled and wish all of our IT projects went this well. We give the radiologists credit for the success. As the IT group, you can do a good job with the technology, but it is the cultural change, the enthusiastic adoption by doctors and staff, that really makes it a success.”

Based on the success of the RadWhere system, St. Luke’s is looking at standardizing on Nuance technology for all of its medical speech recognition applications.

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 Copyright © 2011 Apropos LLC. All rights reserved.

PIAB Turns to IBM Cast Iron Systems for Fast ERP Integration: Integrate in Days, ROI in Nine Months

We certainly didn’t have months to get this done. We had to get it up and running within about 30 to 45 days.
– Greg Anderson, Global IT Manager, PIAB

ERP Systems Do Not Talk

When the Swedish company PIAB decided to implement a global just-in-time inventory model, it had to find a way to integrate its various ERP (enterprise resource planning) systems which were unable to communicate with each other. “We have offices in about 18 different countries, and each of them have individual ERP systems,” said Greg Anderson, Global IT Manager for PIAB. “The biggest issue we had is the amount of double-entry that was required once an order was placed. In the UK, for instance, there was a lot of manual work being done to process an order through the local ERP system and into our main system in Sweden, and also to transfer the information back.” The new model required a more efficient approach to order processing.

Based in Taby, Sweden, PIAB provides industrial vacuum solutions for material handling and factory automation. It serves a variety of industries including food and consumer products, automotive and electronics.

The purpose of the just-in-time inventory model was to streamline PIAB’s supply chain, reduce costs and improve customer service. “We were changing our warehouse model to go from smaller supply at local offices to centralized supply and faster delivery to the customer. So instead of having large bulk orders, we were changing to smaller, direct-ship customer orders,” said Anderson. To handle this larger volume of orders, PIAB needed to automate its order processing more fully.

The different ERP systems in its country offices were the result of organic growth and development. As the company grew and opened offices in new geographies, the local teams put in place business systems to meet their local requirements. Over time this led to a patchwork of ERP systems, many of which could not communicate with each other or with headquarters.

When the directive came down from the company’s board to integrate the ERP systems, the IT department was immediately under time pressure to complete the project. “We certainly didn’t have months to get this done. We had to get it up and running within about 30 to 45 days,” he said.

IBM WebSphere Cast Iron Cloud Integration

PIAB evaluated multiple integration technologies and vendors before choosing IBM WebSphere Cast Iron Cloud integration. It considered EDI (electronic data interchange), but found these solutions were relatively difficult and costly to implement for its environment. Other technologies tended to specialize in a single application or process, such as a technology that integrated very well with Salesforce CRM, but lacked open and flexible connections in other areas. “Cast Iron seemed to have the most connectors. They advertise quite well on their website to show how open the connectivity is. And the biggest thing is, we were under a deadline to put this system in place. Cast Iron had the tagline of ‘integrate in days,’ which was basically how much time I had,” said Anderson.

For the initial phase of the project, PIAB integrated its ERP systems in the UK and France with its headquarters in Sweden. It used an IBM Cast Iron Physical Appliance that performs the translation between the systems. “It is a complicated process that we have – checking stock, classifying orders as to whether they need further handling, how people are notified about what to do, whether an order is valid in a particular location. The appliance handles quite a bit of logic,” said Anderson. “We brought in a technical consultant from Cast Iron to work with us here. We wrote the integration project in about two weeks. There was a little delay when one of the local developers was writing the web services interface at the end point level. But everything went really well. The surprising part was how well it worked and how well it has run since then, considering how fast we had to implement it.”

ROI in Nine Months

Anderson is pleased with the outcome: “We saw a nine-month ROI on this particular project.” Cost savings came from fewer hours spent entering data, less inventory in the supply chain and reduced local warehousing and office space. Customers benefit from faster delivery. The speed of implementation was especially important in this case. “It could easily have taken nine months to a year to try to program something internally, which would have slowed down our process of adopting this model.”

“I’m confident of how reliable Cast Iron is. I don’t have to worry about it failing, which is good because I don’t want to get a call at three in the morning, waking me up in the middle of the night because things are not working in Europe.”

Since the initial project, PIAB has rolled out additional integrations with WebSphere Cast Iron Cloud integration, such as connecting Salesforce CRM with the ERP system for its office in Germany. Now sales personnel can see all of a customer’s history and detail within a single tool. These follow-on projects have an even faster ROI because the integration appliance is already in place and PIAB has gained skills in creating integrations using Cast Iron.

“So we have continued to see benefit from Cast Iron, even more than our ERP systems. I’m really happy with the choice we made,” said Anderson.

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 Copyright © 2011 Apropos LLC. All rights reserved.

Northwest Nazarene University Makes Smarter Decisions With Evisions Argos

If you have all this data, you have to mine it. You have to be able to make decisions from it.
– Eric Kellerer, Executive Director of IT, Northwest Nazarene University

Data Mining for Better Decision Making

The greatest value of a consolidated ERP system, according to Eric Kellerer, Executive Director of Information Technology at Northwest Nazarene University, is actively using that information to improve the organization. “It is so important. If you have all this data, you have to mine it. You have to be able to make decisions from it – daily decisions and strategic decisions,” he said.

Northwest Nazarene University (NNU) is a Christian liberal arts university located in Nampa, Idaho, and with satellite campuses in Boise, Twin Falls and Idaho Falls. NNU offers 45 undergraduate majors, 11 graduate programs and numerous continuing education credits. Its enrollment includes about 2,000 graduate and undergraduate students as well as between 8,000 and 9,000 continuing education students who take classes to maintain professional certifications in education, social work, counseling and other professions.

Ten years ago, NNU consolidated all of its campus databases into a single ERP system from Jenzabar. The new system provided a centralized view and “single version of the truth” for admissions/recruiting, registration, finance, alumni relations and donor relations. For reporting and data analysis, they used a business intelligence software package from Cognos. Recently they reached a point where the Cognos software needed to be upgraded to a new version. It was going to be an expensive and time-consuming conversion, so the university decided to step back and consider other options.

Switch to Evisions

It was at this point they discovered Evisions Argos, a web-based enterprise reporting solution, and Evisions FormFusion, a solution for document enhancement and delivery. “Evisions literally installed on our whole campus in a little over an hour. They told me it would be simple, and I didn’t believe it until I saw it. We have been slowly moving our reports over to that platform. It has gone really well,” said Kellerer.

The Argos report writing and data analysis software is specifically designed for institutions of higher education. Users access it over a secure web interface, so there is no need to install it on individual PCs. The software supports any number of database types and connections. Argos features include dashboards for graphically displaying information trends and summaries, automated report scheduling and delivery, and OLAP (online analytical processing) cubes for analyzing data in multiple (3+) dimensions to spot trends and relationships.

True Collaboration

After NNU installed the software, Evisions offered to send consultants to visit the campus and help Kellerer and his staff get up and running with the software. “My first response was, how much is that going to cost? These kinds of consultants don’t come cheap!” But Evisions partnered with NNU to make sure cost was not an issue. Three of their consultants spent a few days at the university creating reports and helping IT staff learn how to use the software.

I can think of only two companies in my twelve years as IT director that actually have acted like a partner, and Evisions is one of them.
– Eric Kellerer

After completing the reports, the consultants uploaded them to the Evisions Co-op User Community. This is a common repository for report sharing that all Evisions customers can access and utilize. “If I need to build a sophisticated report on alumni relations, before I go to all the trouble, I look and see if some other university has already built it. We all have permission to go to this Co-op, download it and use it as we wish,” said Kellerer.

“The whole idea of collaborating together is important in universities, but there aren’t many companies that make it easy to do. I can think of only two companies in my twelve years as IT director that actually have acted like a partner, and Evisions is one of them. I think their concept is, if they can make us successful, if they can get us excited about the product and using it as it should be used, then we are going to upload to this Co-op and all their customers are going to be happier.”

Keen Insight

NNU leverages other features of the Argos software. They use report scheduling and delivery to help keep budget officers on track while reducing work for the IT department. IT staff no longer have to periodically generate budget reports and mail them to the other departments, since Argos does this automatically each week.

Users can analyze data themselves with graphical interfaces and drag-and-drop data manipulation. Argos is able to create data packs, or subsets of the ERP database with all data relationships intact, for individual users. Therefore users can access information pertinent to their jobs, sort and filter data and run reports as they wish.

In particular, OLAP cubes have proven to be a power analytical tool for the university. “It allows you to view three-dimensional data from many different perspectives until you begin to see patterns that you can make better decisions from,” said Kellerer. For instance, NNU looked closely at donor demographics and the effectiveness of various types of fundraising events. They were able to discern which event types were most effective in each geographical area. Now they focus fundraising efforts on the events in which donors are most interested and those that yield the greatest return.

In another example, NNU analyzed five years worth of scholarship data to predict scholarship acceptance rates based on factors like the amount of money offered and academic major. “We know if we give someone eleven thousand dollars a semester, the likelihood of them coming to NNU is extremely high because it is a full-ride scholarship. On the other hand, if we give a person one thousand dollars, we can know that a certain percentage of people are not going to come. That allows us to offer a certain percent over what we have because we know who will come and who will not, at least by percentage. And then it allows to start helping people earlier and not waiting until the last minute when someone cancels,” he said.

Streamlined Processes

Argos and FormFusion have helped streamline other university processes as well. Printing transcripts used to be a time-consuming and fairly costly job because it required careful programming and the paper had to be pre-printed with watermarks and then run through again to print data for each student. With Argos in conjunction with FormFusion, they now use standard reports that deliver a more professional look and include watermarks in a single printing.

The software has simplified the process for keeping track of communication and correspondence with students. When sending out letters where a response is expected, a special code has to be entered into the ERP database. Argos allows users to run a query, print letters and update the database in a single keystroke.

More to Come

Remarkably NNU has implemented these improvements in only four months since installing Argos and FormFusion. It makes one wonder what they will be able to do over the next four years.

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 Copyright © 2010 Apropos LLC. All rights reserved.

North Wind Successfully Develops Portal In-house Using Drupal Open Source Software

It was a major win for the IT group in real­izing how we could help the company reduce cost while earning more respect from upper management.
– Rob Weis, CIO, North Wind

Interview with North Wind

Rob Weis, CIO of North Wind, discussed his company’s experience developing a portal and collaboration tool using Drupal with AIT Profiles.

Drupal is an open source content management platform. It offers a free software package for publishing, managing and organizing a wide variety of content on a website.

North Wind, an Alaska Native Corporation based in Idaho Falls, Idaho, provides environmental, engineering and construction services to governmental, commercial and industrial clients.

—————————————–

AIT Profiles: Let’s go back prior to the installation. Tell us about the challenge your company was facing at the time.

Rob Weis: I noticed early on that our corporate intranet was a mess. It was running on a free version of SharePoint that was outdated, unpatched and living on the DMZ. All the while, it was completely accessible to anybody on the planet if you could get past the basic NT authentication. The intranet contained sensitive data about many government projects. This became a major security concern for the company and we decided it was time to look at a full upgrade and moving this system inside our network.

AIT Profiles: And how did you go about looking for a solution?

Rob Weis: We carefully evaluated our upgrade options by evaluating several COTS (commercial off the shelf) vendors, the latest version of SharePoint Enterprise edition and the option to develop the system in-house. Our criteria for selection were based on cost, flexibility, user interface and integration with legacy systems.

AIT Profiles: What did you select?

Rob Weis: We decided to leverage our internal software engineering team’s expertise. The team and I believed there was a huge potential for major cost savings in attempting to reproduce SharePoint, function by function. The new project was now on the high priority list and was rebranded with the name “Portal.”

North Wind had previously adopted an open source content management system, called Drupal, for several scientific applications and project collaboration websites with great success. The first appeal in using Drupal for our scientific applications was the insanely rapid application development it offered. Often times we had a working prototype for our customer by the close of business on the same day! For our new Portal intranet, we looked at this and said, “Let’s see how far we can get in 24 work hours of development before we commit fully.” After about 24 hours of work, it was pretty shocking that we had replicated a significant portion of SharePoint functionality. This gave us a confidence boost to move forward with Drupal. However, there was a lot of work to do in terms of higher hanging fruits and a fairly large data migration/cleanup.

AIT Profiles: Beyond cost savings, did you see other benefits to using Drupal?

Rob Weis: The other appeal I saw for the team to leverage Drupal is it would be a great way to invest in our own team to learn more about the software. It meant discovering new modules, integrating with Active Directory LDAP and other systems, building SharePoint equivalent functionality and finding solutions to a slew of other challenges. All of which, we could use in the future for our other Drupal installations for our customers without needing to charge them a dime to spin up for the knowledge.

AIT Profiles: So how did the Portal project turn out?

Rob Weis: When the Portal launched to the company and the project was completed, we estimated the labor cost of the project and believed we had broken even in labor cost compared to purchasing SharePoint Enterprise for one year of licensing. It may not sound like much, but the SharePoint software would have cost each year what it took to build the Portal once. Additionally, we now had the internal capability to say “Yes, we can add that feature,” instead of the previous answer “No, we’re not sure how to do that.”

Shortly after the launch of our newly launched “Portal,” we had a request come in from our CFO to automate our pay stub system. It was a manual printing process that was very costly. We did an analysis and the current process was costing about $80,000 over 5 years in time and materials. We added a small piece of custom functionality to the Portal user profiles that would connect to our accounting system and display pay stubs to the user. This small feature amounted to a savings of approximately $70,000 over 5 years! This alone paid for a significant chunk of the Portal development costs. It was a major win for the IT group in realizing how we could help the company reduce cost while earning more respect from upper management.  It was at about this time that the team and I recognized we had made the right technology decision. The investment was already paying itself back and we had just begun!

AIT Profiles: That’s a big savings. And how has the Portal affected your organization?

Rob Weis: With the new Portal system, we’ve had a completely new cultural experience for the company. The news is up to date, employee hires are immediately in the directory, and each division and employee has their own page with useful information for everyone. The Portal has features like: search, calendar, classifieds, reservation system (conference rooms, vehicles, GPS tools, drilling rigs, etc.), rotating graphics for seasons and special events (charity work, golf tournaments, etc.), profile self-marketing (resume, biography, etc,) and several other features to keep the content fresh and alive.  It’s hard to put a value on all these features and the cultural impact, but we’re betting that it may contribute to improved morale, less turnover, more involved and efficient employees, and better communication across the company.

AIT Profiles: Do you plan to build upon this system in the future?

Rob Weis: Our last major phase of the Portal project is currently underway. We’re on the cusp of launching a collaboration system for corporate groups and projects. We’ve been beta testing with several internal teams and have had success in using a software add-on for Drupal called Open Atrium. The collaboration pieces and the several other “wish list” enhancements to the Portal are sure to make a major impact to the company over the next several years. We’re helping our software development team grow with Drupal, our employees to be more efficient and excited about technology, improving our security and reducing costs to make our rates more competitive.

AIT Profiles: It sounds like developing the Portal with Drupal open source software has been a good experience. Do you have any final thoughts or advice for our readers?

Rob Weis: If you haven’t considered open source in the past, now’s the time to take a deeper look at what might be possible for you or your company.

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 Copyright © 2010 Apropos LLC. All rights reserved.

Hagadone Corporation Embraced the Cloud – Before Cloud Computing Was Cool

First and foremost, we wanted to keep our costs in line with our limited manpower.
– Bill Tunison, IT Director, Hagadone Corporation

How To Streamline a Conglomerate

Hagadone Corporation is a privately-held, diversified company based in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. It owns and operates newspapers from Washington State to Wisconsin, a magazine and large printing operation in Hawaii, hotels and a lakeside resort in Northern Idaho, three marinas, six restaurants as well as other businesses. Hagadone is a true conglomerate.

Ten years ago, the company looked at ways to streamline and consolidate IT applications among its diverse businesses. “First and foremost, we wanted to keep our costs in line with our limited manpower,” said Bill Tunison, IT Director of Hagadone Corporation. “Most of the properties are not large corporations in themselves, and they just could not justify sustaining an IT staff. We wanted to centralize support – so that we had proper support but did it for the least cost possible.”

“The other side of the coin was that we needed to consolidate our information. We budget and review monthly. And when the month ends, we want to be able to roll up the numbers. The best and most efficient way to do that was to have the information available to us. So we didn’t want to wait on somebody sending a fax of information and then reposting that information in the general ledgers,” he said.

Consolidate Applications in the Cloud

To address these challenges, Hagadone implemented remote application delivery over public networks, i.e. the Internet. This was long before cloud computing and software as a service were industry buzzwords. It started in the year 2000 with their financial system, which was Great Plains Software at the time and later became Microsoft Dynamics GP. The application system and databases ran in the company’s Coeur d’Alene data center, and remote users at the various businesses accessed it over wide area network links using Citrix clients. The links were configured as virtual private networks (VPN) to ensure data security and integrity.

The Citrix solution, which includes Citrix XenApp and XenDesktop, allows users to run application sessions virtually and remotely on various platforms. The application sessions run in the main data center, and the presentation is displayed on the clients. “Citrix was a far better tool than terminal services or anything else. Citrix always had clients that were more or less universal. One of the things we ran into was, in our newspapers they preferred Macs, and in our hospitality and other areas they preferred PCs. I chose not to decide what type of workstations users would have and opened it up to support both,” said Tunison.

As remote workstations, they used Windows PCs, Macs and, for a while, thin clients. Thin clients are low-cost, scaled-down computers with a display and keyboard, and are completely dependent on the network and server for application processing. As PC prices fell, the price difference between a fully-functional PC and a thin client was merely a hundred dollars. It was worth paying a little more to have local processing for activities like email and Web browsing, so thin clients were no longer advantageous.

At about the same time as the financial system, Hagadone consolidated all subscriber services for its newspapers into a common system that ran in a cloud environment. It later consolidated newspaper production activities such as classifieds and ad design. It deployed a marina management and boat sales application called Dockmaster Marine Management for its three marinas. Again, all of them ran in the main data center and were accessed remotely over a network.

“Some of the systems are handled locally by the properties, some are not. It just depends on whether there is a need for multiple properties to have access to the same system and data,” he said. When an application can serve multiple Hagadone businesses, it is consolidated in the cloud to minimize operating and infrastructure costs. When an application is unique to a business, there are no synergies to gain so it remains at the local site.

Maintain IT Headcount, Reduce Costs

Hagadone has benefitted from its early adop­tion of cloud computing strategies. It has main­tained the same headcount in its IT department over a decade – a number in the single digits – while supporting nearly thirty businesses in various industries stretching from Hawaii to California to Idaho to Wisconsin. Tunison continued, “I feel very good about it. I think it has done everything we hoped it would do. We are able to support it with a small staff. We give good customer service. And the initial objective of consolidation – getting data in and having data accessible – has all come to fruition.”

I feel very good about it. I think it has done everything we hoped it would do.
– Bill Tunison

Looking forward, Tunison said the company is pursuing virtualization of servers and desktops. It is also working on disaster recovery planning and high availability systems. These initiatives will add to the efficiency and flexibility of the IT infrastructure. Clustered servers and redundant storage have always been part of the infrastructure. Now the focus is on network redundancy and load balancing from the corporate data center across the wide area network backbone to the “last mile” connections to the individual businesses. The goal is to provide high end-to-end resiliency in a distributed cloud environment.

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