Mike Zimmerman

Getting Systems to Play Nice

I had planned to write about the importance of a unified approach to security within the enterprise and list out some common best practices. After talking with a few folks around the office, however, it became apparent that I would be touching on one of those subjects that makes total sense in the ideal world, but not in the real world of healthcare IT, where system users are known to write their passwords on Post-It notes stuck to their monitors. So I will instead enter another sticky area: enterprise integration.

What do I mean by enterprise integration? The enterprise is the holistic view of the computing environment at your organization. Integration involves each system playing nicely with the rest of the systems in your organization. Typically, systems will try to play nicely by providing support for industry standards, such as LDAP, HL7, SOAP, REST and many other three- to five-letter acronyms designed to meet many of today’s integration challenges.

With all of these industry standards, why does the HCIT enterprise remain so fragmented? There is a one-word answer – money. There is only so much funding available to purchase software systems, and the cycle time for systematically replacing all of these can take decades to complete. This means many of the systems you have today pre-date the standards and will continue to do so for many years.

I can only imagine the challenges you must face when trying to prioritize which systems should be replaced first: Do you replace the system that is no longer supported because the vendor has gone out of business? The system that has so many problems that patient safety is at risk? The system that costs too much to operate? I can’t tell you which to replace, but once you decide, I can encourage you to ask vendors about standards support in their products.

The standards you choose should stem from the vision/mission of your organization’s future computing environment. Do you have a development team in your organization that you can leverage to integrate systems together and/or partner with to create new systems? If so, ask vendors about support for web services and the business intelligence capabilities of the system. Software providers that are truly looking ahead understand that every client site poses unique challenges and that the only way possible to address them all is by delivering rich, standards-based programming interfaces that clients can easily apply to solve their own unique problems.

I look forward to hearing about the challenges you face in your organization and what you would like to see in future system development.

Prognosis: Your best bet for meeting today’s complex system integration challenges is through software that supports industry standards.