NSW Health has set a December 2012 deadline to consolidate disparate email systems used across the department's hospitals and administrative units to a single Microsoft Exchange 2010 deployment.
The move to consolidate systems for some 200,000 staff came as a direct order from health minister Jillian Skinner, who found the disparate systems made it impossible to directly contact staff, after entering the role in 2010.
"It surprised me enormously when I became the minister and asked the director-general [Dr Mary Foley], could I send an email to all the staff working in the system," Skinner told industry this week.
"I think it might have surprised the director-general as well that we didn't have a system that can do that across the whole of NSW health. Different systems in local districts."
The consolidation would move local health districts using a mix of legacy Exchange platforms and six local health districts on the aged Novell Groupwise platform, onto Exchange 2010 by the end of the year.
The upgrade was funded in a business case put to Treasury, and approved as part of the 2011/2012 state budget. It is part of a $90 million technology refreshment program to upgrade corporate systems, messaging solutions, telehealth and networks.
Chief information officer Greg Wells told iTnews the department would implement Microsoft Outlook, Active Directory and System Center Configuration Manager and Operations Manager, as well as Cisco IronPort email security appliances.
It would also implement Quest Archive Manager to centralise backups of emails held on the disparate GroupWise systems ahead of the migration to Exchange 2010.
Wells denied reports that elements of the system were to have been implemented by August last year.
"Staff will start to use the system from December 2012 and each Local Health District's migration is expected to take up to 18 months to be completed in full," he said.
"The project is not only fundamental to support email, but also includes the installation of infrastructure to streamline future access to clinical and corporate applications."
A spokeswoman for the department said the bulk of the build was being managed internally by the department.
Skinner said NSW Health planned to spend a total $400 million over the next four years in a bid to implement new clinical information systems, a medication management system and a state-based electronic medical records system for patient track and document management.
The department would also encourage development of mobile applications by hospitals and local doctors in an effort to further innovate in health IT.
"New technologies offer promises of greater productivity but also do not come cheap," Skinner said.
"The NSW health system can boast one of the largest IT portfolios of any government or corporate organisation in the country, with an investment of more than $1.5 billion over ten years. These technologies place information in the hands at the right time."
She said many of the state projects relied on the national personally controlled electronic health records program, which she also criticised for failing to meet initial expectations.
IT responsibilities for the department moved from shared services agency Health Support Services to a new body named eHealth NSW under a major departmental revamp last year.
However, despite plans to have the agency up-and-running by the first quarter of the year, the exact structure remains undefined. Skinner said a complete framework and website would be available in coming months.