Queensland Health is preparing to embark on what could be a bigger and more complex IT systems replacement than its now notorious payroll project.
In 2015 vendor support will dry up for its “mission-critical” Hospital Based Corporate Information System (HBCIS), which has been operating as the state’s primary patient administration solution across more than 170 healthcare facilities since 1991.
The project will be a critical test of how much the department has learnt from a Commission of Inquiry, numerous externally authored audits and a handful of state-wide ICT reports conducted since the payroll project hit trouble in 2007.
Queensland Health chief information officer Ray Brown recently told a parliamentary committee the department scrapped a draft plan for the HBCIS replacement so that the business case could be “totally reviewed in light of the recent reviews, reports, audits and documents that have been provided”.
“The development of the implementation approach architecture framework and business case will be completed by January of 2014,” he said.
The replacement plan will no doubt be influenced the Government’s policy push towards cloud services and outsourced ICT.
“The intent is not to have this as an in-house application as it currently is,” Brown told the committee. “The intent will be to have it as a form of a managed service”.
However he also conceded that this sort of transition would throw up a range of different challenges.
“The difficulty around HBCIS is that there are many layers to the onion,” he said. “There is nothing that just replaces HBCIS or a service that does exactly what HBCIS does today.”
The clock is already ticking
Although it is currently unfunded, Queensland Health’s own estimates place the value of the project at $440 million. The timing of the upcoming business case may put the project in contention for Treasury funding in the 2014-15 State Budget, but probably no earlier.
Brown reassured the committee that even without vendor support, recent hardware upgrades and the engagement of third party software specialists meant the HBCIS could be expected to run until 2019 or 2020.
2020 may seem like a distant horizon today, but in November 2012 the Queensland Auditor General forecast it would likely take between five and seven years to develop and implement a new patient administration system. This means that by January 2014 the clock will be well and truly ticking for Queensland Health and this sort of looming deadline has proved disastrous in the past.
In his Commission of Inquiry into the payroll replacement saga, Richard Chesterman said that some of the blame for what happened to the project could be attributed to “an unwarranted sense of urgency” fuelled by a fear that the legacy system would cease paying staff.
“The fear of LATTICE failing infected decision-making throughout the Project. Decisions were made to press on regardless of other considerations which ought to have had a bearing on the direction of the Project,” his report stated.