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Vic's Eastern Health moves from legacy to leader

Vic's Eastern Health moves from legacy to leader

Virtualisation, VoIP, wireless networks, electronic documents all overhauled as part of massive upgrade.

A four-year IT modernisation overhaul of Victorian health provider Eastern Health will spell the end of server sprawl, expensive Private Automatic Branch Exchanges (PABXs), and soaring printing costs.

The government organisation has 8000 staff spread across more than 60 sites including hospitals, aged care facilities and rehabilitation clinics, making it the second largest in the state and among the biggest in the country.

So it is no surprise that inefficiencies in IT have inflated top end operating costs and damaged the role of technology as a business enabler.

But like all IT trailblazers, Eastern Health CIO Mark Gardiner has focused the renovation cross-hairs on improving efficiency rather than frugality.

"Healthcare is not just a people-business, it's an information business that relies on the right information to get to the right place at the right time. And IT is key to helping us operate more efficiently, effectively and provide better care to patients," Gardiner said.

The project, which kicked off in 2006, is part of the Victorian government's $360 million six-year HealthSmart initiative to spruce-up IT operations across the public health sector. Gardiner headed-up the project along with Dimension Data who were recruited to assist with project integration.

By the time the project is completed in 2010, Eastern Health will have virtualised two data centres, deployed tiered storage, implemented an enterprise-wide Electronic Document Management (EDM) system and laid a sophisticated IP unified communications network.

VoIP is the new PABX

"Our telephony system back in 2006 was splintered and disparate, in vertical silos that operated in a distributed service delivery model," Gardiner said.

Each site operates off separate PABXs and had no IP communications within or between one another. Little work was done to build IT in line with economies of scale or to leverage government-owned technology.

A robust Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) solution was internally developed by Gardiner's hand-picked development team without any single points of failure, and deployed across all new sites. Legacy PABXs are being phased out of existing sites and replaced with the clustered VoIP solution.

Video conferencing, instant messaging, whiteboards and a host of Web-based Computer Telephony Integration (CTI) functions were made available after Microsoft Office Communicator 2007 was deployed over new blade servers and plugged into Cisco's Unified Presence Server and three new instances of Cisco's Call Manager 6, located in the organisation's data centre and disaster recovery facility.

More than 800 Cisco IP phones have been deployed to bring staff over to VoIP which will increase as the project nears competition.

Staff can speed dial between sites, using a unique number plan that exits across the organisation. All now have static extension numbers which can be migrated across sites.

Eastern Health now trains university medical students via video conferencing, giving them a front seat in hospitals and training sessions without the need for lengthy travel.

Other features such as whiteboards and click to call are part of the organisation's future-proof strategy and will be operational in the future.

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