Companies often struggle with integrating internal computer systems and business operations. Such efforts to emulate the Three Musketeers--as in "all for one, and one for all"--often end up playing out more like the Three Stooges. With this backdrop, the American Hospital Association appears to be pushing the integration envelope by attempting to build a Web portal that health-care professionals in more than 4,400 institutions can use as a gateway to the trade group and its 20 affiliates.
Qwest Communications International Inc. is leading the Hospital Leadership Portal project, with software and hardware from Sun Microsystems and the central database from Oracle. The AHA, which started the project about a year ago, hopes to launch the portal by the end of April. The enormity of the task has AHA workers believing they're breaking new ground in the use of the Internet by health-care organizations. "We're not quite sure how, but we all feel that we're building something that's going to make great changes in the marketplace," says Herman Baumann, the group's executive director of strategic development.
The portal is expected to provide health-care professionals with faster, more efficient access to services and critical information. And already, AHA affiliates--which include professional organizations for nurses, doctors, and administrators--have built 37 Web sites, each with its own objectives, features, and look and feel.
The strategy is to build the central portal with Sun's Java-based software and tools and host the system at Qwest's Chicago facility, which will also provide data networking and virtual private networking services. The affiliates' Web sites will tie into the portal, standardizing on the new data-centric platform, but keeping their own unique appearance and features. Web content will be stored in a single Oracle database, navigation buttons will be standard, all of the sites will share a common search engine, and proprietary information will be protected. "We're going to firewall data tables within the database, so organizations can't gain access to each other's data," Baumann says. "We also will have decentralized data management, so each organization can maintain its own tables."
The portal will offer health-care professionals access to best practices, research, educational materials, regulatory information, and other critical data. Following the launch, the AHA hopes to eventually offer more than information, such as job and travel services.
In choosing the vendors, the AHA wanted a system that could handle 15% annual growth in overall user traffic on its Web sites. In addition, the trade group liked the companies' contract terms, which allowed it to reduce costs by adding more groups and splitting the hosting and software license fees among participants, Baumann says. Costs would go up only after the AHA adds more servers. Baumann declined to give hard numbers, but he says the overall cost of the project was "several million dollars," which the association believes participants can recoup in the portal's first 12 months through more efficient Web operations.