Star solution to heal cutbacks

17 Apr 2003

Tony Kenny, IT project manager at Beaumont Hospital, doesn’t sound like a man who likes to quibble about money.

“The fact is, in terms of money, we don’t have any,” he says. For Kenny and its team, the cash shortages that are sweeping Irish hospitals and that are affecting patients, doctors and nurses, also have serious implications for those charged with ensuring the swift and clear flow of information between departments and professionals, and ensuring those that need the information most get it in time.

Kenny was charged with rolling out an IT infrastructure that anybody working in the hospital could use. However, as well as a cash shortage, he was dealing with a disparate range of IT systems and an ancient creaking computer network. An advocate of the open standards movement that is infiltrating its way through the hierarchies of the IT industry, Kenny had also set in train a move to move the 12-year-old 10MB Ethernet network at Beaumont towards Linux to get better results from what little he had.

“We had a mess, with people over the years acquiring different applications ranging from Lotus to Microsoft Office and all kinds of software being used to do the same things. This led to enormous problems in terms of exchanging information and overall IT security. Essentially, we had to deconstruct the Tower of Babel,” he says.

In finding a standard IT environment that every worker at the hospital could use, Kenny fixed on the swiftly spreading StarOffice productivity suite from Sun Microsystems, which is gaining popularity amongst chief information officers around the world who want to enjoy the full power of such tools as word processing, presentation, database, spreadsheet and graphics systems, without forking out thousands of euros.

StarOffice 6.0 offers all the above and is compatible with proprietary office productivity suites. The suite is multi-platform and runs on Solaris/Sparc, Linux and Windows/x86 operating environments. For cost-conscious IT managers like Kenny, a price tag of between €35 and €65 and free online support and training enabled him to beat health funding blues by saving €82k on what he would have spent on proprietary software packages such as Microsoft Office.

The hospital rolled out Sun’s open standards to over 800 hospital employees, 150 of whom are working on Citrix thin clients.

StarOffice has become one of Sun’s most visible efforts to erode Microsoft’s dominance over PC computing, with Sun positioning it as a low-cost alternative to the software giant’s Office suite. While Microsoft’s product still boasts market share in the 90pc range, Sun has made significant inroads into the market, including its first bundling deal with a major PC maker and a new ‘thin client’ strategy that incorporates StarOffice. Thin clients are computing terminals whose applications and data run off a central server, allowing the client software to run on relatively low-end devices and old PCs.

“Any organisation that is value conscious has an obligation to look at StarOffice. If they rule it out, they would need very good reasons as to why,” says Kenny. “Even if I had the money, I wouldn’t buy proprietary brands. It is a value for money issue. I would prefer to put all that money into buying software for prescribing drugs, for example.”

Kenny continues: “Before we implemented StarOffice, Beaumont had a complete hodgepodge of desktop products. It was a total mess from a support perspective and a nightmare for the end user. I wanted a solution in a certain price bracket so all the brand names were ruled out. I looked at several open source products and the one that came closest to what all the other commercial products offered was StarOffice 6.0.

Beaumont Hospital is progressively deploying StarOffice in a mixed networking environment, including Linux, and has installed x86-based Sun LX50 servers, which come bundled with enterprise-ready Linux and the Solaris operating environment. “As we move towards Linux, we are moving towards a homogenised environment,” he says.

“So far, the functionality is good, it is very simple to use. It took most users less than a day to get used to the new system and the feedback has been very positive. Comparing StarOffice with proprietary systems like Lotus Notes or Microsoft Office, all the things we need are there and as far as our average users are concerned, it is more than adequate insofar as they can still carry out some very complex spreadsheet manipulations and create stunning presentations.

“The result has been a 75pc reduction in cost and that’s good news because I’m under serious pressure to create a system that everybody could use and applications that deliver direct benefits. I’m now free to develop a system for prescribing drugs for which there is huge demand,” Kenny says.

The Beaumont rollout was completed by Sun and its country partner Horizon Open Systems, which will provide the hospital with ongoing support. According to Sun Microsystems’ country manager, Aidan Furlong: “StarOffice provides an open-standards based solution to organisations looking for an alternative to restrictive licensing agreement.

“With StarOffice, organisations can do more for less, by making their budgets work harder,” he concludes.

Pictured: Tony Kenny, IT manager at Beaumont Hospital, Aidan Furlong, country manager of Sun Microsystems and Roland Noonan, managing director of Horizon Open Systems