by CIO New Zealand

CIO100 2018 #31-100: James Allison, healthAlliance

Mar 28, 2018
Big DataCareersCEO

It is not often that the opportunity arises to transform a large organisation’s core IT system, particularly one pivotal to the running of a busy public hospital, but that was the challenge set down for James Allison, CIO for healthAlliance NZ and his team this year.

“In partnership with our customer, Northland District Health Board, together we successfully migrated its legacy patient management system (PAS) to a modern new web-based solution in one of the largest and most complex IT projects in the DHB’s history.

The PAS records and tracks a patient’s journey throughout the local health system. It allows administrators to better manage and monitor the workflow of the hospital and to ensure optimum health care for patients. Used by more than 1100 staff in Northland, it is one of the most critical information systems at the DHB.

“In partnership with Northland DHB CIO Darren Manley, clinical and business staff, and vendor representatives, we worked over many months on an ambitious plan to replace the old system with a new solution called WebPAS.

“This culminated in a ‘big bang’ migration in March 2017, over a single weekend to avoid disruption to hospital operations as much as possible. It was a particularly complex and challenging assignment given the large amount of applications the system feeds in to.”

During the system replacement, hospital staff briefly reverted to manual processes while our technical teams migrated 25 years of hospital data and 12-million patient records in what has been recognised as successful ‘go-live’ for the DHB.

The new system provides staff with a more efficient, reliable and easy to use tool that helps improve the patient pathway through the DHB’s various hospitals and clinics. It supports hospital staff to make more timely decisions about the care of their patients.

“healthAlliance, in conjunction with our Northern Region DHB customers, has been charged with leading the development of the region’s Information Systems Strategic Plan (ISSP).

“The ISSP defines a forward-looking view of the clinical landscape for the region, providing ICT direction for the investments required to support the needs and vision of a connected Northern Region. It aligns with the Northern Region’s Long Term Investment Plan.

“To support the ISSP programme we have established a Digital Innovation Lab to foster regional health-related innovation.

“The Lab works closely with our DHB partners to build solutions to their current challenges using the latest technologies, in line with the future state outlined by the ISSP. Agile development methods for these solutions allows for rapid prototyping and user-feedback throughout the process.

A recent innovation has seen the development of a data sharing prototype for the purposes of analytics and shared intelligence across metropolitan Auckland healthcare service providers.

“We are also providing digital mobility solutions to enhance clinical care and improve clinician-patient engagement.

“Most clinicians are highly mobile; they ‘rove’ around the hospital, providing care across different wards and buildings. Precious time is wasted writing up notes on paper and going back to an office or a shared ward computer to enter them or to look up patient records; the provision of a mobile digital solution to match their needs is seen as a game changer.”

A recent trial of Windows 10 touch screen tablets at Counties Manukau Health, with key clinical apps securely loaded and delivered via Wi-Fi, has resulted in improved workflow, impressive time savings, and seen paper and clipboards virtually disappear.

Feedback from trial participants has been overwhelmingly positive. The tablets are saving them more than 60 minutes on average per shift, while patient / clinician engagement levels have also increased as a result of the new devices.

They have great potential to transform clinical workflow and to improve ‘time to care’ in the district’s hospitals.

Leadership is a key people pillar at healthAlliance and a capability the organisation has invested in and strengthened over the last two years he says.

“As CIO, I report directly to the CEO and I am a member of the Executive Leadership Team (ELT). The ELT meets with our Board on a monthly basis to review KPI performance as well as progress of our Business Plan and Statement of Intent.

healthAlliance is owned by the four Northern Region DHBs, each of whom have a long and successful history before forming or joining the regional shared services alliance. This year, at the direction of the Board Chairs, they are collaborating on regionalisation – not an ICT perspective but a regional health perspective. The mantra ‘first think regional’ guides the region’s CIOs’ planning and they meet monthly to progress this collaboration.

“I have a lot of opportunities to engage with our team, ranging from formal meetings and e-newsletters to informal morning teas and ‘brown-bag’ sessions to ‘chew the fat’ and answer questions.”

Being available to talk to people first-hand and support them in person is one of the greatest forms of engagement he says.

“When I started out in leadership roles the general mantra of the day was that our people are our greatest asset. My personal upbringing instilled in me a strong respect for people, especially our differences,

“For years I carried a simple notation with me:


“Different means different, not different worse. It allowed me to change the relationship with a peer I had and I still live by it. So I guess the most important lesson I have learnt, and continue to learn, is that it is all about the people. He Tangata, He Tangata, He Tangata.