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IBM to give health service a face-lift

Big Blue wins a multimillion-dollar contract to overhaul the IT infrastructure of the health service in Northern Ireland, fending off competition from Hewlett-Packard and Fujitsu.

IBM has won a 10-year, multimillion-dollar deal to overhaul the information technology infrastructure of Northern Ireland's health service.

The Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) will consolidate 106 distributed multivendor IT systems from 18 Trusts and four social services boards into two new data centers. Hewlett-Packard and Fujitsu were among the short-listed bidders for the deal.

Initially, all databases and records will be transferred to the data centers and then consolidated into one system for each department or business process, such as finance, payroll, radiology, pharmacy and child health.

The infrastructure is already in place, and the first application has just gone live on the new system. It will also be the foundation of the Northern Ireland health service's plans for single electronic care records (ECR) for patients by 2005.

Gerry Gault, deputy director of the DHSSPS directorate of information systems, said the new system will be the core IT infrastructure for the next 10 years and the foundation of the move to electronic care records.

"The consolidation of the data held in each functional area will facilitate the population of an ECR and also the replacement of existing systems where this is planned," he said. "The new data centers and the consolidated platform will also represent the core infrastructure for new and replacement systems in the DHSSPS over the next 10 years."

Peter Kelly, spokesman for IBM, said the driver for the project was the growing number of IT vendors the DHSSPS was dealing with and the complexity of disparate systems.

"DHSSPS had a number of framework agreements with vendors, and they reached a point where they just saw the numbers growing and growing," Kelly said. "The basic infrastructure is now there, and it is a major milestone for creating single electronic records for patients."

The new system replaces a series of obsolete technologies and will be based on two mirrored sites approximately two miles apart. The configuration consists of four high-end IBM eServer p690 Unix servers with multiple partitions.

The deal is not related to the contracts for the 2.3 billion-pound ($3.6 billion) IT modernization of the National Health Service in England, for which the short-listed bidders were announced yesterday.

Silicon.com's Andy McCue reported from London.