By Stephen Easton

Cloud computing, social media and e-health records all present significant opportunities for providers as well as significant risks and challenges, HammondCare CIO Bruce Coller told delegates yesterday at the Retirement Communities World Australasia conference’s ‘aged care day’.

“Information and communication technology investments need to build capacity rather than just improve ongoing operations,” Mr Coller said, in a wide-ranging presentation on increasing efficiency through technology.

Going through some relatively recent and emerging computer technologies and their potential advantages, he stressed the importance of long-term planning, needs assessment and investing in scalable, flexible solutions that are easily upgraded.

“Small organisations are less complex, and their needs can more often be met by pre-packaged, all-in-one solutions,” he said. “Larger, more complex organisations like HammondCare need complex, composite solutions.”

He also pointed out that ‘Ethernet over copper’ (EoCu) may be a better choice for a smaller organisation’s WAN (wide area network) than fibreoptic, offering comparable speeds for almost a quarter of the cost of the newer technology, and extolled the benefits of investing in WAN optimisation, which in one case had resulted in a 60% reduction in data transmission.

A large part of the presentation was taken up by cloud computing, which Mr Coller said offered significant theoretical advantages, especially in the event of a natural disaster, and would inevitably become the standard for large, geographically spread-out organisations, .

But he also urged caution, as appropriate fully cloud-based solutions for aged care were not yet available, and standards had not yet emerged either. Other issues were around privacy, disaster recovery and the challenge of working out a system where data is only stored in one place, can be transferred efficiently and easily, with different parties retaining ownership and controlling permissions.

“It’s not the sort of thing you’d jump into at the moment,” Mr Coller said. “It is something you have to have a vision for in your organisation, you have to know what your needs are and you have to identify what the risks are. Smaller organisations can move a lot quicker.

“Computing will become a utility – There’ll be a stock-standard price. I’m not sure how long it will take but there are major companies sinking huge investment into the cloud computing area, like Telstra, Google and Microsoft.”

He added that organisations should be planning ahead for the introduction of e-health records over the next two years and looking at social media strategies, both of which could offer great benefits but like cloud computing, also presented significant risks and challenges.

“There has to be authorisations – the person who owns the health record will have a big say in that and it needs to be stored in a distributed manner.  It must be secured and available at the same time.

“There will be so much of a reduction in time wastage, but there are big challenges, too – for example, organisations will have to migrate their records from paper to electronic.

“Social networking will change the way you communicate with clients, families, friends and the government, but if you start being visible in a network the propensity for things to go wrong is instant.

“You have to be watching, and have a system to flag when you’re mentioned. If it’s bad you have to act quickly to calm it. It’s not all fun and games; there are business advantages but also significant risks.”

Mr Coller also looked at mobile technology, where he said massive savings could be made through SIM card deals featuring unlimited plans with no ‘fair use policy’, and advocated risk management software, a cheap and effective way for employees to report anything from a major accident to a broken gate, using computer kiosks located around facilities.  

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