Bill Le Blanc knows his stuff – and he needs to. His role sees him lead 700 professionals in maintaining and modernising the IT systems that underpin SA Health.
What is an example of a project you are currently working on with IT suppliers?
The biggest is our enterprise patient administration system: it’s a single enterprise system for hospital administration and electronic medical records. It’s a $420 million investment from the government, and I’ve got 200 people on the project team.
We are about halfway through the rollout; the system has 12,000 users and we’ll probably double that before we’re done. We have purchased the software from a US specialist healthcare firm, but we buy a lot of software licences, hardware and labour from resellers. We have quite a hybrid environment of insourced and outsourced service provision.
I’ve got one supplier that manages our network, another one that manages our servers, and we lease commercial data centre space from two providers. So in a complex multi-vendor environment, external suppliers play quite a significant role.
What does a partner need to do to impress you?
I’ve been in IT for more than 30 years, but 20 of those were spent working for various vendors, so it takes quite a bit to impress me. Because we run our systems centrally at an enterprise level, connectivity at the hospitals is crucial. But during recent roadworks outside one of our major hospitals, a contractor dug up and broke both cables, cutting the hospital off. We had recently transitioned from one network provider to another, so at 8pm that day, I rang our previous provider – I had a suspicion that their cable ran through a different part of the road.
Their account executive swung their emergency response team to action, and they were able to determine that their fibre cable was still intact; they reconnected us to a working service by 1am. Parallel to that, they were making provisions to have a satellite truck connected to the hospital. They weren’t bound to do that, because we had ended our contract with them, so their behaviour in response to that middle-of-the-night phone call really impressed the hell out of me.
What do partners do that annoys you?
I do have a technical background, but a lot of the IT providers come to me and try to make a technology pitch – to make IT run better, faster and cheaper. What they fail to realise is that my role is much more business-facing. My role is to show how technology can be used to make the business of healthcare run better, faster and cheaper. So in many instances, they’re missing the mark because they’re making the wrong pitch.
What advice would you give to any organisation wanting to supply to you in future?
As much as you can, become an expert in your customer’s business. I do appreciate ideas on how to run my business better, but it needs to be focused on the business side of things and not the technology.
Is it all about price?
There is a misconception that the government only buys on price. And because we are custodians of public money, we do have to be responsible with how we spend it. But the days are long gone where IT was just in the back office. These days, frontline clinical services in hospitals are highly dependent on reliable and well-performing technology. Price is a consideration, but it is a minor consideration, and we certainly look at a lot more than price when making purchasing decisions.