IBM enlists allies to fulfill goal of open enterprise-wide networking

August 2, 1995

Siemens and Kodak sign on to ambitious projectFor those who take a big-picture look at hospital operations,the growth of computerization and automation is a double-edgedsword. The installation of an information system or a PACS canimprove

Siemens and Kodak sign on to ambitious project

For those who take a big-picture look at hospital operations,the growth of computerization and automation is a double-edgedsword. The installation of an information system or a PACS canimprove efficiency in one area of the facility, but can lead toa Tower of Babel between departments if applied in a piecemealfashion.

Tearing down that Tower of Babel and replacing it with a networkthat seamlessly integrates all of a hospital's image and informationmanagement systems is the goal of an ambitious project launchedby computer giant IBM last week. The company has formed allianceswith other vendors, including Siemens Medical Systems and EastmanKodak's Health Imaging Systems subsidiary, to help it achieveits vision.

IBM announced the initiative July 24 at the International MedicalInformatics conference in Vancouver, British Columbia. The WhitePlains, NY, company called its new venture IBM Open HealthcareAlliance and said it would be adding additional partners in thefuture. In addition to Siemens and Kodak, other companies involvedin the alliance are:

  • Emtek Health Care Systems, a Motorola subsidiary that offersthe Continuum 2000 clinical point of care system;

  • Healthcare Communications, which has developed Cloverleaf,a software integration product that integrates data between disparateapplications and computer systems; and

  • Sunquest Information Systems, a developer of laboratory automationproducts.

To makes its vision a reality, IBM will rely on two new conceptscalled Healthcare Architecture and Open Blueprint. HealthcareArchitecture defines the alliance's business objectives, solutionsand data requirements. Open Blueprint provides the technical specificationsnecessary for the development of open, distributed standards tolink different information and image management systems, whileat the same time preserving a facility's investment in legacyinformation systems.

IBM's decision to include PACS competitors Siemens and Kodakin the alliance is an interesting one, but indicates the company'sintention keep the effort as wide open as possible. IBM is innegotiations with film and PACS vendor Agfa about bringing thatfirm into the alliance for European markets.

"This is not a closed club, but an open alliance,"said Richard Barker, general manager of IBM's worldwide healthcaresolutions unit. "We expect others to join us in this endeavor,others who recognize the need for open-systems collaboration tosolve the problem of health-care integration."

IBM's move is an important first step toward integration.Most industry observers agree that at some point in the futureall of a hospital's information and image management systems willbe integrated. No single company can handle such a job alone,however, making some kind of alliance necessary, according toGil Peterson, vice president of Kodak's Imagelink business unit.

"The integration of a variety of different system types,including PACS, into a more comprehensive clinical informationsystem is inevitable," Peterson said. "We all recognizethat we bring specific competencies, but none of us contain allof the tools necessary to do the job."

Kodak has been working with IBM on Project Spectrum, an effortto create an enterprise-wide information and imaging network atBJC Health System in St. Louis (SCAN 4/12/95). BJC is implementingboth Healthcare Architecture and Open Blueprint.

Under the terms of the Open Healthcare Alliance, IBM and Kodakwill jointly market image management systems, with Kodak providingapplications software and IBM handling networking and systemsintegration. Peterson estimates that Kodak will have image managementproducts available through the IBM distribution stream by November.Total integration of each company's systems will take longer,he said.

Siemens is a new addition to the collaboration. The company hasbeen in discussions with IBM for several years on closer ties,but until last week had not entered into a formal relationship,according to David Armour, Siemens marketing manager for clinicalnetworking. Siemens will begin work on networking its Sienet PACSproduct with clinical information systems based on IBM workstations.Armour said Siemens' relationship with IBM is an information exchangeat present rather than a joint product development or marketingdeal.

Despite the alliance's ambitious vision, its success is by nomeans assured. Building a consensus among companies with differentbusiness strategies and corporate goals can be difficult and time-consuming,according to Michael Cannavo of Image Management Consultants inWinter Park, FL.

"What this takes is cooperation between vendors, which iseasier said than done," Cannavo said. "DICOM has taken12 years to define, hinging in large part on agreement among thevendors. I'm not saying it can't be done. It's just going to bedifficult coming out the chute."