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NHS trust picks BusinessObjects to drive self-service analytics

Royal Free IT director, Will Smart, spells out benefits of SAP implementation

North London NHS Trust, Royal Free, is implementing SAP's BusinessObjects in a bid to improve data reporting and analytics, whilst driving more responsibility to end-users, who will be able to interact and analyse the data themselves.

Royal Free handles approximately 750,000 visitors each year and collects swathes of data on patients, interactions with patients, clinical data, test data, and contracting data.

Will Smart, director of information management and technology at Royal Free, spoke to Computerworld UK about how the Trust is trying to better use this data to improve productivity.

"The way our reporting teams have tended to work in the past is in what I would describe as a cottage industry approach - where each report is lovingly hand-crafted using Excel and Access. Beautifully bespoke," said Smart.

"The first requirement we had was to put a tool in place that could help manage the complexity of the NHS' data definition. To help structure the data coming out of the repositories. The second requirement was to automate the routine reporting and not have expensive analysts spending their time producing report after report," he added.

"The third was to put tools in that would allow the end users to interact with their own data, so that they could actually drive value out of the data themselves and then come back to the central team as a more intelligent customer of our services."

Smart began looking at tools to pull all of the Trust's data together some 18 months ago. After six months he chose SAP because the National Programme for IT (NPfIT) in London still had BusinessObjects licences available through its framework, which is provided by BT. He had also carried out consultations with Gartner.

He said: "The NPfIT had selected BusinessObjects as its core reporting tool, so there were licences available through that route. We didn't think that there would be anything that SAP's tool couldn't do that we would want it to do."

All of the Trust's data resides in an SQL server data warehouse, through which BusinessObjects will then pull information. It is in the process of launching the main central portal through which employees will access most of the reports.

The application is also hosted on-site, where Royal Free invested in a new HP virtual environment approximately twelve months ago.However, despite this imminent milestone, Smart argues that the project is ongoing and will require a significant change in the business.

"This is a long-term project and one that is arguably more cultural than technical. We are asking the business to think about data differently and be more proactive in its use of data," he said.

"I'd like to see employees do two things. Firstly, I would like to see them develop the confidence to go to the data themselves and interrogate it - find the detailed analytic questions that they want to ask. The business can begin to draw insights themselves and then ask our analysts to do more detailed analysis using higher-end techniques."

He added: "We are also very keen to do things like simulation and also segmentation of patients to see what is driving particular behaviour."

When asked about the cost of the project, Smart wasn't willing to say. However, he did mention that implementing BusinessObjects isn't about saving money, it is about improving productivity at the Trust.

He said: "I don't think we are expecting to see cost savings, as I am not anticipating that we will be reducing the number of analysts. What we are aiming for is an increase in productivity, for the actual volume and value of analysis to increase."

Smart also highlighted the main challenge of the project, where he said he underestimated the work required on the data warehouse prior to implementation.

"The main challenge has been the data. We have had to do a lot of work at the data warehouse level, that's been a lot more labour intensive than I would have expected," he said.

"There have been lots of data cleansing, lots of ETL development, reconciliation - the nuts and bolts of data management. These activities have taken more time and resource than I would have expected."

Will Smart will be talking in more detail about the BusinessObjects implementation at the UK SAP User Group conference in Manchester this month. Click here for more details.

In other news, SAP has made a series of announcements meant to define itself as a major player in the enterprise social software market with a product it claims is superior to rivals such as Salesforce.com.


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