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Getting on Schedule

July 1, 2006
by Juan Garcia
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With over 2,700 nurses, the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center had to get a handle on scheduling.

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center has the challenge of staffing and managing thousands of nurses who are busy delivering top-notch patient care.

To manage this complexity, our people at MD Anderson rely on three critical applications — a human resource system by PeopleSoft (Pleasanton, Calif.) a time and attendance system by Kronos (Chelmsford, Mass.), and a staffing system by Alphretta, Ga,-based Per-Se's Ansos One-Staff. These three applications (with their various inputs, outputs, and interfaces) must be kept up-to-date and in-synch at all times in order for the Cancer Center to staff at appropriate levels, operate efficiently, and provide quality patient care.

The scope and importance of these applications cannot be overstated. More than 2,700 nurses and administrative staff rely on AutoMate by Network Automation Inc. (Los Angeles) to ensure optimal staffing levels and patient care. At any one time, the Cancer Center has 150 concurrent users interacting with the solution. The applications involved are a crucial component of our patient care system.

The first time around

Previously, the Cancer Center attempted to use two separate technologies, AutoIT and LaunchPad, to orchestrate processes between the PeopleSoft, Kronos, and Ansos One-Staff applications. However, these technologies failed because they did not support secure logon capability or job failure/success notifications. In short, we were unable to guarantee the appropriate level of security and meet HIPAA requirements with these tools.Juan Garcia

Furthermore, these tools could not effectively monitor their own performance or the performance of the overall solution. This forced us to spend countless hours troubleshooting application problems when they arose. Effectively, we had no information about why certain application errors occurred, and when you don't even know the root cause of a problem, it's nearly impossible to fix it and prevent its recurrence.

Soon after the initial deployment, my team members and I understood what we truly needed. We needed a tool that combined two essential functionalities: job scheduling/triggering and automation.

In our initial effort, when we attempted to use Launchpad and AutoIT, we were trying to combine Launchpad's job scheduling functionality with AutoIT's automation capabilities. This was a mistake. What we really needed was one powerful tool that had both the triggering and automation capabilities.

Finding a solution

After extensive evaluation of different software vendors, we chose AutoMate which had all the functionality we needed — security, scheduling/triggering, an automation development platform, and detailed tracking for quality control.

In our solution, AutoMate is central to application integration. It orchestrates three critical applications used extensively at MD Anderson Cancer Center and coordinates thousands of file and data transfers. In essence, AutoMate acts as a "traffic cop" between PeopleSoft, Kronos, and Ansos One-Staff. The solution operates on a Windows server with secure access to servers running the other applications, as well as access to backend databases and files.

AutoMate gives the Cancer Center the application security it needs; not only does AutoMate allow secure logon and access, but it also provides enhanced security features such as password and task encryption. Moreover, AutoMate enables the Cancer Center to send e-mails and text messages to IT personnel regarding the failure or success of automated tasks.

For task failures, the messages are very granular, identifying exactly when and where the error occurred. This provides our IT people with the timely and relevant information they need to rectify the error in near real time.

Author Information:

Juan Garcia

Juan Garcia is a business systems analyst with the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, Division of Nursing.