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ASCKEY Leads UK's Health Services Application Market
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ASCKEY Data Services has turned the heads of attendees at the United Kingdom’s HFC and NHS Estates conference with two new Health Service administration systems being demonstrated there.

The ASCKEY systems featured a Windows-and Web based job management application system built with Data Access Worldwide’s Visual DataFlex and WebApp Server application development tools, and a Web-based benchmarking data entry application powered by WebApp Server.

"This is the first time HFC/NHS Estates has ever had two well received, attention grabbing products, and they have both come from one company," said conference attendee Derek Virgin, the facilities computer systems manager for the Birmingham Heartlands NHS Trust.

In March ASCKEY was contracted to produce two major National Health Service administration systems - one for Web based data entry and the other a complex job management system - as the first module in re-developing the NHS’s long-running DataFlex based system called WIMS for managing the fabric of the service. WIMS also needed to integrate with the Services’ character mode legacy application that is still in use.

Web Based Data Entry – ERIC
NHS Estates (NHSE) provides support and advice on the procurement, design, operation and maintenance of healthcare buildings and facilities throughout the UK, and has a remit from central government to provide comparative performance analysis data for a wide range of management indicators ranging from heating efficiency to car parking facilities.

This system, known as ERIC, has been in being for some years, using a questionnaire distributed on floppy disk. With a 10 week lead time to this year’s data collection deadline, ASCKEY was given the go-ahead to develop an initial pilot into the full system that would handle over 600 UK hospitals, many with multiple reporting sites.

Using WebApp Server, ASCKEY Data Services met this deadline and within a few days 100,000 data records had been entered into the system, with 600 NHS Hospitals generating in excess of 40 connections continually active for hours at a time.

Eclipse-fm, Windows/Web Capable Job Management
Almost simultaneously, the Healthcare Facilities Consortium (HFC) confirmed ASCKEY Data Services as the developer of the first Windows module of an Eclipse-fm series that will ultimately build up to a complete Windows/Web fabric and facilities management system. This was to be built using Visual DataFlex and WebApp Server, and from a start in April had to be ready for the annual conference in September. It also had to be fully interoperable with its character mode predecessor.

The HFC is a UK body that is concerned with improving the quality of management within the UK Health Service. As part of this remit it has acted for a number of years as the commissioning body for a suite of software (the Works Information Management System, or WIMS) that manages aspects of hospital administration, specifically in respect to maintaining the fabric of hospital buildings.

At the annual joint HFC/NHSE conference in September, attendees were given the opportunity to see the new systems and report their experiences with using the ERIC on-Line system.

“Users were very happy with the improvements a Web system brought to them,” reports ASKEY managing director Martin Pincott. “The WebApp based system allowed for many people to enter the data. Instead of one person having to extract the information from many individuals with access to the data, each relevant department entered their own specific data.

“As soon as a particular section for a particular site was completed, the data became available for its intended purpose, namely providing comparison “benchmarking” between the individual hospital against the accumulating global picture. Instead of the delay and consequential irrelevance of the previous manual system, hospital managers have seen an instant picture of ‘How are we doing’, and are starting to use the data available to look at their own departmental performances.”

Pincott notes that the system leverages the benefits a using a Web-based approach for the application and that, “As developers, ASCKEY doubts that any other development tool could have produced so extensive a data entry site so quickly and economically as WebApp Server has allowed us to do. Web pages are easy, Web data entry can be very hard to build.”

The data model was moderately complex, and involved a large number of data elements, many of which needed validation routines.

“With the WebApp Data Dictionary based approach, we could concentrate on the ‘What’ and not the ‘How’ in organizing password protected, properly validated data entry across the Web for several hundred individuals who needed to see only their own data, as well as for the central body which required access to all the data. Even the help system was easily built using no more than what is delivered in the WebApp box – the Dynamic Presentation demo makes a fine basis for context sensitive help.”

After deployment - notwithstanding the volume prompted by 600 hospital sites working with a tight data entry deadline - the standard DataFlex database which is hosted by ASCKEY has proved “entirely adequate”, and “has given no problems with regard to data integrity, nor, once removed to a dedicated server when the extensive suite of Crystal Reports (over 120 reports) had been added, in servicing the load.”

Eclipse-fm
Eclipse-fm, the second product ASCKEY featured at the conference also drew a constant crowd of interested WIMS users. Pincott notes that the existing WIMS users commented favourably on the product’s functionality and speed as compared with competing Delphi and VB based products. The HFC bulleting board quoted an employee of a competing product as saying, “The HFC have got a winning product in Eclipse-fm. The users I have spoken to are very keen to run this software.”

Pincott notes that ASCKEY’s product development team has come to rely on Data Access’ RAD tools for building database applications. “While we now have some work left to get the product up to release quality, VDF 7 has come up trumps as a development tool that has allowed us to build a very complex system in a relatively short time, and to then add Web capabilities that use exactly the same underlying business logic code. I don’t know another development system that allows for this.”

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