Different Systems, Common Purpose

Source: Knorr Associates, Inc.
How an occupational health management system can fit in with the rest of your information management systems
Knorr Associates, Inc. occupational health management system can fit in with the rest of your information management systems.

by Peter Singer

The members of an organization will inevitably reach a point where they determine that the combination of three-ring binders, spreadsheets, word processing documents, and Fred's homegrown Microsoft Access program isn't the most efficient way to manage occupational health, safety, and environmental (OHS&E) information. There are several options for selecting, purchasing and implementing such a system. As we focus on the many considerations for implementing such a system, I will illustrate a lot of the concepts through a case study.

So you've selected the right software, obtained budget approval, purchased the software, and installed it. Congratulations! You're done, right? WRONG! Getting to this point was the easy part. Typically, there is much more involved in fully implementing such a system regardless of whether it's off-the-shelf or developed from scratch.

Enterprisse Application Integration

Of course the software industry requires a new buzzword for every new methodology, even though a lot of what's discussed below has been done in one way or another for years. In this case, the buzzword is Enterprise Application Integration (EAI), which is the process of intelligently routing and translating information between different software systems.

Usually there are demographic, organizational, and industry-specific data that need to be entered into any new system-but no one wants to manually enter all that information. After all, computers are supposed to make our lives easier, not harder. Perhaps your demographic information is in PeopleSoft or some other human resource system. You may have your organizational codes, which define your location and related information, in a mainframe database. Maybe your ICD-9 diagnostic codes are on a CD-ROM in a proprietary format. So, how do you get all this information in to your new system? The answer is, "It depends."

Ideally, you could just tell the new application to get its HR or other data directly from the original source. Hey, the vendor said their software is PeopleSoft-compatible, so it's just a matter of plugging it in, right? Unfortunately, although it may be possible in certain circumstances, it is typically not that simple. The HR people may not want you to have direct access to their data, but they're willing to make a copy for you every week or month so that you can put new and changed HR information into your system. Some HR systems may not be able to tell when information was added or changed in their database, which means that all the data needs to be transferred every time. This is not the most efficient manner to extract data, but it may be the only option in certain circumstances. At least you now have something with which to work.

The next hurdle: different systems generally don't store the same pieces of information. Although hat size, for example, might be a vital statistic for one organization, chances are good that it isn't vital for every other organization. Furthermore, the types of information that are the same may not match. Did you ever think you'd need more than 14 characters to hold a phone number? Maybe that limit didn't come up until your organization merged with Euro Inc.