Integrated data system means better maintenance

M.D. Anderson sees savings, higher productivity

Six years ago, faced with a huge expansion project that would increase the floor space of The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center by 40%, the hospital decided to take a "quantum leap" forward in its infrastructure to maintain costs and efficiency. Roy Allen, director of administration, finance, and information systems, says that leap took the facilities management division from six separate maintenance databases to one integrated system that has generated ongoing savings, increased productivity, and reduced inventory in its first year of implementation.

"We had six departments, and everybody from housekeeping to physical plant to safety and so on kept their own records," Allen says. "We studied it and found that there was a huge amount of duplication across all these information bases. With duplication of documents came duplication of personnel, and that just tends to domino on you."

When the Houston-based hospital's expansion is complete, the facilities management division will be responsible for 15,000 pieces of equipment and 4.6 million square feet in 144 buildings spread across a 140-mile area. With six different ways of handling work orders, spare parts inventory, personnel tracking, purchasing, and cost information, the division knew it couldn't take on more work and still perform efficiently. So a team of 12 people ranging from senior managers to shop floor chiefs was put together to study what kind of system was needed and where to find it.

The team's consensus was that they needed one database that would allow them to centrally manage all the information for all the departments in a common way. And it needed to be a user-friendly system to which everyone had access. Once they came up with their dream system, they set out to benchmark with other hospitals and found that the concept was "radical," Allen says. "Nobody had put together any system that looked like this. Most hospitals don't need a system that has to process 95,000 work orders in the first year. We had to compare ourselves to industry instead of other hospitals." The team conducted site visits at such places as the University of California San Diego and Johnson & Johnson to see how integrated systems worked in the field. They settled on the Mainsaver system offered by J.B. Systems of Woodland Hills, CA.

Goals for the integrated system included these:

· improved staff productivity;

· less inventory;

· fewer emergency purchases;

· automated billing system;

· less computer maintenance.

In the first year of implementation, the system has saved about $150,000 by cutting personnel costs and reducing inventory by 27%. It also has increased productivity by as much as 10%. Allen says the system has generated several positions by reducing duplication of services, and he expects to see more. Those people have been reassigned to areas where they can be more productive. All of those savings have meant the system is halfway to paying for itself. "We wanted to be able to justify the cost by allowing ourselves to handle more work with the same amount of people," he says. "We're able to plan better, we're in better control of our work, and we can measure how well we're doing our job."

The next step is to automate the work order system so hospital employees can request work over the Internet. The information will go directly to the planners and schedulers so work will be assigned more quickly.

Dan Wisneski, systems analyst and project manager for the new system, says one of the main benefits is the ability to pull out data for comparison. "Before, everyone was measuring things differently, and the information wasn't processed in the same way. Now, we have good data we can use to create customer reports and show how well different areas are doing against quality improvement measurements."

Another benefit is the ability to make sure preventive maintenance is done in a coordinated, chronological way. Maintenance such as oiling the bearings on the air conditioners is scheduled monthly or quarterly as needed, and nothing is missed because of the centralized system. "If you miss one or two months on maintaining something like an air conditioner, you're going to have a problem with the device," Wisneski says. "Before, if a report got lost, the work didn't get done. This system doesn't make mistakes."

Wisneski says the keys to smooth implementation were completely shutting off the old system before starting up the new one, involving the end-users from the beginning, and testing the system in-house to work out glitches before it went on-line. It took about eight months to get to implementation, but that preparation time was well-spent, he says.

[For more information, contact Roy Allen at (713) 792-2244 or Dan Wisneski at (713) 794-1722, Facilities Management Division, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, 1515 Holcombe Blvd., Houston, TX 77030.]