What was once the exclusive domain of high-end vendors, Australia's health industry is slowly broadening its scope to let SME partners grab a piece of this lucrative sector.
About three years ago, the Queensland Government and its Health Department struck up an IT industry initiative aimed at developing the sales prospects of those small QLD businesses that could develop innovative technologies but lacked the necessary capital to win health contracts.
Called the Collaborative Health Informatics Centre (CHIC), the Brisbane-based non-profit organisation has since received backing from the Federal Government and other state governments to improve patient care using a broader base of service providers.
According to CHIC spokesperson Nicole McMonagle, the health industry's focus has changed tack over the last 20 years to rely more on service delivery than technology advancement.
"There has been a definite sea change in the value placed by IT on the health industry," she claimed. "However, it is slow due to the huge critical mass involved and the large dependence on government administration and funding."
To make it easier for small IT businesses to sell their solutions, CHIC acts as an information broker between them and a range of health customers.
While CHIC runs the majority of its operations out of Brisbane, the organisation can also draw upon contacts that can assist small businesses from interstate to build sales contacts.
"These small-to-medium partners are well placed to sell into the health marketplace," McMonagle suggested. "We see it as our role to put them in contact with potential health customers.
"Without health industry contacts or ample capital these businesses would not be able to get a foot in the door. Our aim is to ensure they don't fall by the wayside," she added.
CHIC offers a range of development options for small businesses including an "incubator area", or leased office space, which can be used as a base for their operations. It is also considering building a demo lab to allow small businesses to showcase their technologies to potential health customers.
Systems integrator Praxa, along with a number of major vendors, has been an active supporter of the CHIC program by supplying specialised services, software and hardware.
To ensure CHIC's IT infrastructure could mirror technology installed at health sites, Praxa imple- mented a Microsoft-based standard operating environment including desktop and network operating systems, e-mail and Internet access. It also deployed a LAN in CHIC's Brisbane headquarters and provided virtual private network connections to regional sites.