Egleston Makes Collaboration “Child’s Play”

dteDigital Equipment Corp.’s TeamLinks, which the company began shipping last month, has already garnered rave reviews from beta testers of the groupware program.

At Egleston Children’s Hospital, part of Emory University in Atlanta, officials are using the TeamLinks suite of integrated client/server applications to help control the flow of information while offering new services to users. Egleston currently has 30 nodes in its pilot program and plans to have at least 400 nodes by late 1993.

“We look at TeamLinks as the infrastructure for our work groups … to help facilitate the flow of information,” explained Francis Sulton, manager of end user computing and support systems at Egleston.

During the pilot, only key users in the hospital’s administration and information systems staff have had access to TeamLinks, but the eventual plan is to initiate many new services and applications for other employees.

For example, the hospital is evaluating a customized CD ROM, made by Virtual Microsystems Inc. of San Mateo, Calif., that pharmacists would use to check medication conflicts or interactions. Pharmacists who have questions for a primary-care doctor also would be able to send messages easily by merging the search information into a message sent to the doctor via TeamLinks.

At the hospital, TeamLinks is used to get critical information to the right people at the right time, according to Sulton. “Patient care has to be our No. 1 concern,” he said. “The better we can process all the needed information, the better decisions and choices we can make about that care.”

Meanwhile, the City & County of San Francisco’s Department of Public Health, one of the largest public health organizations in the country, also started beta testing TeamLinks, in March.

“We are a public facility, so everything has to be well-documented,” said Michael Peth, director of MIS for the department. “[TeamLinks] gives us a much better way of controlling all of our information.”

In the past, getting the appropriate signatures for even a routine document could take days — even weeks, he said. But by using TeamRoute, TeamLinks’ work-flow automation software, the department has achieved tremendous time savings, Peth said.

“We have been able to cut down the time a contract would have to be shuffled back and forth between offices,” he said. “Now you just press a button and it’s there.” Although it is difficult to put a dollar figure on the amount of time saved by TeamLinks, it wasn’t long before the software paid for itself, Peth said.

The TeamLinks Information Manager, which provides the integration hub for mail, distributed-filing and group-productivity applications, costs $295. TeamLinks for PathWorks, which adds group-conferencing capabilities along with more sophisticated browsing and conversion services, costs $405. And TeamLinks for PathWorks with Microsoft applications, a personal-productivity suite that includes Microsoft Corp.’s Word, Excel and PowerPoint, costs $849.

Because the county health organization is spread among 150 offices and staffed by people in a variety of jobs, TeamLinks’ ability to work with available applications was a major selling point, Peth said. DEC has agreements with both Microsoft and Lotus Development Corp. that enable users to continue using applications such as Excel, Word, Ami Pro 2.0 and Lotus 1-2-3 for Windows. “DEC is very open,” said Peth. “They have built in a lot of third-party hooks that make it very attractive.”

In addition, TeamLinks’ shell is consistent, regardless of the applications running on it. This is an important consideration because it means that once users have mastered the basics, they will be familiar with the interface and will not have to learn new commands.

“We needed to have a consistent shell that could be used by someone with a sixth-grade education and also our Nobel prizewinners,” said Peth. “We found TeamLinks was a good solution.”

If one feature is lacking in TeamLinks, Peth and Sulton agreed, it is a scheduler. But they both expect the oversight to be rectified. “I know [scheduling] will come in time,” said Sulton. “[DEC] knows that this is a concern.”

The users had different views on DEC’s decision to develop TeamLinks using Microsoft’s Visual Basic software, which resulted in a slow program. While Peth would rather it had been written using a faster, lower-level language such as C, Sulton prefers the BASIC code because it is easier to manipulate.

“I have been in this business a long time,” said Sulton. “[Version] 1.0 [of a program] is usually not a whiz-bang version. First, DEC will make it work, and then they will make it work fast.”

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