Electronic Communications Provide Easy Links to Staff and Information Throughout Catholic Health Initiatives
Catholic Health Initiatives has made great strides in implementing sophisticated electronic communications that link staff members across the 22 states and 72 communities in which it operates. Catholic Health Initiatives staff throughout the country can now send messages and share files with thousands of other users; post and access information in public folders; and will soon be able to use the power of the Internet to let the world know about Catholic Health Initiatives. E-mail now links 20,000 Just two years ago, less than 1,500 Catholic Health Initiatives staff members could access e-mail from their desktops. Today, more than 17,000 users in 22 states can share files and messages via e-mail on the Microsoft Outlook platform. An additional 3,000 employees are linked to the system via e-mail and will migrate to Outlook in the coming months. "Once you can send files across the network with the click of a mouse, it is easy to forget that communicating and sharing documents from a distance wasn’t always so simple," said Tom Granahan, vice president of network architecture. "E-mail connections have enhanced our ability to communicate in a timely, easy and extremely cost-efficient manner. Documents that once had to be copied, bound and sent via mail can now be sent electronically in a fraction of the time and for a fraction of the cost." Public folders make their debut To further enhance electronic networking, Catholic Health Initiatives’ market-based organizations, resource groups and other interest groups are beginning to use public folders. They will be available to all Outlook users through the Outlook menu. "Public folders are like a local network’s shared directory, except they are copied through the entire network so they can be shared across all of Catholic Health Initiatives," said Granahan. "They allow users to share files and have on-line discussion groups." "We expect public folders to become a key element of Catholic Health Initiatives’ internal communications," said Joyce Ross, senior vice president of communications. "They will soon become a primary forum for internal communication and information sharing, allowing our widely dispersed staff to function more as a team." Public folders were first introduced to share information between staff members working to address the Year 2000 problem. Through this experience, information technology staff recognized a need to develop a consistent approach to the layout and content of public folders. Two resource groups, finance and communications, are now working with information technology to design a standard framework for sharing information in a pilot public folders project. "As with much of today’s technology, there are many options as to how information can be shared," said Granahan. "We are taking the time to develop a consistent format and approach to ensure that our public folders are helpful, user-friendly knowledge tools." In the near future, public folders will be the source for a host of valuable internal information, such as facility directories, human resources policies, benefits information, press releases, memos and more. Look for more information about the roll-out of public folders in the next few months. Electronic information for outside audiences Catholic Health Initiatives is also entering the world of virtual communications for audiences outside of the organization. For several months, Catholic Health Initiatives’ Web site team has been consulting with market-based organizations and other health care providers that have established Web sites. "All of those with whom we consulted advised us to make our Web sites simple to maintain and update," said Ross. As a result, the team selected a vendor, MedSeek, that offers software that enables users to build and continuously update Web sites on their own, quickly and cost-effectively. Catholic Health Initiatives is licensing software from MedSeek that will allow trained users to create and update the enterprise Web site from their desktops. "The software, called SiteMaker, is simple enough that anyone with basic computer skills can master it," said Ross. SiteMaker will also be available to all market-based organizations for use in developing or adapting their own Web sites. "SiteMaker will enable market-based organizations to develop sophisticated, data-driven Web sites at a cost significantly lower than they would incur by developing sites on their own," said Ross. The Web team is currently working with MedSeek to customize SiteMaker for Catholic Health Initiatives’ needs. Then, the team will test the software in two ways: by using it to build the enterprise Web site, and by using it to build prototype sites for two selected market-based organizations. After successful completion of the test phase, the software will be available for discounted purchase to all market-based organizations. "We realize that market-based organizations have varying objectives for their Web sites," said Ross. "For example, some want searchable job boards while others want static pages that simply refer employment inquiries to the Human Resources Department. SiteMaker will allow for either of these very different options, and many more." While there are many avenues of electronic communication yet to explore, Catholic Health Initiatives has made tremendous progress in establishing a single platform and standard protocols for the development of electronic communications tools. "For such a large and geographically dispersed organization, we have come a long way in a short time," said Granahan. "Staff members can look forward to exciting developments that will enhance their ability to communicate with others, both inside and outside our organization."